Dr. Syed Anwarul Haque
PARIS the capital of France is known as one of the magnificent cities in Europe. The city is best known for its beauties of architecture, art galleries and many more of its wonders. It has also a unique history as a centre of an empire in Europe. It has an estimated population of 12,213,364 (2019) or about 18 percent of the population of France. It is also considered as one of the most expensive city of the world. It has a wonderful subway system, the Paris Metro, which serves 5.23 million passengers daily and the second busiest metro system in Europe after Moscow Metro. I had the opportunity to use the Metros in Moscow and Paris and they appeared to me equally excellent, one of the great subway systems in the world. Both the Metros are simply beautiful and draw people’s attraction. Paris is known for its museums and architectural landmarks. The Louvre is the most visited art museum in the world. In 2018, the number of visitors in Louvre was 10.2 million. Other popular landmark attractions in Paris include Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris, the Eiffel Tower and of course the Palace of of Versailles apart from many more.
My first visit to Paris was for a week at the end of July 1988 after completion of the International Workshop on “World Rural Youth Work” at the Bavarian Farmers’ Union Training Centre in Herrsching, Germany from 3-22 July 1988, where I participated from Bangladesh as the only participant. When I came to Paris I could not resist my interest to visit Louvre Gallery, the wonderful arts exhibit in Paris. Louvre museum is the world’s largest art museum and a historic monument in Paris. It is the central landmark of the city of Paris located on the bank of the Seine River. The exhibits in Louvre museum include 38,000 objects from prehistoric to 21 century. Louvre is the world’s most visited art museum. On an average more than 10 million people visit Louvre museum annually.
The Louvre museum is housed in the Louvre Palace, originally built as the Louvre Castle in late 12 to 13th century under Philip II. The Louvre Museum was opened on 10th August 1793 with 537 paintings as Arts museum, the majority of the works being royal collections. The collection was greatly increased during the reign of Napoleon and the museum was renamed Musee Napoleon. Later after Napoleon’s abdication, the original name Louvre returned and collection of the museum was further increased through donation. As one enters the museum, right at the beginning there is a small room, where Napoleon’s remarkable Tea Table could be seen with all its tea serving utensils as if ready for breakfast. The room could only be viewed through the glass windows. As one goes through, he will come across wonderful arts, sculpture and antiques collections. Particular collections such as Egyptian mommies, portrait of Mona Lisa, sculpture of Venus de Milo are quite fascinating. The museum houses important exhibits of Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Near Eastern Antiquities, Islamic Arts, Sculptures, Decorative Arts, Paintings and Drawings.
Mona Lisa of course was one of my favorite paintings that I visited twice in the Art Gallery. The half-length portrait of Mona Lisa by the Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci in Louvre museum is a landmark portrait that has been described as “the best known, the most visited, and the most written about work of art in the world”. The Mona Lisa’s famous smile, which seems alluring, has given the portrait universal fame. The Mona Lisa was acquired by King Francis I of France and is on permanent display at the Louvre Museum in Paris, since 1797. The Mona Lisa is also one the most valuable paintings in the world. It holds the Guinness World Record for the highest known insurance value in history at US$ 100 million in 1962. In April 1974, bulletproof glass has shielded the Mona Lisa as protective measure against any attack from unscrupulous visitors that sometimes happened. Fortunately it was also rescued from thefts that occurred several times earlier.
Among others, I visited the lovely sculpture of Venus de Milo. It still captures the eyes of the visitors because of its magnificent sculpture work. One of art history’s most significant sculptures, the Venus de Milo continues to captivate audiences today. Located in the Louvre Museum, the marble masterpiece is celebrated for its Hellenistic artistry, renowned for its beauty, and famous for its absent arms. The Venus de Milo is an ancient Greek statue and one of famous works of ancient Greek sculpture. Created sometime between 130 and 100 BC, the statue is believed to depict Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty. It is currently on permanent display at Louvre Museum in Paris. The statue is named after Aphrodite’s Roman name, Venus and the Greek island of Milo where it was discovered. It was generally asserted that Venus de Milo was discovered on 8 April 1820 by a peasant named Yorgos Kentrotas buried inside the ancient city ruins of Milo in the Aegean which was then part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire.
My second most important visit in Paris was that of the Cathedral of Notre Dame, which I visited in 1994 with my younger brothers Syed Raquibul Haque who used to live in LA USA and came to see me in Paris, while another of my younger brother Syed Rashidul Haque who used to live in Paris was with me at that time.
The Notre Dame Cathedral is of great historic and cultural importance to France and the world. This Catholic Church is more than 850 years old and was built in 1160. It is a UNESCO World heritage site and attracts more than 14 million tourists a year. It is also regarded as one of the finest Gothic French architecture. The 12th – century Cathedral has long been home of relics, stained glass and other works of incalculable value. The two towers of the Cathedral are of 69m in height and were the tallest structures in Paris before completion of the Eiffel Tower in1887. The Notre Dame Cathedral was also famous for coronation of French emperor Napoleon in 1909.
Recently, the Notre Dame Cathedral, the centuries-old world heritage was devastated, which caught fire. The exact reason of the devastating fire could not be ascertained. It was believed an electrical short circuit had caused the fire. The fire broke out at the Cathedral in the evening of 15th April 2019. I was watching in the TV how the Cathedral was burning and at the same time Fire Brigade services with 400 of its fighters were desperately trying to extinguish the fire. The Spire and the 100m long roof of the Cathedral were totally burnt and fell down. The main two towers of the Cathedral however survived. But the inside wooden structure was fully burnt.
My second visit to Paris in 1994 coincided with a visit to a Soils Laboratory in Western France close to the border with Basel in Switzerland and to meet Scientists working on Potassium fertilizer and crop production research in France. My visiting programme in France was a part of my Post-doc EU Fellowship at Macaulay Land Use Research Institute in Aberdeen, UK in 1994. Under the same EU Fellowship programme I also visited Wageningen Agricultural University, Central Soil Testing Lab and International Agricultural Training Centre in the Netherlands, which followed my visit to France in the same year. Wageningen city has a specialty being a city of cycles. I was surprised to see so many cycles on streets everywhere in the city. It is really good to see people cycling in the road, when there is a slogan to reduce greenhouse gas emission to the atmosphere. Cycling instead of fuel run vehicles which emit Carbon Dioxide to the atmosphere can improve living condition of the people. Popularizing use of cycle in cities should be a slogan these days everywhere in the world, when greenhouse gas is on the increase worldwide.
When I visited The Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, I remembered the famous film, Hunchback of Notre Dame. I visited the Movie Theater NAZ at the up stair of Gulistan Cinema Hall in Dhaka, where the Movie on The Hunchback of Notre Dame was shown. It was 1965, when I was yet to complete my Master’s degree at the then East Pakistan Agricultural University (now Bangladesh Agricultural University) at Mymensingh.
The film narrates the story of a Hunchback and his major part of life at the Cathedral ringing the bell. The film was produced in 1956, a joint venture of French and Italian, which was based on Victor Hogo’s 1831 novel. It stars American actor Anthony Quinn and Italian actress Gina lollobrigids. The film was the first version of the novel to be made in colour. Anthony Quinn’s portrayal of hunchback was somewhat horrific as it appeared to me compared to other portrayals. He had a small curve in his spine and a slightly deformed face that made him the hunchback. The 20-year old hunchback was the bell ringer of the Notre Dame Cathedral. He was half blind and deaf, because of all the years ringing the bells of the church. His life was confined within the Cathedral. He rarely ventured outside the Cathedral because the citizens of Paris despised and used to shun him because of his appearance. This is the notable features of the film apart from some more interesting events around him shown in the film. The Cathedral of Notre Dame was the centre of the whole film.
It was so exciting that I visited the Louvre Museum and the Eiffel Tower during my visits to Paris in 1988 and also 1994. The magnificent Eiffel Tower I could not miss visiting. Particularly at night it wears a beautiful look.
Located on the bank of the Seine River in Paris, stands the Eiffel Tower, a magnificent iron structure that illuminates Paris. Undoubtedly, Eifel Tower represents only one as the most prestigious architectural element in Paris. It is named after the engineer Gustave Eiffel whose company designed and built the tower. The construction work of the Eiffel Tower began in January 1887 and was completed on March 31, 1889. The height of the tower is 324m above the ground. The tower is the most visited monument in the world. It is also the tallest structure in Paris. During my twice visits to Paris I never failed to visit this iconic tower. Particularly at night, Paris around the Eiffel Tower wears a festive look with beautiful illumination. It is the most beautiful architectural structure that I have ever seen in my life.
The tower has restaurants for visitors on the first and second levels. The base of the Eiffel Tower is square in size measuring 125 metres on each side. During its construction, the Eiffel Tower became the tallest man-made structure in the world, which it held for 41 years until the Chrysler Building in New York was built in1930.
I was also tempted to visit the Palace of Versailles, the unique versatile palace in France. I had to stand in long queue outside the gate of the palace to enter it. It took long time to enter the place. Many people lost patience and left the queue before they could get the chance to enter the palace. The palace is now a historic monument and UNESCO World Heritage Site notably the ceremonial Hall of Mirrors, and the jewel-like Royal Opera apartments. The Palace of Versailles, former French royal residence and centre of government is now a national landmark located 16 km west-southwest of Paris. It is the second most visited place of tourist attraction after Louvre and ahead of Eiffel Tower in France. In 1917, the Palace of Versailles received 7,700,000 visitors. Its importance particularly lies in the peace document signed at the end of World War I by the Allied powers and Germany in the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles, France on June 28, 1919. The last month became 100 years of signing the Versailles Treaty. The palace remained royal residence of France from 1682 under Louis XIV until the start of the French Revolution in 1789.
The beautiful vast garden in front of the Palace of Versailles with fountains, canals and its exceptional geometric design uniquely set flower beds are worth seeing and eye catching for the visitors. I have never visited such a beautiful royal garden in the past. My visit to France notably Paris was really worth remembering.
[Syed Anwarul Haque is a Retired Professor of Bangladesh Agricultural University, Mymensingh]
Dr. Syed Anwarul Haque