PARIS - The Musee du Louvre is ornate, palatial and extremely large.
The sprawling art museum on the Right Bank of the Seine River was one of our first stops on our Paris visit.
It is home to Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, the No. 1 attraction in the museum. The most common tour of the Louvre is: Let's see what we can see going to and from the Mona Lisa.
Wife Pat, expatriate daughter Caitlin and I were soon part of the never-ending parade heading toward the image of a Florentine noblewoman, known as La Gioconda.
The painting, done about 1504, is not big: about 30 by 20 inches. Your viewing will be shared with countless others.
The Louvre is described as the largest and most-visited museum in the world, and is arguably the most famous. It gets 15,000 visitors a day, 5 million a year, 65 percent of whom are foreign tourists.
The Louvre is a vast complex: 380,000 objects, of which about 35,000 are on display over more than 652,000 square feet. I was as impressed by the building as I was by the artwork. It is an awesome one-time fortress and palace that shouts Paris.
With its 2.2 million residents, Paris is a city with a flair, style, exclusivity and sophistication. It is the world capital of elegance with sidewalk cafes, museums, shops, parks and palaces. It is known for its wide avenues, rich fashion houses and opulent mansions. It is the No. 1 city for international visitors, 15.6 million in 2011.
Paris has been called the most beautiful city in the world, the City of Lights, the City of Daily Delights. Its history goes back 2,000 years to the Romans. It is a rich and varied city that covers 40 square miles with 400 parks, gardens and squares.
Visitors openly gawk at buildings that are just ultra-cool with balconies, railings and striking above-the-ground features.
Paris is known for celebrated visitors and residents: Vincent Van Gogh, Rudolf Nureyev, Josephine Baker, Oscar Wilde, Richard Wagner, Henri Matisse, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Samuel Beckett, Jean-Paul Sartre, Marlene Dietrich and Leon Trotsky. You can sample museums of Pablo Picasso, Salvadore Dali and Auguste Rodin.
Paris has an attitude all its own. We saw a bit of that in surly waiters and drivers.
Some proclaim Paris the food capital of the world with its breads, pastries, 400 kinds of cheese, bistros, patisseries, and of course those magnificent French wines.
It was the home of the first restaurant in 1785. Today it has an estimated 40,000 restaurants, more than most cities of its size. It offers 75,000 hotel rooms at 2,000 locations.
Paris, arranged in 20 districts or arrondissements, is linked by its Metro subway with 185 miles of track and 429 stops.
Nothing says Paris more than the Louvre. It dates back to medieval times and is known for its European paintings, Middle East art dating back to 7000 B.C., Egyptian, Greek, Etruscan and Roman art, sculptures, decorative arts, prints and drawings and Islamic art. It is easy to get lost in the interconnected galleries.
Surprisingly, you are welcome to take digital pictures. Just no flash.
It was one of the first museums I've ever seen where the walls and ceilings themselves are ornately painted.
It was constructed as a fortress in 1190 by King Phillippe-Auguste to protect Paris from Viking raiders.
In the reign of Francois I (1515-1547), who purchased many of the Italian paintings including the Mona Lisa, the fortress building was replaced with a Renaissance-style building. For four centuries, it was the home to French monarchs and emperors.
King Louis XIV (1643-1715) added 200 items, taking artwork in lieu of taxes. The museum opened to the public in 1793 with 537 paintings.
In 1989, a glass pyramid was added to create the main entrance; the architect, American I.M. Pei, also designed Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum with its similar appearance.
But there are lots of other tourist attractions in Paris: the Eiffel Tower, Cathedrale de Notre-Dame, the Arc de Triomphe and the Seine River. In fact, Paris has more familiar landmarks than most international cities.
The Eiffel Tower was built by Gustave Eiffel, intended as a temporary addition to the Paris skyline for the Universal Exhibition of 1889. Some disliked its stark, geometric structure from the very beginning.
It was the world's tallest building at nearly 1,063 feet or 108 stories until New York's Empire State Building was constructed in 1931.
It dominates the Parisian skyline. Platforms for visitors are at 187 feet, 377 feet and 899 feet. There are 1,665 steps on the east staircase. The base covers 2.5 acres and the tower weighs 10,100 tons.
It was built with 18,000 metal parts held together with 2.5 million rivets and coated with 50 tons of brown paint.
It gets nearly 7 million visitors a year, 75 percent from other countries. For more information, go to http://www.eiffel-tower.com.
Cathedrale de Notre-Dame, a Gothic masterpiece that dates to medieval times, stands on the Ile de Cite, an island in the Seine River.
The massive church was constructed from 1163 to 1333. When completed, it was 430 feet long with flying buttresses, a large transept, a deep choir and twin 228-foot-high towers with four bells. Notre-Dame is where kings and monarchs were crowned and where France blessed crusades.
The church gets 13 million visitors a year. It is ornate, dark and perhaps even a bit gloomy. Its stained glass windows are impressive: the Rose Window is 43 feet in diameter. Sculptures including the wooden Life of Christ from the 14th century fill the ancient church. It is home to the largest organ in France with 113 stops and 7,800 pipes.
You can climb to the top of Notre-Dame - 380 steps - to view the church's stone gargoyles, gremlins and demons and the Paris skyline.
For more information, go to http://www.notredamedeparis.fr.
The Arc de Triomphe was first proposed by Napoleon in 1805 after his greatest victory, but the 164-foot-high monument was not completed until 1836. It dominates the Champs-Elysees with its tony shops, restaurants and hotels.
Some of the lesser-known attractions that we hit on a two-day whirlwind visit were Harry's New York Bar, the Musee d'Orsay and the Golden Dome Church.
Harry's New York Bar is a popular Paris destination in the Opera House neighborhood, where we had cocktails. What else?
The building was acquired in 1911 by American jockey Tod Sloan and a partner. They hired barkeeper Harry MacElhone, who took over the bar in 1923. It was popular with Americans, including luminaries like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Humphrey Bogart, Rita Hayworth, Coco Chanel, Knute Rockne, Sinclair Lewis, the Duke of Windsor and Jack Dempsey.
George Gershwin composed "An American in Paris" at the piano at the bar. It is reputedly the home of the Bloody Mary, the Side Car, the Monkey Gland and the French 75.
The Musee d'Orsay, housed in a one-time rail museum, is known for its Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art. It covers from 1848 to 1914.
France's Sun King, Louis XIV, directed that the Dome Church be built in 1676. It was to be the site of royal tombs, but after his death, those plans were abandoned and it became a monument to Bourbon glory. It is one of the greatest examples of 17th-century French architecture.
Its 351-foot-high dome was first gilded with 555,000 golden leaves in 1715. It is a memorial to and a burial spot of French military leaders: Napoleon, Marshal Ferdinand Foch, Sebastien Le Prestre de Vauban.
Contact the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau at http://en.parisinfo.com.
Bob Downing: email@example.comCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun