As the intellectual, artistic and political capital of France, Paris holds remnants of the French Revolution and the Age of Enlightenment. While the history is captivating, the City of Lights has long been synonymous with style and glamour — even before France’s social and civic upheaval. But how did Paris become one of the most-visited cities on Earth?
The reign of Louis XIV (1638–1715) is often attributed for the emergence of Paris’ allure; he ruled France for 72 years, the longest of all known European monarchs. Louis XIV played an integral role in sponsoring the arts, and consequently, in cultivating a love affair with Paris’ iconic aesthetics.
The city’s stunning architecture and lasting impression could make any student fall in love with European travel. In the midst of enchanting historical sites, allow young dreamers to determine for themselves why Paris is among the most treasured educational destinations.
CHÂTEAU DE VERSAILLES
The young Dauphin, the future Louis XIII, visited Versailles for his first hunting trip in 1607. He was crowned king in 1610, and in 1623, he decided to build a small hunting lodge to spend the night. The lodge was rebuilt in 1631, and construction continued until 1634, which laid the basis of Chateau de Versailles, the palace students visit today.
Louis XIII’s successor, Louis XIV, had great interest in Versailles and settled at the lodge. The history of Versailles is now inextricably linked with Louis XIV, who envisioned a magnificent future for the chateau and the forest around it. Louis XIV took on the role of architect himself, building a masterpiece with which his legacy would live on — now one of the largest palaces in the world.
Scheduled guided tours ensure students receive a direct slot for a tour and authorizes access into lesser-known locations otherwise closed to visitors. Reservations are open three months in advance. Unless otherwise indicated, student groups should meet at the welcome desk in the North Ministers’ Wing.
MUSÉE DU LOUVRE
The world’s largest art museum and a historic monument, the Louvre contains masterpieces ranging from Leonardo da Vinci’s The Mona Lisa to Michelangelo’s Venus de Milo. A visit allows students to explore Western art from the middle ages to 1848, as well as a number of ancient civilizations. What once opened in 1793 with an exhibition of 537 paintings now contains more than 38,000 objects. Last year, the Louvre was the most-visited art museum in the world with 10.2 million visitors.
The museum is housed in the Louvre Palace, originally built as the Louvre castle in the late 12th to 13th century under King Philip II. Remnants of the original fortress are still visible in the museum’s basement. Once the seat of power, the royal residence was home to French heads of state until 1870 and is one of the major backdrops to the history of Paris and of France.
All group visits must be booked in advance for a specific time slot. Both self-guided visits with an educator or group leader, and guided visits with an official Louvre guide, are available. Groups with their own guides may access the museum via the Passage Richelieu or Galerie du Carrousel entrances.
NORMANDY (three hours from Paris)
An educational trip to northern France wouldn’t be complete without a side trek to the beaches of Normandy for a World War II lesson — only three hours from Paris and one of the most-visited areas of France for its historical significance.
Perhaps the best introduction to D-Day is a visit to Pointe du Hoc, a German battery attacked by U.S. Army Rangers. The area, overlooking the English Channel, gives students a firsthand war perspective with a view of the beach, cliff, bunkers and bomb craters. During the American assault on June 6, 1944, U.S. Rangers scaled the 100-foot cliffs and seized the German artillery pieces that could have fired on the American landing troops at Omaha and Utah beaches. At a high cost of life, they successfully defended against German counterattacks.
The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, honors American troops who died in Europe during World War II. While each of the 9,387 Americans buried here deserve tribute, an arranged guide can point out some of the most famous graves. Wreath-laying ceremonies also can be arranged with advance notice.