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All the Symbols

As I roam the streets of Paris I realize there are endless things to discover in this city. I’m not just talking about the monuments. There are hidden details at every turn. This city has amassed so much history that I wonder if even people who were born here have had the opportunity to see everything. The Louvre alone is a daunting journey, as it has seemingly endless room to explore. Every time you turn a corner you find another little piece of history.


The parisians take pride in their history. A primary feature of many of the buildings and structures are the symbols, names and statues celebrating this history. Those architectural features always tell a story of the people and of this city. This fact became clear during my adventure in Versailles.


As I walked up to the huge palace built by the famous “Sun King,” Louis XIII, our docent pointed out several hidden symbols explaining his accomplishments. Once you understand the history behind statues and symbols, you understand that the buildings and statues are actually allegories. For example, when you walk up to the palace’s first set of gates you are welcomed by two huge statues on both sides. One of the statues portrays an angel stepping on the back of an eagle on one pillar and a similar figure stepping on the back of a lion on the other. This is the king expressing his dominance over other countries because the eagle, at that time, was a symbol for Germany and the Lion was the symbol for Spain. These were both countries he had fought and won battles over. That is only the entrance gates. Walking a little further to the main gilded gate you notice a crown over the entrance and very elegant “shapes” right beneath the crown. If you untangle the shapes, they no longer seem so random as they form the letter “L” for the king’s name. Within the first 5 minutes of my walk in Versailles, two symbols of the king’s pride were plainly presented for anyone to see, but I would have completely missed those allegories if my docent had not pointed them out. Those were only two of the many other symbols and allegories throughout Versailles.


This tradition of commemorating history through monuments and using allegories to tell stories about the people who created the city is a defining feature of Paris. The Eiffel Tower has names on its first floor of scientist and innovators.The Hotel de Ville has sculptures that represent famous artists, saints, political figures and innovators. The huge mansions in the Marais neighborhood have initials everywhere of people who lived there, and sculptures of gods and goddesses to show their social status. Some of the bridges were adorned with a huge “N” for Napoleon and an eagle to represent his power.


I love the pride represented throughout the city because everything that Paris has accomplished deserves recognition. I enjoy piecing together the puzzles and stories that artists and architects have left behind for us to decipher. It was like a scavenger hunt trying to comprehend the complex history of Paris that was present in all those symbols.


– Destyni Freese