Like many of the big European cities, Paris has two sides to it. In the smaller streets, through the quiet neighbourhoods and the suburban cafes, is the real city where the residents live and work. It’s a functioning metropolis where daily life revolves around the usual, where alarms in the morning get people out of bed, buses and trains get them to work, supermarkets fill their cupboards and bars provide some relaxation.
The other city is for the tourists. You’ve seen it before on the postcards – the monuments and the museums. These are the landmarks the tourist buses will stop at for their get-on and get-off tours around the city. Paris has more than your average city and for most visitors there’s barely enough time to see them all. There’s certainly very little time to venture away from them to see anything else.
But, by design or by good fortune, it’s not too difficult for a short-stay tourist to find the highlights of Paris. They are, conveniently, mostly set along the beautiful banks of the Seine River. It is this part of the city that UNESCO added to its World Heritage List in 1991.
The official listing stretches along the river from the Pont de Sully to the Pont d’lena. In laymans terms, it goes from Notre Dame to the Eiffel Tower. Along the way are some of the city’s most famous sites including The Louvre, the Musee D’Orsay, Les Invalides, the Grand Palais and the Mint.
Foreigners with cameras dominate the river banks where they mingle with touts, vendors and the occasional local rushing to get beyond the tourist hordes. This is a gorgeous part of the city – there’s no denying that – but it’s not the soul of Paris. It’s the elegant and photogenic veneer.
The section that has been included on UNESCO’s list boasts an impressive collection of architectural masterpieces. It also shows the development of design in the city and is evidence of the powerful hand of the state in town planning. As part of my week of World Heritage Sites in Europe, I would now like to share some photos of what is officially called ‘Paris, Banks of the Seine’.