The Montparnasse area
covers parts of the 5th, 6th,
14th and 15th
arondissements and is bordered by the Luxembourg Quarter to its north. Its
north-western limit is rue d’Assas, boulevard du Montparnasse and boulevard
de Port Royal, its western border is rue de la Sante and avenue René Coty.
Its southern limit is made up of boulevard Pasteur, rue du Château, rue
Mouton Duvernet, rue Sophie Germain, rue Halle and rue Cabanis. Its
north-eastern border is rue de Vougirard.
Students, who would
gather in the area, named it ‘Montparnasse’, which is derived from the
ancient Greek ‘Mount Parnassus’, the home of Apollo, the god of poetry,
music and beauty. Ever since, the district has been a Mecca for Parisian
artists and intellectuals.
The area’s interesting
structures are the Gare TGV, the Observatoire de Paris and the Tour
Montparnasse [only because it is Paris’ tallest building]. Interesting
streets are rue Campagne-Première and the boulevard du Montparnasse where
the night Culture of Paris France is found at the cafés
La Closerie des Lilas,
La Coupole, Le Dôme,
La Rotonde and Le Sélect are located. Its museums are the Musée Antoine Bourdelle, the Musée
de la Poste and the Musée Zadkine.
Paris, at 61 avenue de l’Observatoire, was founded by
Louis XIV in 1667.
The building was designed by Claude Perrault and was completed in 1672 after
5 years of construction. In 1672, its astronomers were able to calculate
the ‘exact’ dimensions of the solar system. Its scientist were also
responsible for the exact calculation of the meridians of longitude, the
speed of light, the first mapping of the moon , the deductive
discovery of the planet Neptune, in 1846, and the classification of the
stars by their sizes. The Observatoire has been, since 1919, the center for
the International Time Bureau that sets universal time based upon their
chronometers which are buried 92 feet below the observatory.
Just north of the
Observatoire, at the intersection of boulevard du Montparnasse and boulevard
St-Michel, stands François Rude’s 1853 bronze statue of Napoléons favorite
general, Marshal Ney. Rodin believed this statue to be the most beautiful
Observatoire and the Tour Montparnasse, hidden in a clump of trees in the
median of boulevard Raspail, is Rodin’s powerful bronze of Balzac.
The Tour Montparnasse
rises a hideous 656 feet. When it was built, it was the tallest office
building in Europe. Its 56th floor
houses a bar and restaurant and offers the sightseer an unobstructed
panoramic view of Paris.
Between the wars, the
rue Campagne-Première was the habitat of such artists as
Pablo Picasso, Modigliani,
Joan Miró, and Kandinsky. The ceramic façade, at No. 31, was
designed by Paul Bigot.
The Montparnasse cafés
were the rallying sites for the so-called ‘Lost Generation’ and for the
Surrealists and the Existentialists of Paris. These cafés, La Closerie des
Lilas, La Coupole, Le Dôme, La Rotonde and Le Sélect, attracted the likes of
Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald,
T.S. Eliot, Matisse, and
Toklas, Hemingway and Fitzgerald seemed to favor La Closerie des Lilas.
Josephine Baker, Roman Polanski attracted their ‘family’
at La Couple and at the
Deux Magots on St-Germain des Prés.
held her court at 27 rue de Fleurus, near the Alliance Française.
Le Musée Antoine
Bourdelle is at 18 rue Antoine Bourdelle. It consists of his house, studio
and garden where he worked from 1884 to 1929. They have been converted into
a museum to display his works. The best of the bunch are his portraits of
Le Musée de la Poste is
located at No. 34 boulevard de Vaugirard in the National Postal and
Philatelic Center. The Postal Museum has a well laid out account of the
French postal system and its methods for insuring mail delivery since the
beginning of the French postal system.
Le Musée Zadkine, 100
bis rue d’Assas, displays works of this Russian artist that were created in
this house where he lived from 1928 to 1967.
Other points of
interest are the Catacombs, the Cimetière du Montparnasse and the square
Place du 18 Juin 1940.
The Catacombs is the
final disposition of the remains of millions that were removed from the city
cemetery, in les Halles in 1786, to an old quarry at the base of
Montparnasse. Its entrance is at 1 Place Denfert-Rochereau.
The Montparnasse Cemetery is located
almost in the shadow of the Tour Montparnasse, the tallest building in
Paris. Although not as large as the popular Père-Lachaise cemetery, on
Paris' east side, it is the final resting place of many celebrated
foreigners, industrialists and intellectuals.
Cimetière is the final resting
place for well known luminaries. It was designed by
Napoléon I and was
opened in 1824. It contains many interesting tombs, statues and head
stones. The cemetery is located between the rue de la Gaité and boulevard
Raspail and can be entered from boulevard Edgar Quinet.
Some would consider a walk through
a cemetery to be macabre; but, not so in Paris. Here, the cemeteries are
filed with beautiful statues, monuments and landscaping. Sometimes, you will
even come across picnickers.
The cemetery map, that the care taker will give you, identifies the location
of the graves of its most famous inhabitants.
Among those buried there are: The French
historien Edgar Quinet, the flutist, Jean-Pierre Rampal, the Mexican
president, Porfirio Diaz, the sculpteur
Antoine Bourdelle, the Irish writer
Samuel Beckett, Capitaine Alfred Dreyfus [whose trial by the French Army, on
trumped-up espionage charges, caused the collapse of the French government],
Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi [who designed the Statue of
Liberty], the industrialist
André Citroën, the Belgian composer César Frank,
the singer Serge Gainsbourg, the French Cubist sculptor Henri Laurens, the
French novelist Guy de Maupassant, the French mathematician Henri Poincaré ,
the American photographer Man Ray, the French composer
the French Existentialists Jean-Paul Satre and Simone de Beauvoir, the
American actress Jean Seberg, and the Romainian Dadaist and
Surrealist Tristan Tzara. Jean Sablon, the great French crooner
and chanteur is also buried there.
The cemetery, formerly three separate farms,
takes up an area of about 45 acres; it is divided between two sections known
as the old and the new. The graves are found among tree lined alleys and a
wide assortment of monuments and sculptures that have been placed there
since the cemetery's opening in 1824.
La Séparation du couple, which was originally destined for Luxembourg
Gardens, can be found in the cemetery's 4th division. Perhaps the saddest of
all the monuments there, the separation of the couple was moved to the
cemetery in 1965 because it was considered too obscene for Luxembourg. It
depicts a woman straining to rise from her grave to console her mourning
paramour, face in hands, standing above her. Nearby, at the circle, in the
center of the cemetery, is Le Génie du sommeil éternel by Horace Daillion,
who gave it to the city in 1902.
In the 22nd division, you will recognize Le Baiser, the stone sculpture by
Brancusi; his grave can be found in the 18th division. A short distance away
is a humorous monument designed for an inventor and his wife. It is in the
form of a huge bronze bed with a sleeping woman upon it. Her husband is
shown standing over her. There is an angle standing upon the headboard as
though guarding them both.
The old SCNF Gare Montparnasse was the place where, on
August 25, 1944, the German military governor of Paris surrendered his
garrison after disobeying Hitler’s direct order to destroy Paris. At the
Place du 18 Juin 1940 [the date of General de Gaulle’s radio broadcast
urging the French to resist the Germans], at the corner of boulevard
Montparnasse and rue de Rennes is a plaque commerating the liberation of
Paris and the German surrender to General Leclerc.
The old station was the
terminus for the line to Brittany where untold thousands of Bretons arrived
to start a new life in Paris. Because of this immigration you will find
numerous crêperies in the surrounding streets selling the famous Breton
contribution to the culinary arts.
The new station is on
the same site. Now, one can take a high-speed TGV [Train de Grand Vitesse]
that will speed you to Brittany at 200 mph [320 kph].