PARIS – Too many visitors to Paris hop off the Metro or the tour bus at Trocadéro to take their Eiffel Tower snaps before disappearing again on their way somewhere else – Avenue des Champs-Élysée, the Louvre, the Latin Quarter.
These drive-by dalliances miss what is one of Paris’s more beautiful arrondissements and certainly its largest, the prefecture of Passy. The shops are posh, the cafés chic, and the architecture world-class. In fact, Passy is home to the Fondation Le Corbusier, two of Le Corbusier’s villas, as well as the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine, a museum of architecture and sculpture.
We sent our team of travel writers into Passy to report out some of its many charms, with one group devoted to architecture, another to culture, and a third to the area’s many water-related sites and diversions. What follows is a guide on how to get the most out of an area that, despite being in the center of Paris, manages a quiet, even serene sensibility and, with its many green spaces and high rents, even an aristocratic cool.
Exploring Passy: ARCHITECTURE
Correspondents: Abigail Chaffin, Cole Cosby, Morgan Frederick
The 16th of Paris’s 20 arrondissements, Passy is the westernmost neighborhood in Paris. Like much of the city, Passy was the recipient of an architectural overhaul captained by the prolific 19th century designer and architect Georges-Eugéne Haussmann. Under the watchful eye of Napoleon III, Haussmann began his grand redesign in 1853 and finished in 1870.
Though the district of Passy was included in Haussmann’s grand plan, the neighborhood was not owned by Paris when the rebuild began. Instead, the 16th was a small, private commune with a population of roughly 2,500. During Haussmann’s renovations, or by the time the district was officially made part of Paris in 1860, Passy’s population increased to more than 17,000.
Haussmann’s grand project scrubbed Paris of its crumbling medieval buildings and congested, blocky streets. The new vision organized along a wider, spider web-like network of streets. In contrast to the narrow streets of old, Haussmann’s streets allow the city to breathe, though this breathing room erased entire neighborhoods that in 2019 are still resentful about the imposition of top-down city planning. Napoléon III called on Haussmann to center the city around the natural light and air, and Haussmann delivered.
Examples of Haussmann’s architectural feats can be seen throughout Passy. Upon exiting the Metro at Trocadéro, you will find a maze of Haussmann-initiated buildings facing inward on the rim of Place du Trocadéro. This ring makes Passy perhaps the Parisian area with the most numerous of Haussmann’s hallmarks with respect to urban planning.
The Statue Équestre du Maréchal Foch, which provides a remarkable view of the Eiffel Tower, anchors the place, which collects the Musée de l’Homme, the Théâtre National de Chaillot, or national dance theater, and the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine, which, appropriately, focuses on Haussmann’s Paris makeover.
Cité de L’architecture et du Patrimoine
Gathering nearly 300 architectural pieces from 120 architects from throughout the world and just 10 minutes from the heart of Paris, the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine is an essential stop for students and lovers of architecture. The current temporary exhibition that runs through September, “Architects’ Furniture: 1960-2020,” gathers furniture to connect visitors to architects and designers and their impact on their fields. The eclectic group featured includes Zaha Hadid, Charles and Ray Eames, and, appropriate to Passy, Le Corbusier.
Zaha Hadid, a female Iraqi-British architect, has a prominent piece within the exhibit, a chair from the Z-Scape Collection derived from glaciers and icebergs. Created in 2003, the large white, Z-shaped squiggle of a chair is emblematic of modern, new wave architecture that emphasizes fluidity. Charles and Ray Eames’ featured piece was designed for film director Billy Wilder, who requested a chair on which to nap.
Lastly, many of Paris’s own Le Corbusier’s artifacts are featured throughout each section of the museum. His pieces include a life-size, to-scale cutout of the Modern man and a replica of the apartments he designed that were built in Paris along with many of his other creations.
Open most days from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., with a few exceptions, Cité closes on Tuesdays and extends hours to 9 p.m. on Thursdays. Getting to the museum early will ensure a less crowded experience with cooler temperatures, which is important because there is no air conditioning. Tickets are €12 (adult) and €9 for those 18-25 years old and from outside of Europe. The exhibit is free every first Sunday of the month and free to students with valid student identification.
Tickets are available both in the museum and on its website, https://www.citedelarchitecture.fr/fr/exposition/le-mobilier-darchitectes-1960-2020.
Le Corbusier’s Maison La Roche
Leaving the busy central area of Passy for a sedate, blue-blood neighborhood, one can find the foundation of the renowned French architect, Le Corbusier. Maison La Roche is just a train ride away, plus a 10-minute walk through a leafy residential area. Maison La Roche was built in the 1920s for the La Roche family in a “purist” style that puts on full display the simple forms and minimal use of ornament for which “Le Corbu” is known.
Le Corbusier (1887-1965) was born in Switzerland but moved to Paris and chose the name, Le Corbusier, in 1920. He was not only an architect, but also an urban planner, painter, and theoretician. He believed the home should be, above all, functional, becoming known for the missional statement that the home is or should be a “machine for the living.” Le Corbusier’s theory can be summarized in his “Five Points:”
- “Pilotis” (columns) to lift up and to create open spaces
- Free-form interior plan with structural columns (a skeletal structure)
- Free-form façade that is not load-bearing, acting as a curtain
- Ribbon (horizontal) windows to provide daylight evenly across rooms
- Rooftop gardens on flat roofs to protect and to create space
Google maps led our group right to the front gate of the Maison at 10 square du Docteur Blanche. The nearest metro stop is Jasmine (Metro 9) located at 7 Rue de l’Yvette. From there it is a 10-minute walk to Maison La Roche (the Le Corbusier Foundation). But note the Foundation’s hours, especially on Monday:
- Monday 1:30-6 p.m.
- Tuesday-Friday 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1:30-6 p.m.
- Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Tickets are €10, €5 for students, and free if the visitor is under 14. The Le Corbusier Foundation offers guided tours, as well, by reservation. English tours are offered on Tuesdays at 4 p.m. For more, www.foundationlecorbusier.fr.
Exploring Passy: CULTURE
Correspondents: Erin Wasserman, Caroline Usry, Nancy Belle Hansford, Greyson Gurley, Becca Rios
Tucked behind Passy’s upscale boutiques and formal residential buildings is the Musee du Vin, just down an uneven cobblestone walkway at 5 Square Charles Dickens. A doorway with “Caveau des Echansons de France Musée Du Vin” inscribed in stone clearly marks the entrance. Due to its isolated location, the museum is not overrun with tourists, making it a welcome relief during high season. This is history you can taste.
Dim lighting and a slightly musty odor are cues that you are leaving the bright, contemporary world of Passy for a 15th-century wine cellar. The €13.90 admission fee includes a guided audio tour and a glass of either red or white wine.
The museum’s vaulted, limestone wine cellar is a storehouse of artifacts, while inscriptions about wine history line the cavernous walls. Do not be alarmed by the wax figures in most of the exhibits; they provide a visual element helpful in understanding the process of making wine.
The exhibits are organized along overarching themes, including harvesting, transportation, and pressing the grapes. The audio guide also explains individual tools and artifacts. Winding passages covered with cobwebs lead you through a maze-like route that tracks the history of the wine industry. While unsettling at first, the weapon-like steel tools and cadaverous wax figures are useful in punctuating wine-making’s historical timeline.
The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays, while its restaurant, Les Echansons, serves lunch from noon until 3 p.m. on those days. Traditional French cuisine starts at €21, and to accompany the meal, choose from more than 200 wines. The gift shop, too, offers an array of wines, wine bottles, glasses and bottle openers. For more, visit http://museeduvinparis.com/.
Musée de l’Homme
Housed in a stately building next to the Trocadéro platform, Musée de l’Homme also offers a welcome respite from the masses of tourists angling to get their photo in front of the Eiffel Tower. Perhaps because only French is used inside, the museum seemed tourist-free on the mid-July visit we took.
Musée de l’Homme, formerly the Musée d’Enthnographie du Trocadéro, began as a way for France to preserve endangered cultures and societies. The museum’s intention is to educate about different cultures and to preserve them. Upon entering the museum, visitors are sent upstairs past a wall of quirky neon signs in a variety of languages. The second and third floors contain one large, flowing exhibition of the history of mankind, as well as a temporary exhibition on the history of piercing. The temporary exhibit runs through March 2020.
The museum begins with the evolution of homo sapiens as a species and ends with where mankind might be headed. Who or what is mankind? According to Musée de l’Homme, mankind is influenced by and influences everything around it. Mankind is collective and individualistic. To present this paradox, cultural objects are presented, the biological development of human flesh is explained, and religious iconography is explored.
The museum is expansive, so be sure to not miss these highlights:
- Preserved human organs, including a brain
- Shrunken heads
- An abundance of exotic taxidermy
- Buddhist iconography
- Dinosaur fossils
- Sonic and music experiences in every language
- A graffiti-adorned bus
- Salvaged pieces from political protests in Paris
The temporary exhibition on “Piercing” brings an edgy topic into the realm of anthropological debate, while also providing something of the history and culture of piercing. The exhibition of photography, paintings and literature displays prehistoric to modern-day piercing cultures, practices, and traditions around the globe.
Musée de l’Homme at 17 Place du Trocadéro is open every day but Tuesday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Theatre National de Chaillot
On the other side of the Trocadero platform is the Theatre National de Chaillot. Opened in 1937, this dance theater presents hundreds of performances throughout the year and is known for its association with stars such as Jean Vilar and Antoine Vitez. Walking inside you might be struck by its vastness; it seats 1,600. Visitors during summer hoping to catch a performance will be disappointed, however, because the season begins in October. For more information, including a full schedule, https://www.theatre-chaillot.fr/fr.
Across the street from the dance theater and the Trocadéro is another of Paris’s stately cemeteries. If you wish for a quiet area away from the insanity of the Champs de Mars and the Champs–Elysées just across the Seine, this is it. Take a stroll under the chestnut trees and through the beautiful grounds of the cemetery and pay homage to its more famous residents, including:
- Natalie Clifford Barney
- Jean Louis Barrault
- Paul “Tristan” Bernard
- Francis Bouygues
- Jacques Carlu
- Gabriel Fauré
- Claude Debussy
- Eduard Manet
Not surprisingly for a sophisticated Parisian neighborhood, shopping options abound. You can meander Passy’s spiderweb of alleys and cobblestone streets, concentrate your attention inside Galerie Commerciale Passy Plaza, the district’s primary indoor shopping mall, or explore the well-known outdoor Passy Market. Brand-name stores populate Rue de Passy, but visitors in July get to take advantage of sales reaching 70 percent off. (And these are genuine sales; French law restricts sale season twice per year.)
On the quiet street corner of Rue Bois Le Vent sits a large building that holds Passy’s local market, which is difficult to miss with its vintage typeface of bold red letters spelling, “Marche de Passy,” across the building. The face of the market is lined in a skirt of blooming flowers from one of its many vendors, Le Marché aux Fleurs.
The full market does not open until 4 p.m. and is closed on Mondays, so plan accordingly. Upon entering, you will be met with the aromas of fresh flowers, fish, and fruits, among many other delights. Each vendor has his or her own delicacy, so grab your groceries, have a beer at the market bar, or stay for a meal at one of the neighboring restaurants.
Exploring Passy: WATER
Correspondents: Cabri Gordon, Michaela Lumpert, Meg Howell
The Seine river begins in the wine-making capital of Burgundy before flowing into the heart of Paris and making its way into the foliage of Normandy. The temperate waters ebb and flow throughout France for 482 miles while passing under 37 bridges. The Seine also marks the outermost southern border of the district of Passy in Paris.
Along the Right Bank, Passy can be enjoyed as scenery from the many boat cruises offered at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. Continuing the water theme, Passy is home to the lively Fountain of Warsaw that anchors the Trocadéro Gardens. The fountain puts on a water show replete with 20 water cannons, and on summer evenings, the choreography includes a light show.
**Editor’s Note: Prior to Bastille Day, there was limited access to the gardens due to fencing erected along the border of the fountains. There were no water displays during this time.
Cineaqua: Paris Aquarium
On Passy’s outer perimeter, just before reaching the Seine, is an attraction that, despite its size, is easy to miss. Reaching into the belly of Trocadéro is the underground Paris Aquarium, the entrance to which is obscured by the playground that surrounds it. But the playground connotes that this is an attraction first and foremost for children.
Underneath a long, electric sign, amidst potted plants and flashing lights decorating a swath of fake grass is the entrance to an aquarium. It’s not unlike entering the Caped Crusader’s Batcave. Once inside, visitors are greeted by friendly staff members that explain ticket prices and what demonstrations are on tap that day.
Prices include €20.50 for adults; €16 for children 13-17; €13 for children 3-12; and free for children under 3. There are also special deals for groups and students.
Underground and organized along a loop, the aquarium is easy to navigate. New is an exhibit of over 2,500 jellyfish, showing how these seemingly harmless animals interact and where they stand on the aquarium’s “Danger Scale.”
Emphasizing its appeal to children is the aquarium’s Ladybug character. Cartoons of Ladybug exploring the streets of Paris and the aquarium are shown in the Imax theater, and children can join Ladybug in a dance-along. Certain spots along the winding hallways have interactive stations that provide children with activities to learn about the fish they are viewing, and offered is a session on sharks and their feeding schedules. A detailed schedule of demonstrations and shows is on the back of the map given to all visitors at the front desk.
Each tank along the hallway has its own personality. Some tanks are loud and brash, filled with colorful fish and exotic corals. Others are mellow, with slow-moving fish weaving between green and brown shrubbery. There is a display of coral life that is speckled with fish moving throughout the tank, constantly darting back and forth, creating electrifying bolts of color: green, blue, yellow, and red. The coral create a living wallpaper that spreads across the back of the tank in vibrant swirls of color.
Another highlight of the aquarium is the underwater petting zoo. A long, flat tank filled with large Koi fish provides an opportunity to touch and interact with sea life.
Unlike other Parisian attractions, the aquarium has few signs in anything other than French, and the films, demonstrations, and activities are only offered in French. Nevertheless, the beauty of the exhibits and the fish transcends language barriers.
Musee du quai Branly: The Art of Taiwanese Paper Funeral Offerings
Just across the Seine from Passy is Musee du quai Branly. While certainly not a hidden gem, the museum is perhaps under-appreciated, living as it does in the shadows of the d’Orsay and Louvre, and in the literal shadow of the Eiffel Tower. This summer and deep into October, museum visitors can explore the art of Taiwanese paper funeral offerings in a special exhibit titled “Paradise Palace.”
After entering and grabbing a map in the language of their choosing, venture onto a winding concrete ramp featuring an audiovisual project called, “The River,” which projects a path of words that seem to be swimming up the walkway. Situated at the end of the ramp is one of the museum’s four permanent exhibits, the Afrique exhibit.
To reach “Paradise Palace,” look for a small set of stairs beside Afrique. A plaque in both French and English explains the meaning behind Taiwanese paper funeral ornaments, which date back to the 8th century Chinese. The exhibit begins with an elaborately built paper house, complete with intricately detailed archways, festive dragon designs, and floral artwork.
The cultural practice among Taiwanese of creating paper houses, or material goods, for loved ones who have passed, has produced a trove of dazzling visual materiality. Also in this exhibit, made entirely out of paper, are a washing machine, razor, laptop, camera, automobile, airplane, and wristwatch, among many other objects.
The airplane seems to be a metaphor for a means of transportation to the afterlife. The Taiwanese hold a deep respect for their deceased, inspiring paper art that they believe will carry over with the dead in hopes that they can live as comfortably as possible.
In the most pleasant way, aspects of the exhibit like the airplane inspire questions about death and grieving. Towards the end of the exhibit, a black bench in front of a large screen invites contemplation. The screen displays a massive bonfire and depicts the last phase of Taiwanese paper funeral ornament rites – the burning of them. The burning is meant to set the paper offerings free to be with the dead in the afterlife. The funeral offerings symbolize care and community.
Walking out, visitors may experience both heartbreak and joy as a result of the Paradise Palace. While death is frightening and unfortunate, the Taiwanese find peace in creating memoria meant for comfort.
As is stated on a plaque in the museum, “Who has never dreamed of finding the pleasures of this world in the next?” Enchanting, artful, and informative, Musee du quai Branly’s Paradise Palace is a compelling contemplation of life, love and death.
Admission prices are €7-10 for the permanent exhibits OR the temporary exhibit, and €9-12 for a joint ticket. Museum hours are:
- Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
- Thursday, Friday and Saturday: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
- Closed Mondays