Best monuments to La Gloire (the glory of France): The Arc de Triomphe—the world’s largest triumphal arch—is about as grandiose as it gets, at least until you arrive at the magnificent Place de la Concorde, another flamboyant national gesture. If that’s not enough, the church of La Madeleine was originally meant to be a temple to military glory, and the Panthéon is a church made into a crypt for the nation’s intellectual heroes.
Best monuments to spiritual glory: Despite the French obsession with keeping the Republic secular, the capital harbors some of the world’s most exquisite churches. No matter what your views are on religion, you’ll be bowled over by the soaring arches of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, the stained glass of Sainte-Chapelle, or the superb rood screen at St-Etienne du Mont.
Best monuments to human ingenuity: Extraordinary engineers and architects have spent time in this city, leaving behind some amazing buildings in their wake. Most famously, the Eiffel Tower gracefully reaches for the sky, while exerting minimal pressure on the ground. The land under the Belle Epoque wonder that is the Palais Garnier is stabilized by the man-made underground lake that inspired Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera story. Modern architects also have made their mark, mostly on the city’s museums, be it the inside-out structure of the Centre Pompidou or the billowing glass “sails” of the Fondation Louis Vuitton.
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