Paris, France, is an unusually coherent architectural creature. Paris’ modern buildings have developed gradually out of earlier styles; palaces and mansions have survived by transforming into apartments and shops, and most streets harbor a range of buildings from various centuries. Our Paris guide traces a millennium of building in Paris, and what’s amazing is that so much remains visible and integrally important to the way the Paris works, from the earliest Medieval period through the most contemporary constructions.
Paris evolved out of a walled city, and some historians argue that this alone has given the city a certain logic that London or Boston lacks. Paris has really never lost its walls: 900 years after the 12th-century wall of Philippe August, we now live in a city walled by its ring-road, the Péripherique highway. This succession of walls, gradually torn down and rebuilt through the centuries, has created a spiraling city, which grew gradually out from the Ile de la Cité. It’s not surprising that some of the oldest buildings are near the center of the spiral. However, we’ve included buildings in every corner of the city in our guide, so that wherever you are staying, you will probably find that you are near a particular architectural landmark. This is also an armchair traveler’s guide to the architecture of Paris: you don’t have to stand on the street in front of the building. We’ve tried to take you there, so you can recreate the building in your mind’s eye.
We’ve taken as broad an overview of the Paris’ architectural delights as possible. All the buildings included are either open during the day, or else their interesting façades are easily viewed from the street. For the most part, we’ve stayed away from churches; religious buildings have their own architectural evolution and an entire guide could be given over to churches and cathedrals. In France particularly, this development has been dominated by the Gothic; Notre Dame is so inspiring, it’s not surprising that she remains the pinnacle of Christian architecture in Paris. You’ll also notice many monuments are mentioned only in passing or omitted altogether. We know you’ve already seen the Eiffel Tower. You know that the Musée d’Orsay was once a train station. So we’re bringing you the next level of Paris architecture. We’ve included buildings that are fantastic examples of a particular period in Paris’ history. These addresses often aren’t official buildings, they’re simply the places you pass every day in Paris. These are the building blocks of the city. We’ll tell you when a place was created, and what to look for, but we’ll also let you in on why. Here are 25 buildings that really speak to us. Let us know what you think.