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Travel: Paris, La Defense & Chateaux Malmaison Nov 6th/2019

Updated: Jan 14, 2021

Place : Paris - La Defense and Chateaux Malmaison

Date: Tuesday- Nov 6 /2019

La Defense - a Mega Economic Center

We were stunned when we got out of the La Defense Metro station

by its enormity, modern elegance and artistic beauty

La Défense is named after the statue "La Défense de Paris" by Louis-Ernest Barrias, which was erected in 1883 on a hill by the river, along the historical axis, to commemorate the soldiers who had defended Paris during the Franco-Prussian War.

We were ejected straight into the heart of the most remarkable, vast modern urban architectural, commercial and environmental assemblage.

This mixed complex is situated only 3 km westernmost away from the city, at the end of the 10-kilometre-long line of buildings and monuments - on the "Axe historique" ("historical axis") which begins at the Louvre, continues along the Champs-Élysées, well beyond the Arc de Triomphe, along the Avenue de la Grande Armée culminating at La Défense.

Replacing the older city's factories, shanties, and even a few farms,

it is now comprised of 72 high-rises of business offices and headquarter space all made of glass and steel, two metro stations, a vast area of shopping centers with shops and boutiques, modern church - Notre-Dame de Pentecôte, hotels, entertainment centers of many large movie screens, restaurants, bar and cafes, as well as most attractive open air communal spaces and amazing display of a monumental art pieces.

Throughout the year cultural, musical and sporting events , as well as Xmas market take place in this space

It is Europe's largest purpose-built business district with 1,400 acres built, 3,500,000 square meters space, over 2500 companies.,180,000 daily workers, a 25,000 permanent residents, 45,000 students and

8,000,000 visiting tourists each year.

The Center of New Industries and Technologies (CNIT) was the first to be built and used in 1958. The "first generation" of the skyscrapers were all very similar in appearance, limited to a height of 100 metres (330 ft). In 1966, the "Nobel Tower" was the first office skyscraper built in the area. In 1970, a railway line was opened from La Défense to Étoile. In the early 1970s, in response to great demand, a "second generation" of buildings began to appear, but the economic crisis in 1973 nearly halted all construction in the area. A "third generation" of towers began to appear in the early 1980s and development accelerated in the late 1990.

The biggest shopping center in Europe (at the time), "Quatre Temps",

was created in 1981 featuring 220 stores, boutique shops, 48 restaurants, a UGC multiplex cinema of 24 movie theaters with regular screenings in English, and other services.

After the development stagnation in the mid-1990s, La Défense has once again been expanding and is still the largest purpose-built business district in Europe.

The "Tour First" Coeur Défense, EDF, and Granite, are few of the emblematic skyscrapers in the complex

The enormous complex also houses:

Esplanade ("le Parvis"), - the wide, long and open air paved walkway promenade for only pedestrians is, on the upper level from the street. All the public and private traffic is taking place below the promenade on the lower street level .

The promenade serves as a large open air art space.

The "open-air museum" features on the vast Esplande 70 works of contemporary art by world famous artists.

Among the most important are:

Shelomo Selinger's "The Dance", a set of 35 carved planters, stretching over 3,600 m². on the Lower Esplanade Charles-de-Gaulle square; (A born in Poland Israeli, who we know in person for many years, specializes on Holocaust theme sculptures)


Alexander Calder's "Red Spider", a 15-meter tall sculpture located not far from the Total Tower;

Israeli -Yaacov Agam "The monumental fountain"

Joan Miró; "Fantastic Characters"

Takis - "Light Signals Basin"

Cesar Baldaccini "The Thumb" 12 meters

Raymond Moretti's "Chimney" 32 meters high and made up of hundreds of colored tubes;

Inaugurated in 1989, during the bicentennial of the French Revolution, the cube monument is also called La Grande Arche de la Fraternité "Fraternity" which meant to be a late-20th c version of the Arc de Triomphe monument, but is dedicated to humanity and humanitarian ideals rather than military victories.

The Arche - a product of 1982 national design competition, is a vast hyper-cube 110-metre-high, with 2 of its sides being government offices, and is part of the historical axis monument buildings.

It also forms a secondary axis with the two of the highest buildings in Paris at the time, the Eiffel Tour and the Montparnasse Tour.

A glass elevator took us high up to the cube's roof-top which was reopened in 2017 after years of renovations, and from which stunning panoramic views of the city and its historical axis can be seen on a clear day, which we were lucky to have until mid morning.

The building also includes seminar rooms, a restaurant and an exhibition area dedicated to photojournalism.

Muse National des Cateaux de Malmaison & Boise- Preau 1906

The La defence complex is also relatively near the Bois du Boulogne, and to the new "Louis Vuitton museum" which we visited last year, thus had skipped it, on this visit.

Instead, we departed the spectacular urban modernity (on bus 258) for a visit at the famous historical get away from the city, of

what was, once, a country intimate home of:

Napoleon Bonaparte and his first wife Joséphine de Beauharnais

It is situated near the western bank of the Seine, about 15 kilometres west of the centre of Paris in Rueil-Malmaisonn (ill fated domain)

which now a days, in defiance to its name, is one of the wealthiest suburbs of Paris.

Chateaux Malmaison, which Josephine purchased in 1799, was only saved and transformed into a museum, thanks to Daniel Iffla

Daniel Iffla (1825-1907)

known also by the name Osiris, Daniel was a prominent financier and huge philanthropist of a Jewish Moroccan decent from Bordeaux. Being a Napoleonic admirer he saved the Malmaison Cateaux from a probable destruction in1896 by buying it in an auction and undertaking its restoration, in order to bequest it to the French State. He also requested his impressive personal collection of Napoleonic relics and art objects, in 1906, to be exhibited in a pavilion he especially built, on the estate, and which opened to the public in 1924,

Iffla made his fortune in Paris in the bank of Jules Mirès and Moses Polydore Millaud, that was invested in the Spanish railways, and which earned Iffla the citation of the Order of Isabella .

This civil order granting membership in recognition of services that benefit the country, is ironic turn of events, considering that his ancestors, were most probably kicked few centuries before, out of Spain by this same infamous Queen.

Iflla also built a statue in honor of "Joan of Arc" in Nancy, as well as several synagogues in Paris, also the "Buffault Synagogue" at Arcachon, (which we also visited last year) one in Tours, and also the Vincennes Synagogue as well as synagogues in Tunis and Lausanne. In the latter city, he also constructed a statue of "William Tell" in gratitude to the Swiss.

The small quint Château de Malmaison was initially an old 17th c country house, which architects Percier and Fontaine rebuilt between 1800 and 1802, and refined it to an elegant Consular style, after it was acquired by Josephine, in 1799 on the request of her second husband Napoleon.

This residence of the imperial couple along with the Tuileries were the headquarters of the French government from 1800 to 1802, where many working meetings, official and private receptions, concerts, balls, lunches and field games took place, and where Napoleon's last residence in France was, at the end of the 100 Days in 1815.

The relatively modest 3 floors home, showcases the restored grand 18c period decor, furniture, art and musical instrument collection, Council chamber, library, Billiard room, personal memorabilia, separate bedrooms, and beautiful cultivated garden and natural wooded area surrounding the estate, including the free standing Osiris Pavilion, all worth seeing.

As it started raining in the afternoon, we cut short the wandering in the beautiful garden.

Divorced in 1783 from her first husband - Viscount Alexander de Beauharnais whom Josephine married when only 16, and who was later in 1794 executed, Josephine was the mother of his 2 children Eugene and Hortense, moreover, was 6 years older than Napoleon, when she married Bonaparte in 1796, being 33 years old, .

Unable to give Napoleon an heir son, Josephine agreed to divorce Napoleon in 1809, and he - a year later in 1810- married the Archduchess Marie-Louise of Austria who gave him a son Napoleon II.

Josephine would dress in relative simple garments but loved jewelry which can be seen plenty from the many portrait paintings hung at the chateaux.

Josephine had her famous rose-garden planted on the estate and she also had a "Temple of Love" built nearby as well as orangery heated by a dozen coal-burning stoves. Josephine cultivated nearly 200 new plants in France for the first time. Birds and animals of all sorts were brought also to the garden, where they roamed freely among the grounds.

After her divorce Josephine retained her title of Empress , received Malmaison in her own right, along with a pension of 5 million francs a year, and retired in Malmaison until her death on the first floor of the chateaux, when only 51 years old, in 1814.

Napoleon returned and took residence in the house after her death and his defeat at the 1815 Battle of Waterloo before his exile to the island of Saint Helena.

Napoleon Crossing the Alps, a painting by Jacques-Louis David from the Malmaison collection

Josephine son - Eugene inherited Malmaison but after his death the chateaux was sold, emptied out and the estate was divided.

In 1842 Malmaison was purchased by Maria Christina( widow of King Ferdinand VII of Spain) she lived there with her second husband Agustín Fernando Muñoz, 1st Duke of Riánsares.

In 1861 Napoleon III who was Josephine grand child - the son of her daughter Queen Hortense ( 1783-1837 who was married to Napoleon's younger brother Louise Bonaparte king of Holland) bought the property from Maria Christina, intending to turn it to a museum, but his plan was disrupted by the fall of the second empire, which after the estate became a summer residence of Edward Tuck, the Vice Consul of the American Legation in Paris. Thus the plan to turn this historic property into a museum, only revived much later, in 1903 by the generosity of Daniel Iffla.

This very exciting looong day got even much longer.. when we finally figured out the right bus number, and correct route to take us back home from this distant suburban Malmaison, which despite the "ill fate" - insinuated in its name, has brought back into life, a grand piece of French history, as well as has been bringing in, many visitors. And it is all credited to one very generous Jewish fellow, with deep love and appreciation of history and art.

His grave at the Monmarte cemetery, which we visited, and at the time wondered about, is white marble surmounted by a large bronze reproduction of Michelangelo's statue Moses.

Iffla gravestone at the Monmarte Cemetery

To be continued...


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