A quick tour of some of Paris’ most well-known landmarks… once upon a time
The Parisian landmarks of today are spectacular, from the Eiffel Tower to the Pompidou Centre, but did you know about the ones that disappeared? Some of the buildings that once defined the City of Light are now no more than a memory.
1. The Gaumont Palace:
Just over a century ago, an indoor horse race track from the famous Universal Exhibition of 1900 was bought by Léon Gaumont – the inventor, engineer and pioneer of the film industry. He turned it into a cinema capable of accommodating 6,000 people, making it Europe’s largest. However, cinema competition is hot in Paris and his enormous cinema was unable to keep pace with smaller independent cinemas on the one hand and modern multiplexes on the other. The building was eventually knocked in 1972. Today, the largest cinema in Paris is the Le Grand Rex, but that is only half as big as the legendary Gaumont Palace was.
2. Le Palais des Tuileries:
Built at the behest of Catherine de Médicis in the 16th century, its facade of 266 metres long was impossible to miss from the vantage points of either the north or south wings of the Louvre. Over the years of its existence, it welcomed royal families from Henri IV to Louis XVIII. In 1871, the people of Paris vented their anger on this building during the Paris Commune and it destroyed by fire. In 1883, its blighted remains were razed to the ground.
3. Le Vel d’Hiv:
At the turn of the century during the years of the Belle Epoque, the popularity of cycling rose to extraordinary levels. The Tour de France had just started in 1903 and men proved their ability by their speed on two non-motorized wheels. On the grounds of a ruined indoor race track (another leftover monument from the 1900 Universal Exhibition), a cycle track was constructed that could hold over 17,000 spectators. It was called the Vélodrome d’Hiver (Winter Cycle Track) or the “Vel d’Hiv” for short. Located in the 15th arrondissement at the junction of Boulevard de Grenell and Rue Nélaton, it was to become infamous for another very different reason as it became the wartime detention centre for the record roundup of over 13,000 Jews who were all deported eastwards by Nazi/Vichy authorities. Boxing and bull-racing were amongst the other activities in this famous building before its destruction at the hands of property developers in 1959.
4. The Cimetière des Innocents:
Located just about where the shopping district of Les Halles now stands, there was a large cemetery in what was then just outside the city limits of Paris. A wall was constructed around the entire plot in order to protect and demarcate its boundary. It was a place of burial for the poor people of the city and many of the graves were mass graves where people were buried in common. In the 18th century, the cemetery was adjudged as being too unhygienic and it was decided to shut it down completely. This involved the transfer of the remains of all of the interred from here to the famous Catacombs – an operation that took 15 months.