Paris by Night: The Two Arches

Say “Parisian Arch” and most will think of the Arc de Triomphe. For good reason, too: the “Triumphal Arch” is one of the most famous monuments in Paris. The 164 foot stone structure was commissioned in 1806 by Emperor Napoleon after he defeated the Russo-Austrian Army at the Battle of Austerlitz (and completed three decades later). True to its origin, the Arc de Triomphe has been a pivotable symbol of France’s military might for two centuries. To this day, the French government celebrates Bastille Day every year by parading every type of vehicle it owns—from tanks and armored personel carriers to backhoes and small fire trucks.

Every other hour of the year, however, the arch hosts a more unrelenting and chaotic procession of civilian hardware unhindered by lanes or traffic signals. In fact, insurance companies refuse coverage to drivers who dare to enter this swirling mass of liability.

The Arc de Triomphe held its ground as the world’s largest triumphal arch until a larger one was built in 1982. Any guesses where it was built? Modern day world leader with a Napoleon-complex and careless disregard for misappropriating scarce resources? Yup. Kim Jong Il built one 33 feet taller in Pyongyang to commemorate his father, the founder of the Democratic People’s Republic of (North) Korea.

The Arc de Triomphe is also pivotal in the urban design of Paris, literally. It serves as the linchpin on the historic axis that connects Champs Elysées and the Louvre to the east with La Défense—and the second arch of Paristo the west.

In 1989, La Grande Arche was built as a 20th century interpretation of Arc de Triomphe. Despite towering over the aforementioned arches at 330 feet, Pyongyang’s placement in the record books holds firm; La Grande Arche emphasizes humanity instead of military might (and thus is not a “triumphal arch”).
It serves as a government office building.

La Grand Arche is the architectural highlight of a business district built in the 1980’s to compete with London and Switzerland. Actually, this district was originally slated within historic Paris, but once the first high-rise was built (Montparnasse), the French cursed the ghastly addition to their cherished skyline, mandated that no future construction could challenge the height of the Eiffel Tower, and built La Défense to the northwest of the city, at the terminus of the “historic axis”.

I took an evening in late January to photograph both arches, starting with La Grande Arche at sunset, and ending with the Arc de Triomphe later that evening. They are only two metro stops away from one another. Unfortunately, most of the clouds cleared before they could be illuminated by the setting sun.


La Grande Arche, La Défense







High rises of the La Défense business district.





The unusual art installation at the base of the arch.


View from the steps of the La Grand Arche.


A carousel spins near a metal art installation. La Grand Arche looms in the background.


A woman stands in front of a spinning carousel.



Looking southeast on the historic axis towards Arc de Triomphe.



L’Arc de Triomphe

Jump on the Metro Line 1 and in 10 minutes, you will arrive at the Charles de Gaule station, directly underneath the Arc de Triomphe.


Le Arc de Triomphe with the Eiffel Tower in the background.



The blue flashing lights of a police van convoy pass the arch.






Crapping on Napoleon’s Head

Carved in stone or forged in metal, statues are designed to make generation of people stop, gaze upward in awe, and reflect on someone who liberated/reigned/invented/ruled/fought/decreed/conquered themselves in to a pivotal moment in the evolution of a country or culture.

A statue is an eternal reminder that all who pass underneath should be forever indebted to the greatness this person bestowed on history.

Or maybe it’s just an easy place for a bird to take a crap.

I’ve recently noted the subtle humor in how many of the world’s statues, which depict the powerful men and women in chiseled greatness, are now little more than a perch on which a bird can take a momentary break from the shackles of gravity and relieve itself of the weight of its breakfast.

Imagine a self-aggrandizing ruler – a dictator perhaps – commissioning an imposing representation of himself, forged in metal, to loom over his fearful subjects as a constant reminder of his Draconian rule. Well, place a pigeon directly on top of his head and that foreboding presence dissipates as quickly as the whitewash running down his iron cheek.

I have had several opportunities to photograph birds on statues in Europe. Maybe it’s because Europe has a long, eventful history formed by powerful people. Maybe Europe has especially productive ironworkers and stone masons. Or maybe it’s because Europe is home to some particularly irreverent birds.


Zurich, Switzerland

On top a large, muscular stallion with a well-worn battle axe at his side, Hans Waldmann—15th century mayor of Zurich—could do little to dissuade this insolent Black-headed Gull. The bird was fortunate that this depiction of the Swiss military leader had a head on which to perch; Waldmann was relieved of his in 1489, due to accusations of financial corruption and sodomy.




Prague, Czech Republic

The neck of St. Ludmilla buckles under the weight of two complacent Eurasian Jackdaws. This statue is one of thirty lining Charles Bridge, a top tourist destination in Prague. While patron saint of many things—including converts, duchesses, Czech Republic, problems with in-laws—corvids and avian excrement are not listed among them.




Prague, Czech Republic

A Rock Pigeon cranes its neck pensively a top a statue of Joseh Jungmann, widely regarded as the creator of the Czech language and phrases like Slez z mé zasrané hlavy! (“Get off my bleeping head!”)




Prague, Czech Republic

The perfectly coiffed coils of Jan Hus are too irresistible to the dirty feet of this Rock Pigeon, who returns the favor by looking unabashedly in an opposing direction. Huss’ resisted the Catholic Church by insisting to preach in the native vernacular instead of mandated latin, a heresy that had him burned at the stake and the catalyst for the Hussite Wars between Catholics and Protestants. Hus became a symbol of strength for the Czech people as they suffered under oppressive regimes throughout history, including Habsburgs, Russians, Communists, and now, Guano.




Prague, Czech Republic

Neither his proximity to cultural icon Jan Hus, nor the fact that he was exiled during the Thirty Years War in the 17th century, nor his smooth, bulbous dome spared this gentleman from the ignominious talons of a pair of Rock Pigeons.




Versailles, France

A Black-headed Gull oblivious to the angel directly beneath it—unperturbed by her much larger wings. Perhaps the gull feels vindicated by dominating a statue at the entrance of one of the most opulently-decorated castles in the world. Gulls hate extravagant excess. Unless it involves french fries.




Vienna, Austria

Neither the armor depicted in this statue, nor the plumes that could have come from a distant cousin, could scare away this Hooded Crow. Instead this disinterested corvid casts an aloof gaze from this 18th century perch down on to the 1,441 room Schönbrunn Palace beneath it. Maybe the crows are the ones who literally defaced this statue and replaced it with a log. Crafty birds.





Marseille, France

A Yellow-legged Gull barely musters a yawn as Jesus Christ – the inspiration for one of the world’s most prolific religions – coils in pain directly underneath him. The bird doesn’t much care for the expansive view of France’s second largest city directly behind it, nor the fact that Jesus’ consoler is buckling under its weight, pushing her face directly on to his crown of thorns.




Pisa, Italy

A male pigeon struts amorously towards a female on the back of the Capitoline Wolf, a statue that depicts the founding of Rome. Most wouldn’t consider a metallic depiction of twin babies suckling from the plump teet of a she-wolf to be a powerful aphrodisiac, but pigeons are perhaps the most sexually-depraved of any bird.




Seville, Spain

The powerful pipes of Antonio Mairena, a famous flamenco singer from southern Spain, couldn’t scare off this domestic pigeon, nor could his smooth, bald head prevent the pigeons feet from grabbing hold. Somewhere deep inside the psyche of pigeon must lay at least some appreciation for this art form native to Seville: of all the white wash streaming down the side of Antonio’s head, almost none made it inside his capacious mouth. Classy.





Rome, Italy

Recent studies suggest that pigeons don’t believe in the afterlife, which probably explains this birds lackadaisical gaze towards an angel on the Sant’Angelo Bridge in the heart of Rome. Neither the freakishly large wings of this angel nor the fact that it was armed with a lance dissuaded this bird – nor the House Sparrow on the top her head – from roosting.




Venice, Italy

Pigeons are notorious for having exceptionally low literacy rates amongst birds. Certainly this individual didn’t even know it’d taken residence on the head of Niccolo Tommaseo, a “Dalmatian linguist” and writer from Italy. I believe this means he wrote about the tongues of spotted dogs, which seems like an awfully esoteric topic. That didn’t matter to this pigeon; it was just thankful that Niccolo wrote about enough canine tongues to warrant a tall and intricately carved perch.






Paris by Night: Cathedrale Notre Dame

What do you think of when I say “Notre Dame.”

OK, now stop chanting “Rudy” and imagine that I said it in a more dignified air: “NOOOH-truh DAAAAAAHM.”

Yup, that one.

After several months in PEH-reee, Kristi and I had walked past this stone postcard model numerous times, pausing briefly to take snapshots. This church—arguably the most iconic in Europe—was worth more. One October afternoon, I dusted off my tripod and descended into the tourist hive to take some shots at sunset.

As one might expect, this building is really, really old. The first stone was laid in 1146 under the direction of Maurice de Sully, Bishop of Paris, on a site that had hosted various religious buildings for a millennia. Amazingly, many of those who built the church did so without payment (and probably working more than 35 hours a week) nor the hope they’d ever live to see it completed. Or that their children would; or their children’s children. Notre Dame was completed eight generations later in the 13th century.

It is widely considered to be one of the best examples of the French Gothic style of architecture. The flying buttresses—arches that follow the roofline out to large external pillars—distributed the weight of the roof out away from the building. This architectural innovation allowed for taller, thinner walls and deflected the overwhelming pressure away from the stained glass windows (thereby sparing churchgoers from the resulting technicolor shrapnel).

By the mid-19th century, it had fallen victim to centuries of neglect and was slated for demolition. It was ultimately saved by a spinally-impaired occupant penned by Victor Hugo who reinvigorated interest in both the church and medieval architecture.

Homes and other urban clutter in front of the church were cleared in the late 19th century to create Place du Parvis Notre Dame. Aside from improved sight lines to the church facade, this square affords visitors an opportunity to stand at Kilometre Zero, the point from which all distances to Paris are measured throughout the country.

The first two photographs are from Pont de l’Archevêché to the east, showing what a 90° turn of a polarized filter can do for the clouds in the sky. The sunset shots are from across the river, further east over Pont Saint-Louis. The night shots are from Place du Parvis Notre Dame on the west side of the church.


Cathedral Notre Dame (f25 / 0.5 sec / ISO 100 / no polarized filter) — © Adam Sedgley
Cathedral Notre Dame (f25 – 0.5 sec – ISO 100 – no polarized filter) — © Adam Sedgley


Cathedral Notre Dame (f25 / 1.0 sec / ISO 100 / polarized filter) — © Adam Sedgley
Cathedral Notre Dame (f25 – 1.0 sec – ISO 100 – polarized filter) — © Adam Sedgley


Cathedral Notre Dame (f11 - 1/6 sec - ISO 100) — © Adam Sedgley
Cathedral Notre Dame (f11 – 1/6 sec – ISO 100) — © Adam Sedgley


Cathedral Notre Dame (f25 - 1/3 sec - ISO 100) — © Adam Sedgley
Cathedral Notre Dame (f25 – 1/3 sec – ISO 100) — © Adam Sedgley


Cathedral Notre Dame (f16 - 15 sec - ISO 100) — © Adam Sedgley
Cathedral Notre Dame (f16 – 15 sec – ISO 100) — © Adam Sedgley


Cathedral Notre Dame (f16 - 10 sec - ISO 100) — © Adam Sedgley
Pont de la Tournelle (f16 – 10 sec – ISO 100) — © Adam Sedgley


Cathedral Notre Dame (f16 - 30 sec - ISO 100) — © Adam Sedgley
Cathedral Notre Dame (f16 – 30 sec – ISO 100) — © Adam Sedgley


Cathedral Notre Dame (f20 - 20 sec - ISO 100) — © Adam Sedgley
Cathedral Notre Dame (f20 – 20 sec – ISO 100) — © Adam Sedgley


Cathedral Notre Dame (f18 - 30 sec - ISO 100) — © Adam Sedgley
Cathedral Notre Dame (f18 – 30 sec – ISO 100) — © Adam Sedgley


Cathedral Notre Dame (f18 - 15 sec - ISO 100) — © Adam Sedgley
Cathedral Notre Dame (f18 – 15 sec – ISO 100) — © Adam Sedgley

Paris by Night: Place de la Concorde

Located in the 8th arrondissement to the north of the Seine, Place de la Concorde is one of the most famous public squares in Paris. Built in 1755 as Place de Louis XV, it was later incorporated by Georges-Eugene Haussmann in the late 19th century as a pivot in a grand avenue that connects Arc d’Triomphe and Champs d’Élysées to the west and Tuileries Garden and The Louvre to the east.

After the French Revolution in 1789, the statue of Louis XV (where the obelisk currently stands) was replaced with a guillotine and many notable members in French history—including Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette—were relieved of their heads. The execution device was finally removed in 1795, perhaps driven by the unbearable stench and an overly dull blade—over 1,300 people were beheaded in a single month during the peak of activity the prior year.

The 3,300-year-old Egyptian obelisk standing in the center once graced the entrance to the Luxor temple. It was one of two gifted to France by Egypt in the mid 19th century; the other proved too difficult to move and remained in Egypt.

After photographing the Eiffel Tower from the nearby banks of the Seine, I set up my tripod to capture this ancient obelisk with the temporary ferris wheel as a backdrop. The moon was a nice, gleaming white cherry on top.


Place de la Concorde (f25 / 6 sec / ISO 160) -- © Adam Sedgley
Place de la Concorde (f25 / 6 sec / ISO 160) — © Adam Sedgley


Place de la Concorde (f25 / 10 sec / ISO 160) -- © Adam Sedgley
Place de la Concorde (f25 / 10 sec / ISO 160) — © Adam Sedgley


Place de la Concorde (f25 / 10 sec / ISO 160) -- © Adam Sedgley
Place de la Concorde (f25 / 10 sec / ISO 160) — © Adam Sedgley



Paris by Night: Eiffel Tower

I peered outside our apartment window and saw a thick cluster of clouds smothering a blue sky.

Today could be the day.

I recently decided that it was morally deplorable to live in Paris for six months and not have a picture of the Eiffel Tower at sunset. At 3:30pm, I packed up my camera and tripod and headed for the Trocadero metro stop. Located on the other side of the Seine, this location features two imposing buildings that form the sites on top of an old rifle, perfectly framing the Eiffel Tower at the end of the barrel.

I was set up by 4:20pm. Unfortunately, the anticipated sunset colors never materialized, but despite that and freezing temperatures, it was still worth my time.

The Eiffel Tower is arguably the most iconic landmark in the world and, surprisingly, it was widely derided after it was built for the 1889 Exposition Universelle. The Eiffel Tower was to be dismantled in the early 20th century but a radio antenna installed by its designer Gustav Eiffel in 1909 proved too valuable to the French Army. Two and a half million rivets hold together the “iron asparagus.”

Eiffel Tower (f10 - 1/6 sec - ISO 100 - polarized filter)
Eiffel Tower (f10 – 1/6 sec – ISO 100 – polarized filter)  — © Adam Sedgley
Eiffel Tower (f22 / 2 sec / ISO 100)
Eiffel Tower (f22 / 2 sec / ISO 100) — © Adam Sedgley


Eiffel Tower (f25 / 10 sec / ISO 160)
Eiffel Tower (f25 / 10 sec / ISO 160) — © Adam Sedgley


Eiffel Tower (f11 / 2 sec / 160 ISO)
Eiffel Tower (f11 / 2 sec / 160 ISO) — © Adam Sedgley


Eiffel Tower (f11 / 3 sec / 160 ISO)
Eiffel Tower (f11 / 3 sec / 160 ISO) — © Adam Sedgley


Eiffel Tower (f11 / 6 sec / 160 ISO)
Eiffel Tower (f11 / 6 sec / 160 ISO) — © Adam Sedgley


Eiffel Tower (f7.1 / 2.5 sec / ISO 160)
Eiffel Tower (f7.1 / 2.5 sec / ISO 160) — © Adam Sedgley




Unfortunately, my battery died and I had forgotten my spare at home. Fortunately, I already had plans to meet Kristi at l’Opera. I walked from Trocadero to Opera, received my charged battery, and moved quickly to Place de la Concorde on the Seine. I was only able to snap a couple of photos of the Eiffel Tower during its hourly light show—consisting of hundreds of pulsating flashbulbs—before it returned to its normal nocturnal state.

Eiffel Tower (f11 / 4 sec / 160 ISO)
Eiffel Tower (f11 / 4 sec / 160 ISO) — © Adam Sedgley


Eiffel Tower (f16 / 25 sec / ISO 160)
Eiffel Tower (f16 / 25 sec / ISO 160) — © Adam Sedgley


Turning the camera directly across the Seine, I captured a photo of Assemblée Nationale with Pont de la Concorde to the left. I especially love how the tree shadow projects over the river.

Assemblee Nationale (f25 / 30sec / ISO 160)
Assemblee Nationale (f25 / 30sec / ISO 160) — © Adam Sedgley