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Amusement of the French kings and aristocracy

2014-10-11

zabava-01.jpgWe meet on a September Friday at "Carrousel du Louvre". A sunny September day is one of the details of the perfect organization of the travel agency Elytour. We are accompanied by Jessica, a young elegant Parisian lady, a historian, whose knowledge and plenty of interesting anecdotes prove that she moves over the centuries of the Parisian history so gracefully, as she does with her steps, revealing her long year passion in ballet. 

"Carrousel du Louvre" as a meeting place wasn’t chosen accidentally. This was the place where for the first time people went to the streets of Paris to celebrate. Here took place the big public celebrations during two days on June 5th and 6th in 1662, with a public of 15 000 people. The king Louis XIV decided to celebrate publicly two important events: the birth of a crown prince (1662) and signing of the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659 (peace that ended up the war between France and Spain). During two days in the Tuileries gardens there were grandiose celebrations with the fire-works, glittering costumes with precious stones and decorative feathers. The rings were stabbed on the lances, there were gazabava-02.jpgmes with the horses, a Moliere’s theatre piece was played. And all this in presence of the king Louis XIV himself. Five princes were disguised on the motives of five, at that time exotic, nations. Romans were represented by the king Louis XIV himself, and other princes represented Persians, Turks, Indians and « American savages». The French king was a rarity in Europe, by the fact that he was visible and Versailles was easily accessible to common people. We look at the Tuileries gardens’ gravel under our feet and imagine the hoof beats of the horses, colours and pomposity of the celebrations in the ambiance of the 17th century.
 
Several months after the moving of the royal court to Versailles, Louis XIV starts to organize three times per week the parties in his apartments - "les soirées d’apartements". This way of amusement of the courtiers is organized by the king in order to prevent the members of the royal court attending private parties. The first party in the king’s apartments is held in November 1682. During the parties the king gives up the strict etiquette, the formalities are abandoned and the king moves freely in the different parlours and the courtiers are not obliged to stand up in his presence.
 
And so the Carrousel has to wait with the amusement for the king Louis XV.zabava-03.jpg "Carrousel" comes from Italy and the word "carrousel" comes from two Latin words "carrus-soli", with the meaning "sun carriage". The first "carrousels" were with the real horses lashed at the end of the ropes and turning around the stake. In France the carrousels replaced the tourneys, which were prohibited after the tragic death of the king Henry II in 1559. Versailles creates for a large public a Royal Carrousel, with horses, baroque costumes and opera music.
 
From the Tuileries garden we walk towards the theatre "Comédie française". In 1661 Moliere created here his theatre group and nowadays people still come here to see Moliere’s plays. Our guide Jessica explains us the context that at that time there existed three theatre groups: Moliere’s group, the Marais group and the group of "l’Hôtel de Bourgogne". In 1681 Moliere dies and as a consequence his group merges with the Marais group as per the king’s decision there is established a "royal theatre group", serving to the king and the Versailles castle. The front facade of the present building of Comédie Française is not from the 17th century, since the building burnt in the 19th century and was rebuilt. A curious fact is that the actors were mostly Italian. Italian drama theatre was preferred to the French one, since the French are not extraordinary in the drama theatre, they are better in comedies (what can be judged also from the present movies). Louis XIV appreciates the actors, under his reign they start to receive a pension. When the actors were accused of the conspiracy against the revoluzabava-04.jpgtion, as a defence they started to communicate revolutionary ideas, theatre became more popular and accessible to wider public.
 
We walk by the coffee bar "Le Nemours", with its terrace flooded in the autumn sun and we walk towards the building of the royal palace "Palais Royal", which used to have a different form than it has today. Its today’s shape comes from the 19th century. Initially the building did not look like a palace but rather like a big house. Duke of Orleans, since he was a regent and not a king, could not stay in Versailles and so he settled in the royal palace "Palais Royal". In the royal court in Versailles, the courtiers started to be bored with the ageing king Louis XIV. And so the amusement moved to the "Palais Royal". A duke of Orleans loved profusion, alcohol, he hated the social etiquette, he had a lot of mistresses, his parties were decadent and full of orgies. His mother, princess Palatine was against those drinking-bouts, she called those men "sacs à vin" - bags of wine. Jessica explains that at that time the most current drink was a hot wine mixed with water. The duke’s parties were held in the closed company, the palace was locked, the food on the table was eaten without the plates, the girls were called "les campagnes" (mates). There are rumours that the duke was involved even with the nuns. The "Palais Royal" which we see with admiration today was actually a cradle of libertinage. From the "Palais Royal" we walk on the wide avenue towards the Opera Garnier, which shines in front of us with its stone and golden decorations. On zabava-05.jpgthe "avenue de l’Opéra" we stop by an advertisement stand with a nicely smelling fresh coffee, just perfect before the lunch time and completes the feeling that Elytour think over every detail in the organization of the visit. The guide Jessica completes our knowledge about the Haussmanian architecture with the information on the decorative balconies, high doors for the carriages with horses, architectonic features of the visible parts of the buildings, the richer inhabitants living on the lower floors and the so-called "chambres des bonnes" - servants’ rooms under the roof.
 
Paris is white, because most of its buildings are from a sand-stone. Unfortunately, sand-stone is easily blackened by the pollution and that’s why the historical buildings in Paris must be regularly restored and cleaned (except the Sacré Cœur basilica which is built from a special stone).
 
By the Opera Garnier, observing the tourists on the stairs of the Opera building, we learn how Louis XIV started to regulate the dance choreographies; he decided the number of steps. We learn also that for 200 years dancing in opera was a men’s matter and only progressively the ballet was added to animate the singing operas. Women in masks were doing the pantomime and the men were dancing. In the 19th century slowly the musical ballet comedies get a flair of nobleness and they become an independent genre. And dancers, such as Mademoiselle Guimard, become the part of the Parisian mosaic, which we know also from the paintinzabava-06.jpggs, movies, where the ballet girls are supported by the rich lovers. Even in the paintings with the ballet girls you can always notice a shadow of a man. Men come to Opera to be seen and to find the mistresses. In the 18th century the girls from the poor families become dancers in order to get out of the poverty, in the 19th century they become dancers to find rich lovers. Of course, with all their love affairs they get often pregnant and their graceful bodies change, when they get too much weight they have to be retired. When the dancers were pregnant, it was said that "their knees are aching". Napoleon, with his military discipline, introduces the rules also in the dancing code. In the middle of the 19th century the ballet dancers start to learn the jumps and pirouettes, and not only men are dancing. The dancers have to be able to hide their fatigue. Several expressions of the ballet terminology come from the French language and are used in other languages, such as "chat", "saut de chat" or "pirouettes".
 
An event from 1858, an attempt on life of Napoleon III brings a decision to build an Opera House with a wide impressive entrance. Napoleon had never seen the finished Opera. In 1875 he was imprisoned and then sent to the exile to England. Opera zabava-07.jpgGarnier was inaugurated in 1875 and a sad fact is that its architect Charles Garnier had to buy a ticket for the inauguration and since he did not have much money, he had to be in the second row. As it happens often with the new things, even the Opera building had its moment of a radical criticism, a scandal for its variety and mixture of the architectonic styles and decoration. Jessica, also from a viewpoint of a ballet dancer, explains to us that although the modern Opera Bastille has much bigger scene and better acoustics for big ballets, nothing can be compared to the experience from a ballet in the historical building of the Opera Garnier, with its wide staircase and red carpets which give a nice tone to the complexion of women.
 
Our historical walk continues towards its last stop, another important place of a Parisian amusement and leisure time. We enter the passage "Passage des Panoramas", the oldest Parisian passage, the covered street where in 1799 was established a first cinema - "les panoramas" – the moving pictures in the real size. The usual topics were the historical battles. The oldest boutique of the passage is "Stern". "Cafés concerts" – the concert coffee bars, called the "Beuglants", were the places where Parisians used to meet, where they were coming to drink and dance. Dancers were progressively leaving Opera and going to the cabaret "Folies Bergères", with less clothes and more glittery veils. Matahari, who lived on Java in Indonesia for some time, brought an exotic touch to the dance. And we all know how the story continues, cancan, Moulin Rouge, dancers on the tables, upthrowing their skirts to show the underwear. In the passage "Passage des Panoramas" the variety theatre appeared - "Théâtre des variétés".
 
Within two hours we walked through various places of Paris, through several centuries, we are richer in understanding the evolution from the royal celebrations and parties to the cabaret. And as Jessica reminds us several times during our visit, we cannot look on the past centuries with the eyes of the 21st century. And thanks to her and the agency Elytour today we saw Paris this way.
 
Source of information: Jessica Terrier
 
Maria Danthine, Paristep

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