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For thousands of years all of Northern France has endured an eventful position at the crossroads of European affairs. The city of Paris – unchallenged heart of the region – has always been a factor in the resulting conflicts, and yet it has miraculously survived intact. Because the city is both strategic and relatively undamaged by the centuries of war which have swept past, it has a wonderful sense of historical importance. At Gare de l'est, it is easy to pause and think of the rows of young soldiers sleeping along the walls of the train station, preparing for their voyage to the trenches of World War One. Stand there and say to yourself; "they were right here, with their
Napoleonic Base Relief
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clattering mess kits and creaking leather gear." That is somehow more poignant than the eternal flame which commemorates the dead of that great war, because before they died, many of those young men passed through that very train station (Metro: Gare de l'est). The eternal flame burns on at the Arc de Triumph, one of the great landmarks of Paris. This particular triumphal arch was ordered into existence by Napoleon I, although it was not completed until long after his passage from power. The arch features base reliefs of Napoleonic scenes and is inscribed with the names of that era's many battles, several of which are probably not even recognizable to many Napoleonic scholars.

Anyone who has seen paintings of the French Imperial Guard of the Napoleonic Wars marching under an arch will recognize the Carousel Arc just west of the Louvre pyramid (Metro: Palais Royal Musée du Louvre). That arch, with statues of the Famous bronze horses from Constantinople atop, is the very arch that those guardsmen used to march through. Nearby is the place where King Louis' Swiss Guards kept the Paris mob at bay, and across the Seine is the Conciergerie, last home of countless victims of the 1793 Terror. And while you are in the area, walk up Rue Rivoli and look up. Set into the stone walls high above traffic are statues of Napoleonic generals, including the intrepid General of Engineers Jean-Baptiste Éblé who helped the FrenchArmy escape from Russia.

Cities like this are important because they remind us that history is not some static thing which exists only in books. These things really happened. The famous people we read about actually breathed, cursed, ate dinner and maybe even brushed their fingers along the same walls as us. Some of them ended up buried in the Cimetière du père Lachaise (Metro: Pere Lachaise). Not only can you find the graves of famous poets and scientists there, but also Napoleonic Marshals Davout, Macdonald, St. Cyr, Massena, Murat, Ney and Suchet, among others. The Kellermann family plot is also there, as well as that of the able General Morand. Don't forget to locate the tomb of Sergeant Hoff, a Franco-Prussian War soldier who rated a larger than life bronze statue of both himself and his daughter, the later of whom is wonderfully posed at the base of her father's pedestal as if writing on it with a pen!

Tomb of Joachim Murat
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The French Army Museum at Les Invalides (Metro: Invalides) is certainly one of the premiere military museums of Europe. Their collection ranges from ancient weapons and gear to an unparalleled gallery of equipment, paintings and personal effects from the Napoleonic Wars. Among the many ultra-rare Napoleonic items on display are some of Napoleon's own uniforms and hats, as well as his field tent and personal trophies. Uniforms from period armies are too numerous to count, and include those of marshals, senior officers, infantry, cavalry and guards. Residing in a sombre position at the end of the wing is the armored cuirass of Carabinier trooper Antoine Faveau, who suffered a dramatically fatal direct hit from a British cannon ball at the battle of Waterloo in 1815. And while the museum contains priceless artifacts, it was out in the courtyard where, in 1814, the elderly Marshal Séurier burned Frederick the Great's decorations rather than allow them to be recaptured by the approaching Prussian army.

Holed Cuirass
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The World War One wing of the museum has a complete selection of Great War uniforms, weapons and other unusual items such as a large piece of shrapnel from the German "Paris Gun", its rifling grooves clearly visible. Within a nearby display case lies a 1916 French infantry uniform, still covered with the mud of Verdun. Also at the museum are three dimensional situation maps created in the last century for contingency planning. These wonderful creations are huge, room-sized dioramas of major French cities and their surrounding terrain, and they are displayed in a new climate controlled wing.

Do not miss the Musée National de la Marine, an exceptional naval museum containing a wealth of paintings, fittings and large scale ship models. Their displays include a section of mast from a 74 gun ship of the line, the ram bow of an ancient trireme, and a "torpedo room" with original examples. The museum is located on the Trocadero, from which you can get that world famous view of the Eiffel Tower.

Modern French Cavalry
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Parading cavalry squadrons and their regimental bands are not everyday occurrences in Paris, but they are spectacular when seen. It certainly brings back the feel for what it was like to see columns of dragoons and cuirassiers moving through town in the days before the wide boulevards were blasted out of the urban sprawl during the middle of the 1800s. The clattering noise of even a hundred cavalry can be heard at a distance, and the regimental bands can be heard for blocks. The cavalry column shown here was part of a government demonstration carried out in the spring of 1987, when there was a simultaneous threat of student unrest and terrorist attacks. They apparently thought that large columns of scouting cavalry would be an inspiring, yet powerful reminder to potential trouble makers. They also thrilled the tourists, and therefore served a dual purpose. All through that summer, mobile cavalry columns ranging from 8 to 80 troopers could be seen ranging throughout the city, always friendly but always watchful.

One final note. Any student of history will recognize many of the names for the streets and avenues of Paris, not to mention the metro and rail stations. Gare d'Austerlitz, Rue la Fayette, Stalingrad, Boulevard Berthier and there is of course, a rather modest Rue Bonaparte. Avenue de la Grand Armée runs between Place de la Porte Maillot and Arc de Triomphe, where it meets Avenue Foch, Avenue Kléber and fittingly; Avenue Friedland!

Avenue de la Grande Armee
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Weeks can be spent discovering new sights around Paris, even those relating to military history. But any visitor short on time would be best served to head for the Army Museum. The Ecole Militaire is nearby and also well worth a visit. Place Bastille, while historic, holds no trace of the original Bastille, and is little more than a very large, smoggy traffic circle. Keep an eye out for the many small plaques mounted along the streets and avenues around town. They commemorate the people who died fighting the Germans immediately before the Allies entered Paris in August of 1944. Many have fresh flowers on them.

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