The French love Egypt. Ever since they invaded it in the late eighteenth century, they have had an abiding fascination for this exotic land. Paris is a beautiful city and famous for its neoclassical frontages and long boulevardses, thanks to Haussmann’s renovations. It also contains several pieces of Egyptian inspired architecture.
Pyramids at the Louvre
The Pyramid du Louvre, designed by IM Pei and built in 1989, has become an iconic symbol of the city of Paris. The fabled resting place of Mary Magdalene and home to the luxury shopping, this is the perfect entrance to the Louvre museum and its famous gift shops.
The gold topped obelisk at the Place de la Concorde (between the Louvre Pyramid and the Arc de Triomphe) was originally dedicated to Ramesses II. The French were offered the spare Cleopatra Needle but choose this one instead. The other needle went to New York. The Luxor Obelisk stands near the spot where Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette were executed.
Fountain du Palmier
Commemorating the victories of Napoleon Bonaparte, the Fountain du Palmier depicts four sphinxes spewing out life giving waters. Topped by a column naming Napoleon’s victories, this is Egyptomania at its most obviously colonial in Paris.
Fontaine du Fellah
The Fontaine du Fellah (Fellah being an Egyptian Paesant) depicts Antinous as the god Osiris. Antinous was the lover of Hadrian and was turned into a god after his death. The fountain was designed by François-Jean Bralle during the reign of Napoleon to give clean water to the people of Paris. It was working until 2005.
Passage du Caire
The Passage du Caire is the oldest covered arcade in Paris. It was built in 1798. It is fronted with depictions of the goddess Hathor, Egyptian columns and cavetto cornice, and an Pharonic frieze. A fine piece of urban architecture, it was being renovated when we visited.
Pyramid at Parc Monceau
This pyramid was built to the design of Phillippe d’Orleans cousin to King Louis XVI in 1778. Although this was twenty years before Napoleon’s intervention in French affairs, a lot more was known about Egypt at the time than is sometimes appreciated. Phillipe was a free mason. Egyptian iconography had an important role in Freemasonry, probably due to the influence of Hermetica. Hermetica was books of Egyptian magic dating from the Greco-Roman period which remained popular throughout the medieval period and into the age of Enlightenment. Today, a handsome and refreshing park, it’s worth taking a trip over.
Unlike London, where the majority of Egyptian inspired architecture is from the twenties, the Cine Louxor is the only example of Art Deco-esque Egyptomania. A luxurious cinema, replete inside and out with Egyptian inspired flourishes, it opened in 1921. Much of London’s Egyptian inspired architecture is commonly thought to have been inspired by the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922. Why was le Louxor designed in this style? François Loyer argued that it might have been inspired by the film Cleopatra released in 1917, or perhaps the 1900 Paris Exposition. Either way, it is a fine building.