Paris is a city of contrasts. Light and dark. Old and new. Past and present. Erased from the memories of most Parisians, however, is the Palais du Trocadéro. This ephemeral construction of grandeur was richly imagined for the Paris World Fairs Expositions Universelle. Paris hosted seven world fairs beginning in 1855 and ending in 1937. Visitors flocked from around the world. And in 1900, Paris broke records with more than 50 million visitors and 83,000 exhibitors at that year’s Fair.
Palais du Trocadéro
The Palais du Trocadéro was built for the Exposition Universelle of 1878 by architect Gabriel Davioud. He was a colleague of Georges-Eugène “Baron” Haussmann. He was the urban planner responsible for the spectacular renovation of Paris during the reign of Napoléon III in the mid-19th century. Davioud designed most of the Parisian street furniture we see today. Benches, lamp-posts, signposts, fences, balustrades, kiosks, pavilions, bandstands, monuments and fountains.
The Palais du Trocadéro was built on the hill of Chaillot, across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower in the 16th arrondissement. The Palais was named in honour of the 1823 Battle of Trocadéro. The fortified Isla del Trocadero in Spain was captured by French forces under the leadership of the Duc d’Angoulême, the son of Charles X. Davioud conceived the elaborate palace as a pastiche of Byzantine and Moorish architecture. It was to be a place where meetings of international organizations could be held during the fair.
There was a large concert hall flanked by two 76-meter (249-foot) towers. The hall contained a large organ built by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll. It was the first large organ to be installed in a concert hall in France. You can see it at the Auditorium Maurice Ravel in Lyon where it is still in use. The building proved unpopular. However the cost of its construction delayed its replacement for nearly 50 years. Only in 1937 was the central building finally demolished.
Palais de Chaillot
It was replaced by the Palais de Chaillot for the International Exhibition of Arts and Techniques held in 1937. The wings of the Palais du Trocadéro were reused for the Chaillot building. It’s now home to four cultural institutions: the City of Architecture and Heritage, the National Maritime Museum, the Musée de l’Homme and Chaillot – National Dance Theater.
Often left off of tourist itineraries, the Palais de Chaillot is worth visiting for the magnificent architecture as well as the extraordinary museums. Plus there is a wonderful view over the Eiffel Tower and the Champs du de Mars from the Esplanade des Libertés et des Droits de l’Homme, between the two wings. And there are several places to eat. Pop to the Café de l’Homme, at the back of the back of the Musée de l’Homme. It’s one of the favourite spots for Parisians in summer with a terrace overlooking the tower.
The space between the palais and the Seine is set with gardens and fountains, designed by Jean-Charles Alphand. Two large animal statues stood there once – a rhinoceros and an elephant. They were removed and stored during the demolition of the old palace, and have been located next to the entrance of the Musée d’Orsay since 1986.
Statue of Liberty in Paris
The head of the Statue of Liberty was also showcased in the garden until it was packed in one of 214 wooden crates for shipment to the United States. The Statue of Liberty was designed by French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi and built by Gustave Eiffel. It was given by the people of France to the United States and dedicated in situ in 1886. There are more than 100 replicas of the iconic statue including more than 30 in France!
Sue Aran lives in the Gers department of southwest France where she runs French Country Adventures which provides private, personally-guided, small-group food & wine adventures into Gascony, the Pays Basque, Tarn and beyond…
More on old Paris
Rue Mouffetard – one of the oldest streets in Paris
Stohrer – one of the oldest cake shops in Paris
Sainte-Chapelle, the church that’s like a jewel box
Clos Montmartre, the secret vineyard of Paris