Grand Palais history
Just like the Eiffel Tower, Petit Palais and Pont Alexander – the Grand Palais was built for the Universal Exhibition of 1900. During this stage, Paris was host to the World Fair, as it is also known, once every eleven years. After the success with the Eiffel Tower in 1889, the need for something new and magnificent for the upcoming exhibition in 1900 was obvious.
The Expo of 1900
The 1889 exhibition had just ended when the planning for the next exhibition began. In 1894, a competition was organized to define a blueprint for the general layout of the 1900 Universal Exhibition. The result of the competition showed that over twenty suggestions involved linking
Champs-Élysées to the Esplanade des Invalides by two new buildings and a new bridge, an idea which was embraced by the committee.
This created the set of rules from which a new competition would determine who would get to design these new buildings. The end result was that no single architect would design all buildings alone, but the work would rather be collective and inspired by several architects.
The main part of the Grand Palais was awarded Henri Deglane, the central area went to Albert Louvet and the rear part to Albert Thomas. There was also a fourth architect involved, Charles Girault, who was responsible for coordinating the work.
Believe it or not, but the construction of the Grand Palais only took three years, as it had to be finished for the World Fair in 1900. Needless to say, the construction site was of epic proportions. During the peak in the construction phase, over 1500 people were working at the construction site. They pulled it off on time for the World Fair in 1900, even though the dead line proved to be a huge challenge.
During the construction, enormous amounts of steel were used – actually even more than during the construction of the Eiffel Tower. The steel framework of the Grand Palais was built using 8500 ton steel whereas the Eiffel Tower needed 8000 ton. Due to the low resistance of the soil near the river Seine, over 3400 oak piles were inserted into the ground, to provide the stability needed for a building of this magnitude.
During the late 20th and early 21st century, the Grand Palais underwent some serious restorations. When a rivet fell down from the glass roof in 1993, questions regarding the condition of the building were raised. In year 2000, after a series of engineering surveys, the decision was taken to start the restoration work.
When the Grand Palais was later listed as a historic monument in the month of November the very same year, the State was able to fund a vast restoration project. The project involved fortifications of sections which were in an alarming condition as well as restoring and cleaning all of the buildings beautiful sculptures and decorations. This restoration project was later completed in 2008.
Why visit Grand Palais ?
The beautiful Grand Palais is a highly unique building – even in the architectural masterpiece that is Paris. Many people like this building in particular, due to its different architectural style including multiple building materials.
Unlike many other monumental structures in Paris, the Grand Palais combines stone, steel and glass to perfection. But then again, the Grand Palais was built during a time when new construction material combinations were on the agenda.
The Grand Palais is famous for its beautiful outside. The front façade is stacked with a large number of statues, sculptured friezes and beautiful mosaic. All this was done by no less than forty different contemporary artists. Even though the front side of the Grand Palais has a typical Classicism style when it comes to architecture, many of the sculptures has a more baroque look to them.
The massive mosaic frieze, located behind the colonnade on the front façade, is made by the painter Louis Édouard Fournier. The mosaic in the 73 meter long and forms a timeline through the main periods of art history.
On the backside entrance, on Avenue Franklin Delano Roosevelt, visitors can see an inscription which proudly proclaimed the mission and ambition of the Grand Palais:
“This monument has been dedicated by the Republic to the glory of French Art”.
Most remarkable of all decorations on Grand Palais is probably the two Quadrigas; the four-horse-drawn chariots that visitors can see at the top on either side of the façade. These are known as the Récipon Quadrigas, after their creator, George Récipon.
The one looking out over the Seine represents “Harmony triumphing over Discord” and the one looking out over the Champs-Elysées “Immortality outstripping time”.
Even though the total weight of these two copper status is twelve tons, the horses appear to be defying the laws of gravity as they leap upwards into the Paris sky, more than 30 meters above the ground.
Some say they are the most beautiful part of the Grand Palais, and when looking at them, it’s easy to understand why.
Throughout the years, and still to this very day, the Grand Palais has hosted many major exhibitions and shows. The building is also permanent host to the science museum and the “Galeries nationals”; a very fine arts collection.
Today the Grand Palais attracts hundreds of thousands visitors every year, not only due to its exhibitions on the inside, but also due to its magnificent outside. The ambitions the constructors had in the late 19th century in combining the highly dissimilar materials steel, stone and glass, truly paid off. The result is what you can see today; an architectural success.
Grand Palais location
As Grand Palais is situated in between Champs Elysées and Esplanade des Invalides, in the heart of Paris, it is easily accessible on foot or by subway. For the exact location of Grand Palais, check out the location Map to the right.