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OU on the BBC: Paris - City of Dreams

Updated Tuesday, 19th June 2007

Few cities boast the romantic allure of Paris: its charm, its energy, its style. Sandrine Voillet reveals how Paris battled through turmoil and trauma to become the city of dreams – the capital of the world in all but name, in this BBC/OU series.

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We first meet Sandrine in the Louvre, the world’s most famous museum of art and the place where she studied the history of art. Before it was a museum, the Louvre was a splendid palace. That all changed with the French Revolution of 1789 and that is when Sandrine begins her story of Paris.

From the blood-soaked streets of revolution Paris rose up to become the world’s first truly modern city – the place where the way we work, live and play in cities today was born during the 19th century.

Paris gave birth to the restaurant, which was literally a place to “restore yourself” and become healthy. Sandrine meets one of France’s most celebrated chefs, Guy Martin, and savours one of his gastronomic works of art in one of the city’s top restaurants. The French language is blessed with an incredible array of words for places to eat out. Paris is famous for fine food, good wine and high-class shopping – a tradition which dates back to the 19th century when the first arcades and department stores made their bow alongside the thriving street markets.

The city was transformed at the time by a man known as the demolition artist, Georges-Eugène Haussmann. Medieval slums were swept away to be replaced by the elegant tree-lined boulevards which are the city’s hallmark. The wide pavements inspired that great Parisian pastime of promenading and posing. There were plenty of new public parks too. Sandrine takes us to a magical fairytale park which is one of Paris’ best kept secrets.

Next Sandrine visits two of the great achievements of the 1800s and the contrast between them could not be starker. She delves deep into the subterranean labyrinth of the city sewers, before emerging from a manhole outside the magnificent Opera Garnier, where she sees a rehearsal of the ballet “La Dame aux Camélias.” This tale of a tragic young courtesan opens the door to a world of sexual excess and glamour and Sandrine heads for a very special restaurant famed for its discreet boudoir lounges, where gentlemen would cavort with courtesans. The courtesans were immortalised in paintings and sculpture and in their own way helped establish Paris as the world capital of art. It was the age of the Impressionists, the sculptor Auguste Rodin and the pioneers of photography, like Nadar and Charles Marville. Sandrine meets one of France’s great photographers, Willy Ronis, and gets some tips on how to take the perfect picture.

Sandrine reveals why two of Paris’ most photographed landmarks, the Basilica of Sacré Coeur and the Eiffel Tower, were hated when they were first built, but went on to become the great icons of the most beautiful city in the world.

First broadcast: Tuesday 26 Jun 2007 on BBC TWO

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