Val de Grace, Paris.

Val de Grace is a church built by Anne of Austria to express her gratitude for the birth of her son and heir to the throne, the future king Louis XIV. Those who liked to read Alexander Dumas in their adolescence will remember the Three Musketeers and their adventures, as well as the lively customs and traditions common for the royalty and nobility of the seventeenth century. It is a beautiful building with a stately dome which is one of the city’s landmarks. I have been looking at it for several weeks now, trying to figure out if one could somehow visit it and take pictures on the lovely large square that I have seen in multiple paintings and photos done in the previous centuries. The first time I tried it was closed. Then I studied the schedule and finally decided to visit it on a sunny day. One finds a small gate on Rue St. Jacques, rings the bell, walks to the guard’s window, shows sone ID, gets a visitor’s pass and gets inside. Eglise a gauche, musee a droite – church to your left, museum to your right. Pay €5 admission fee and go. You can walk around the museum looking at various medical instruments, at pictures from WWI or earlier, at portraits of famous surgeons. When we tried to skip some part a curator firmly re-directed our steps back to the missed chamber. Many instruments looked quite scary, so I took pictures of some nice period utensils instead. We also looked at the magnificent library with zillions of old books on floor-to-ceiling very tall bookshelves. Then we went to the church. It is really impressive inside, with intricate winding columns and a gorgeous domed ceiling.

One can see lots of paintings depicting Anne of Austria, too. Portraits of famous surgeons from the 18th century onwards also decorate the walls.

Now that we have done everything we could do inside, we were directed to the exit which was just that – the exit. I asked in my primitive French if I could go to the square and take pictures, but alas, no! The guards just shrugged their shoulders in that typically Gallic gesture and gave me a lengthy explanation. I gathered that we couldn’t enter from the other side because it is a military hospital, and also because there is construction or reconstruction work going on. At which point my French deserted me, so I went outside and simply snapped some pictures.

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