School trips to Paris can be fantastically diverse. Depending on the class or age or ability of pupils the French capital offers a dizzying range of entry points into all subjects â€“ language, art history, history and religious education.
Paris is a city that has been constructed out of the spiritual and architectural legacies of religion, of Catholicism and Protestantism; and, to a recent lesser extent, Islam. Its history has been driven by theism, which may have taken dark and violent turns but also leaves some beautiful buildings for us to enjoy today.
And pupils donâ€™t have to be believers to get something from the striking architecture that Paris boasts today. There are however two churches and a cathedral that stand above everywhere else as must-sees. They are iconic and recognisable but no less inspiring and breath taking to behold in person.
All school trips to Paris must include the cathedral of Notre Dame as part of its itinerary. A grand tribute to the striking successes of the Gothic style, this monument is over 800 years old. Located in the ÃŽle de la CitÃ©, an island in the middle of the Seine, the place has witnessed a lot: English King Henry VIâ€™s coronation, Joan of Arcâ€™s burning, and Napoleonâ€™s renovations are all events that taken place within or before its walls.
And despite all that, it is still in use today for Mass, and as the seat of the archbishopric of Paris. Yet Notre Dameâ€™s true residual value lies in its scale and ambition â€“ the 140 steps are a must to climb to see the views from the top. Inside there is also a seventeenth-century organ, and various plans and blueprints for the building, which yield some of its hidden secrets.
The cathedral is open every day and admission is free. There are also special tours for visiting schools, adapted to different age groups which are also free.
La Madeleine Church
If Notre Dame is a monument to Gothic design then La Madeleine is the supreme example of the neo-classical and Greek revival. Originally built in the 1760s, it was redesigned during the Revolutionary years and turned into a secular building for the French Navy. Finally in 1842, it was permanently repurposed as a church.
La Madeleineâ€™s faÃ§ade of Doric columns is spectacular, as is the interior: the domed vaults lead to one of the most stunning altars in the world; and the walls are decorated with frescos depicting the history of Christianity. Students donâ€™t have to be religious to feel some of the mysterious power that exists in this dimly lit hall. Entry here is also free.
Although SacrÃ©-CÅ“ur is the most recent build here â€“ between 1875 and 1914 â€“ it is nonetheless extraordinary. It sits mightily at the top of Montmartre hill looking down on the populations swelling around its foundations, crowned in the striking white stone that can be so inspiring to young minds. Climb up the dome for exciting views and learn about how the same spot was sacred to druids and Romans alike.
Using a specialised education travel tour company is recommended. That way, teacher time can be spent maximising the experience a school trip to Paris can offer, leaving memories that last a lifetime for pupils.
John Gardiner is the Managing Director of The School Travel Company, a tour operator specialising in educational travel for school and youth groups. Whether you’re planning a school trip to Paris, New York or India’s Golden Triangle, you can trust both the educational and economic value of their itineraries, whether ready-made or specifically designed to suit the needs of your group.
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