Leaders & Landmarks
Paris Leaders & Landmarks
The inhabitants of a place surely influence how it is perceived. Parisian politicians have certainly left their marks on some of France’s most famous landmarks, creating some amazing stories for us to share with you before you pack your bags for a Paris adventure.
Notre Dame Cathedral
The crowning of two kings, the beatification of an innocent martyr, and the attempted assassination of one of France’s most prominent presidents. What do these three historically significant events have in common? All took place in a famous Gothic cathedral completed over two centuries – the Notre-Dame-de-Paris.
The assassination attempt on Charles de Gaulle, founder of the Fifth and current Republic of France, and leader of the French Resistance against Nazi Germany in the second World War, remains a mystery.
At the Notre Dame Cathedral on the afternoon of 26 August 1944, between De Gaulle’s brief address and the thanksgiving service to celebrate Paris’ Liberation, gunshots rang from inside the cathedral. In the panic, casualties amounted to three hundred, yet De Gaulle remained unscathed – despite walking straight into the gunfire.
At nearly 2 meters tall, how could they have missed the target walking into their line of fire, a larger-than-life leader attempting to re-establish France’s democracy?
Till this day, speculations of the unidentified suspects persist. Were the assassins really Germans, or was the assassination staged by the French Communist Party under political motivations?
This, however, was not the only time De Gaulle’s life was at risk. Notably, the Organisation de l’Armee Secrete, better known as OAS, went after his life – and failed – multiple times. OAS was a French dissident, right-wing paramilitary group protesting against the decolonization of Algeria from France. Supporters of his Presidency at the height of the Algerian War in 1958, the OAS were incensed when De Gaulle granted Algeria independence from France.
In late August 1962, following a Council of Ministers meeting to address OAS issues, De Gaulle was ambushed on his way home with his wife. 43kg of plastic explosives inside a propane cylinder and 20kg of petrol and oil in a fuel can were hidden in large sand piles left by road-menders on the road they travelled on. As luck would have it, only the fuel ignited.
The OAS received insider information from their spies at the Élysée Palace. Time and again however, the assassination attempts were subverted, including the seemingly foolproof plan near Rue du Bois. In this instance, both crossfire and attempts to clean up their tracks failed – the fuse of a bomb blew out before it could rid the weapons used, and the culprits were arrested within a couple of weeks! Dumbfounded by their repeated failures, OAS begun to suspect secret-service agents were behind their organisation to disgrace them and put the President in a better light.
A prestigious Parisian brasserie, LIPP is a traditional French restaurant well-known not only for its classic French dishes, but also its famous clientele, from philosophers, screenwriters, literary artists, to supermodels and politicians. Located in the fashionable arrondissement of Paris, its extraordinary history features a regular customer, Francois Mitterrand.
The longest-serving President of France from 1981 to 1995, Francois Mitterrand was First Secretary of the Socialist Party, the first figure from the left elected President under the Fifth Republic. In what became known as The Observatory Affair, he was pursued by assassins when travelling home from dinner at Brasserie Lipp very late on the night of 15 October 1959, perhaps after visiting his secret mistress and daughter residing in the Seventh Arrondissement of Paris, about 5 Kilometers from the Élysée.
The Paris Observatory
Near one of the largest astronomical centres in the world, the president of France took cover as gunshots were fired at his vehicle.
A dark car had tried to run Mitterand off the road twice before he abandoned his car along Rue Auguste-Comte. He laid prostrate on the grass of a Paris park bordering the Avenue de l’Observatoire, before ringing the bell at entrance no.5 which scared off the assassins and woke the quartier. There were 7 bullet holes in the front and rear door of his vehicle.
Commissioner Georges Clot was chief investigator of this assassination attempt. He deduced from the angle of the bullet holes that the shots were fired from a stationary card, which implied that the gunmen were confident, but raised suspicions as to why they had failed to run Mitterrand off the road, and had assumed to have killed him in his car before taking off. Moreover, he identified unreliable parts of Mitterrand’s testimony.
The truth was finally revealed – in a dramatic turn of events – by Robert Pesquet, a carpenter who stepped into politics.
Palais de Justice
At the Palais de Justice, in front of reporters and lawyers, Pesquet read out a letter posted to himself two days before the staged assassination. The plan of events which unfolded exactly on that night was recorded in the letter! Pesquet claimed that this was Mitterrand’s scheme.
Mitterrand defended himself with the claim that Pesquet had come to him with orders from French-Algerian friends for Mitterrand’s life over his own. Since a fake assassination would deter potential killers and help his friend, Mitterrand had agreed to play along. Pesquet, however, publicly accused Mitterrand for organising the whole scandal, and Mitterrand became the victim of a right-wing plot to ruin his political career.
Just what were the truths behind these assassination attempts? Their stories are sure to remain with you as you explore Boulevard Saint-Germain and other iconic landmarks of France. Aside from the City of Lights and Love, Odyssey has a wide offering of tours for you to learn more about the culture and historic sites of France in person.
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