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Trocadero Palace - Expo Paris 1889

Trocadero Palace at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1889
Architect(s) : Davioud, Bourdais

Although the Palais du Trocadéro was not built especially for the Exhibition of 1889, it contributed to the general success, not only because of its use, but also because of the magnificent perspective it offered to visitors to the Champ de Mars.

Moreover, it is wrongly said everywhere that there was nothing new at the Trocadero, in connection with the Exhibition.

And if that were true, it would not be a reason not to deal with it here, especially since the Trocadero, palace and park, is always new for those who do not know it, - M. de la Palisse would say, - I would add: and even for Parisians who have been there ten times and do not know what it contains.

It would, moreover, be an omission in this journal not to speak of it in as much detail as of the other buildings forming the whole of the Exhibition.

Built in 1878 by Davioud and Bourdais, the Palais du Trocadéro is a magnificent building, which does not owe all its success to its admirable location.

Although it forms a complete whole, very complete even, it can be said to be composed of three distinct parts.

A central construction, a vast rotunda with a colonnade, which is the Festival Hall, and two galleries forming a horseshoe, by their junction with the central part, which is achieved by means of pavilions and two slender towers, like the Arab minarets from which they borrow their decoration.

The exterior façade could also be counted as a separate part, if its decoration did not take advantage of the two large minaret towers, which were made mainly to frame the rotunda, which from a distance gives it a false air of a mosque, especially since the two minarets are a repetition, increased in height, which here reaches 82 metres, of those flanking the cathedral of Algiers, which is precisely an ancient mosque.

The exterior façade does not exactly resemble a mosque, one could even say that it resembles nothing, because seen from a distance it could just as easily be mistaken for a railway station, a church, or a racetrack stand.

In reality it is only a door, for it has no other claim than that of framing the entrance to the Palais du Trocadéro and, by extension, to the Exhibition; and it is to better mark this destination that the two pyramid-roofed pavilions framing the perron have been connected by a large marquise, which shelters the said perron and allows visitors arriving by car in rainy weather, if they go to the Exhibition when it is raining, to get off under cover.

This marquee was built this year. This proves that there is something new on this side.

Immediately behind the two pavilions with pointed roofs, rise the two bell towers topped with campaniles, but neither do they belong to the exterior facade, they can be seen over the roof of this forebuilding, but they are completely independent of it, they are the backs of the Festival Hall.

The forebuilding, pierced by nine doors, is in fact the vestibule of the palace, a monumental vestibule since it is 62 metres long, not counting the two large pavilions topped with domes which also serve to decorate it, although they were made as links between the two semi-circular peristyles and the central part.

From this vestibule, one can go anywhere in the palace, even to the top of the towers, by means of lifts that take visitors up to the terrace that surrounds the campaniles.

From up there, of course, the view is superb, but less beautiful than from the Eiffel Tower, precisely because the Eiffel Tower already takes up half the panorama.

If you only go up to the first floor via a superb staircase, lit by beautiful modern stained glass windows, you arrive at the Museum of Ethnography, which is curious at any time of year, but even more so during the exhibition period, when there is a special public that only wants to be surprised, and which is all the more surprised because it does not have the leisure to study things in depth.

The Museum's administration has gone to great lengths to offer its visitors something new.

With the help of skilfully staged mannequins, most of the popular national costumes of old France have been brought to life, as was already the case in the Museum for Brittany, and the Breton interior, which gives such an exact, complete and interesting idea of the manners, customs and costumes of the peasants of this ancient province, has even been taken as a model for arrangement.

But this is only said for the record, the Ethnographic Museum is too interesting for us not to devote a special article to it.

We will also do so for the exhibition of archaeology and church treasures and ornaments, which occupies the entire horseshoe gallery on the Passy side and which is not too comfortable, as it shows casts of historical monuments, portals of churches and others, tapestries, furniture, earthenware, drawings, photographs, enamelware, goldsmith's and silversmith's work, wood carvings, in short, a whole exhibition of the Musée de Cluny type, of the highest interest and the greatest curiosity.

There is also a Museum of Sculpture at the Trocadero, but that is not precisely what we are going to see.

Besides, I only want to deal here with the container and not the content.

As for the exterior, we still have to see the main façade, the real one, the one that gives the building the title of palace and justifies its destination.

It must be seen in two ways, if you want to know it well and above all if you want to be charmed by it: first from one of the semicircular galleries, giving yourself the central rotunda as a background, and then from the park, but a little low, so that the palace develops completely and the waterfall does not monopolise the view.

No matter what we do, this is what we will see first, so let's talk about it right away.

Built in imitation of the famous Saint-Cloud waterfall, but on a more inclined plane, and which makes its successive falls almost insensitive, seen from a certain distance, the Trocadero waterfall, which had been announced with a certain amount of fanfare as a small Niagara, has only half met the great expectations that had been founded on it. This does not prevent it from being very beautiful.

Its waters (and it consumes 20,000 cubic metres per day) fall from a large basin, placed on the edge of a platform enriched with statues, 9 metres high, into a first basin, from which they gush out onto seven Jura stone steps, before arriving at an immense final basin, the overflow of which flows into cast iron pipes and, crossing the Seine by the Pont d'Iéna, brings a powerful contingent to the water service of the Champ de Mars.

This great basin is surrounded by four statues of non-water animals, which look considerably bored; they are, however, gilded and sculpted by masters, but perhaps that is why they are bored.

As for the Elephant, which is by Frémiet, this is quite understandable, he was caught in a trap; but one wonders why M. Bouillard's Horse rears up, why Cain's Ox bellowed impatiently; as for M. Jacquemart's Rhinoceros, it is not surprising, he has not yet been able to get used to the climate.

Joking aside, these animals are very beautiful, but one wonders what they are doing there, in this park of the Trocadero, destined for the Horticultural Exhibition and at the foot of a waterfall that roars even louder than they do.

I said that the platform, from which the waterfall starts, was decorated with statues; they are golden, like those below, but they are not animals, they are women, charged with representing the five parts of the world.

Only the five parts of the world are six in number, because of the necessity of parallelism which means that there are only eight muses at the Opera (bad tongues even claim that the opportunity was taken to forget the one for music), but at the Trocadero, if the cause is exactly the same, the effect is precisely the opposite; One part of the world has not been forgotten, a new one has been invented, and, jealous of the laurels of Christopher Columbus, who discovered South America, the architects of the Trocadero have discovered North America.

The other parts of the world were represented: Europe by Schœneverk, Asia by Delaplanche, Africa by Ludovic Durand and Oceania by Mathurin Moreau.

Under the platform of the waterfall, i.e. behind the water table which is not at all transparent, as we had hoped, a cave was created, from which we thought we could see the landscape through the waterfall.

This grotto, which is externally shaped like a portico, is flanked by two niches in which two more statues are placed. This one at least is in situ and is not gilded: it is ÏEau, by Cavelier, and L'Air, by Thomas.

There are many more statues, but they are part of the Festival Hall, so let's talk about the building first.

From the foot of the waterfall, the Salle des Fêtes appears to the eye as a very prominent rotunda, since it is 58 metres in diameter, but nevertheless quite light, firstly because of its height, which reaches 61 metres including (for 6 metres) the Renommée, of Antonin Mercié, which crowns it, then because it is framed, at the bottom, by the two large pavilions with peristyle heads, which give it width, and at the top, by the two minarets which point into the sky.

It is also unobstructed, because it comprises two floors set back from each other, not including the even wider base from which the waterfall starts.

The lower part, which could be called the first floor, is a sort of loggia or semicircular portico, with two rows of superimposed arches; above it is a terrace, which is called the Terrace of Statues, because of the thirty statues which decorate it, and which decorate it well, especially as they are not gilded.

These allegorical statues, almost all of which are remarkable, are found in the following order, if we start from the west:
Ceramics, by Chambard, Ethnography, by Clere, Forestry, by Chrétien, Mathematics, by Cambos, Goldsmiths, by Warnier, Navigation, by Chervet, Sculpture, by Vital Dubray, Telegraphy, by Lavigne, Education, by Lenoir, Geography, by Bourgeois, Furniture industry, by Marcilly, Mechanics, by Rouger, Astronomy, by Itasse, Medicine, by Gauthier, Agriculture, by Aube, L'Industrie des tissus, by Gautherin, L'Art militaire, by de la Vingtrie, la Photographie, by Tabard, L'Architecture, by Soldi, le Génie civil, by Perrey, la Botanique, by Baujault, la Physique, by Sobre, L'Industrie des métaux, by de Vauréal, Pisciculture, by Eude, Metallurgy, by Ludovic Durand, Chemistry, by Jean Chevalier, Painting, by Barthélémy, Mineralogy, by Saint Jean, Music, by Schrœder, Printing, by Félon.

Of course, this series of statues should not be considered as an exhibition of sculpture, but they are all very decorative and generally very classical, some of them even too classical, such as Astronomy, which looks very good; Music, which plays the violin on its thigh like little Italians; Physics, which would represent anything if it did not hold a Leyden bottle in one hand and a thermometer in the other; Navigation, which, despite the invention of steam, is still using the oars of the old triremes; but this one at least is too classical only in its attribute, for it is boldly camped and of a very modern attitude.

From the terrace of the statues, the upper rotunda rises, pierced by nine large bays, separated from each other by protruding buttresses, skilfully disguised as elegant square turrets, surmounted by small campaniles or belvederes.

Between these campaniles rises the dome, which does not end in an oriental-style dome, but in a sort of lantern with columns, topped by a conical roof serving as a pedestal for the beautiful statue of Mercié, this Renommée who is known above all by engraving, because despite her considerable dimensions she is barely distinguishable, however high she is placed.

In this whole rotunda there is nothing else but the Concert Hall and its outbuildings, that is to say its clearings, indicated in the upper part of the first floor of the façade, by nine doors corresponding to the windows of the second floor; this is enough to show how vast it is.

Inside, it is 45 metres in diameter and 31 metres high, and its layout is somewhat like that of a circus, as the stage is in a recess that could be called a niche, were it not for its colossal dimensions.

This stage, built only for concerts, can accommodate 400 musicians, arranged in an amphitheatre below a Cavaillé-Col organ with four manuals, whose blower is operated by a hydraulic machine, and whose case is 12 metres high.

Above the very low arch which crowns the opening of the stage, there is a decorative painting by M. Charles Lameire in the manner of ancient frescoes; it represents the harmony of nations, or more exactly, the harmonious France attracting the other nations to itself.

As one can well imagine, the painter has not personified France by Orpheus, nor the other nations by ferocious beasts, which the aforementioned Orpheus attracted to the sounds of his lyre; each people is personified by one or more figures in significant costume, and in 1878 Russia was very much in evidence, represented by a warrior putting his sword back into its sheath, but what is most noticeable today: It is the clear harmonious tone of the painting, the beautiful harmony of the composition, rather than what it represents, because we are beginning to be very tired of allegories which, when they are not incomprehensible, are of a coldness which puts us off.

The auditorium can seat 4,807 spectators, both in the tiers and in the boxes and stands.

The stands have the peculiarity that they have been taken from the thickness of the wall, or more exactly from outside the enclosure; there is a row of them below the nine large openings serving as windows, i.e. all around the hall, except for the spaces occupied by the counter-forts.

The tiers of seats begin considerably below and go down to the height of the top of the musicians' platform, where there is a row of boxes... beyond this string of boxes, new tiers are arranged like the orchestra seats in a theatre.

There are no chandeliers, no girandoles, no string of globes, no street lamps; the parties to be given there being only daytime concerts; which means that the hall, largely illuminated by its immense windows, has a very particular aspect, with which one must become familiar.

It only remains to speak of the quarter-circle galleries which, welded to the Salle des Fêtes, describe an immense horseshoe.

Inspired by the famous portico that precedes St. Peter's in Rome, but apparently larger, these galleries are absolutely magnificent; each of them is composed longitudinally of two absolutely distinct parts: a closed part which is the gallery itself, cut by partitions for the needs of the exhibitions that are installed there, and an open part forming an admirable promenoir, the whole of which has 110 Corinthian columns and which houses particular exhibitions relating to horticulture and gardening: we see mainly plans of parks and gardens, utensils of all kinds, but at the time of the competitions flowers and fruit were displayed.

Transversely, each wing of the palace is divided into three equal sections by four pavilions in the oriental style, which contrast sharply with the Greek style of the colonnade, but which nevertheless do not have a bad effect, because they are close to the character of the central construction.

Naturally, the departure pavilions, which serve as peristyle to the galleries and connect them with the Festival Hall, are more massive than the intermediate pavilions, even more so than the corner pavilions, but the latter are the most attractive of all, because they are open on three of their sides and are pierced, in addition to their doors, by large arched bays closed with stained glass.
All in all, seen from the park, the whole is superb and deserves the cry of admiration that it draws from visitors who see it for the first time.

The park is also admirable; at least it was before the alterations that were forced to be made to it in order to make it ready for the Horticultural Exhibition, but as these alterations are only temporary, we should not cry in advance over its beauty, which is not lost.

It would be childish to describe the forty or fifty greenhouses erected there to house flowers and delicate plants, especially as they all look more or less the same on the outside and have changed their distribution, if not their interior decoration, for each competition. As for the monumental or simply picturesque constructions which rise in the park, we have already spoken of the principal ones: the forest pavilion, the public works pavilion, the restaurant of France; and we shall not neglect to speak of the others.

©Livre d'Or de l'Exposition - Lucien Huard.