French in Philadelphia Posted by Elizabeth Schmermund on Dec 28, 2016 in Culture, Uncategorized
My family and I took an impromptu trip to Philadelphia for the holidays. It’s a wonderful city and, compared to New York, where I’m from, it’s much more manageable and low key, particularly for families. We took my son to the Franklin Institute, where he was dazzled by a robotics exhibition, and then to Drexler University’s Natural Museum of History, which featured robotic dinosaurs (my son is lately enamored with robots). But there is also a strong French tradition in Philadelphia, and my husband and I encountered many French speakers in the streets.
In fact, many sections of Philadelphia were originally designed after Paris. The area around the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, where we visited many museums, was designed after the famous Champs Élysées in Paris by twentieth century French architects Paul Cret and Jacques Gréber. Gréber even declared, “I am glad to say that, if by this work the city of Paris may be enabled to bring its sister in America the inspiration of what makes Paris so attractive to visitors, it will be the first opportunity of Paris to pay a little of the great debt of thankfulness for what Philadelphia and its citizens have done for France during the last three years.” These architects also collaborated to build the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia, which houses the greatest collection of the artist’s work outside of France. Rodin’s famous sculpture “The Thinker” stands in front of the museum. Not far away, a beautiful golden statue of Joan of Arc by French artist Emmanuel Frémiet stands at Kelly Drive and 25th Street., commissioned in part to honor the French community in the City of Brotherly Love.
Rittenhouse Square, one of the most beautiful areas of the city, was also designed by Paul Cret in 1913. The central statue in the square, Lion Crushing a Serpent, was built in 1832 and stands as an allegory for the French Revolution. Of course, the two cities share more than just architecture–the revolution that began in Philadelphia and that would create the new American nation in 1776 also served as the inspiration and partial catalyst for the French Revolution that followed in 1789. This is perhaps why the Bastille Day celebration each July 14 in Philadelphia rivals celebrations in France–and even the boisterous July 4 celebrations in the Birthplace of America.
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