Arion Lyre

94. Thomas Jefferson’s Paris Walks, by Diana Ketcham, with photographs by Michael Kenna

Thomas Jefferson’s Paris Walks, text by Diana Ketcham, with forty-six photographs by Michael Kenna, and period maps of Jefferson’s Paris, June 2012.


“Paris is everywhere enlarging and beautifying,” Jefferson exclaimed when he arrived in the French capital in August of 1784. The city’s new institutions, markets, churches, mansions, and bridges served as a classroom for the amateur architect from Virginia. Examining both active construction sites and monuments from the previous century, Jefferson acquired the architectural inspiration he would apply, with varying success, to the future buildings of America, including Monticello, the White House, and the University of Virginia.

The heart of Jefferson’s Paris is today’s Place de la Concorde, which he crossed on his daily walk to the Tuileries gardens, measuring his progress on his pedometer. From here he took the Pont Royal to reach the Left Bank convent school where his teenaged daughters boarded, the nearby mansion of his friend Lafayette, Printers Row, where his Notes on the State of Virginia was first published, and the Latin Quarter booksellers who fed his self-confessed “bibliomania”. Crossing the Pont Neuf, Jefferson made his way to the new Grain Market at Les Halles, to salons of the literati, to painting collections and artists’ studios in the Louvre, and to the theaters and chess clubs of the Palais Royal. Our walk ends with Jefferson back at the Place de la Concorde on July 13, 1789, a month before his departure, his path unexpectedly blocked by the first skirmishes of the coming Revolution.

The reader is encouraged to use the charming Pichon maps from 1787 to follow Jefferson’s route. A few street names have changed, but we can travel the same physical streets that Jefferson used on his way to visit his friends and conduct business. Lafayette’s rue Bourbon mansion is now on rue de Lille; the La Rochefoucauld garden now backs onto rue Jacob; Tom Paine’s rue la Comédie has become rue de l’Odéon.

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Michael Kenna photograph for Thomas Jefferson's Paris Walks