“Will you walk a little faster?” said a whiting to a snail,
“There’s a porpoise close behind us, and he’s treading on my tail.”
Here at last, we are at the queue at Portail de Sainte-Anne and these lines from: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Lobster Quadrille (The Mock Turtle’s Song) by Lewis Carroll (1832-1898) had crossed my mind. To whoever was right behind me at the queue – there certainly was urgency to get into the cathedral.
Once inside, we would soon realise that the timing of the visit to Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris was perfect for us. Before we could explore the double aisles, various chapels, rose windows, the ambulatory, etc, our attention was drawn to the streams of music wafting from the central transept where, we soon found the Chorus, soloists and an orchestra in jubilant mood – practising a classical music concert. So that explained the urgency at the queue.
In comparison with its length, the cathedral is extremely broad. Standing over the black and white coloured floor tiles at the west end, the interior appeared well lit though I could see a marked variation between the principal nave, the transept and the chancel.
However, despite the changes made to provide more light to the tribunes, in gloomy weather, the cathedral can still appear sombre and even cavernous. This subject about the light reminded me of an entry I once read in the Duchess of Windsor’s (Wallis Simpson) memoirs: “….As the Prince of Wales (Edward VIII) walked past, I (Wallis) overheard him mutter to his uncle, the Duke of Connaught: “Uncle Arthur, something ought to be done about the lights. They make all the women look ghastly.” (1)
Good music often transports me into another dimension. Slipping into a wooden bench nearer the transept, we spent some time in glorious musical bliss while the 14th century Statue of Virgin Mary Holding the Christ Child joyfully watched over us as she leaned against the south-east pillar where an altar dedicated to the Virgin had stood earlier. This work is dedicated to “Notre-Dame de Paris” and the most distinguished of nearly 40 representations of the Virgin inside the cathedral.
At every moment in the world, things change and the shape of things to come seldom announced its presence among us, but later on. It was as if fate had planned our visit to arrive here right on our schedule. Had we lingered longer by the banks of the Seine and watched the barges and bateaux mouches float silently along the river; or indulged longer to thumb through dusty volumes at the quayside bouquinistes’ stalls selling bouquins (old used books) and other special treasures, while enjoying the kiss of the sun from above; or idled more time away sitting under the candy-stripped awning of the open-air café on the chestnut-lined boulevard, with a lingering glass of red and a croquet-monsieur, relishing the general joy of watching the moving stream of pedestrians; – then, we might never have reached this cathedral to enjoy the musical treat on that day. Punctuality works! Carina always said Punctuality is indeed my first, last and middle name.
I was too entranced in the music to turn around to look up the nave at the West end where, directly below the artistic upper West Rose window is situated the great organ (one of the three) – a marked feature of the Cathédrale. Rebuilt by Thierry Lesclope in 1730, enlarged in 1785 by Cliquot, and improved by Cavaillè-Coll, it is reputedly the largest organ in France, There is no need for me to look back at it now. I had endeavoured to study it during earlier visits and my mental picture of that area is clear down to the upper ends of the organ’s pipes obstructing the lower half of that Rosette.
Presently the musical performance came to a close, and a wave of applause swept through the cathedral. Most of the crowd, as if signalled by an internal green alert, had started to head for the exit – possibly, in search of the sun. We resumed our exploration along the far-stretching southern aisle, passing the great cylindrical columns rising to support the vaulted ceilings, their weights being shared by the external flying buttresses on both sides of the huge structure. On our right was the line of chapels forming part of the numerous chapels around the walls.
I can well understand why Notre Dame de Paris has had a splendid acceptance. In its long course of construction, this edifice had to transit through the art movements of Romanesque and the Gothic, a progression that branded it as a transitional structure. The gauzy structure of Gothic architecture resulted in the rise of stained glass, the virtual elimination of solid wall space and transformed the walls as connecting space for windows. At that time, the thought crossed my mind that all this would be of professional interest to my second daughter Andrea, engaged with her studies in architecture back home.
An important feature on the southern side of the slightly projecting transept is the Rose window. Now this is an artful creation of bold, simple trellis designs with an amazing arrangement of stained glass work. The most frequent background was a red trellis on a blue field. During an earlier visit, I overheard a local guide mentioning about the window’s primary colours to a group of American tourists, suggesting that “it is very drawable.”
But if we observe it with a painterly eye, there is a revelation. We could see the predominant blue dissolves for different colours; and the window glows in pink and crimson tones. The colours had been there to be found all the time. When taken as a boy to Notre Dame, it was this rose window of the south which seized upon the imagination of the great architect Viollet le Duc (January 1814 – September 1879) and stirred his passion for Gothic. In “Paris; the Magic City by The Seine”, author Gertrude Hauck Vonne explains that situation: “While gazing at it the organ began to play, and he (Viollet) thought that the music came from the window – the shrill, high notes from the light colors, and the solemn, bass notes from the dark and more subdued hues.”
As we proceeded further ahead, we would notice that not only the nave, but the choir, possessed double aisles. To our right was the entrance to The Sacristy (formerly part of the Palais Episcopal) and The Treasury which housed many precious things. Before going around the magnificent semi-circular apse at the east end to the northern aisle, one could see the High Altar; the three large statues: the Descent from the Cross; Louis XIII, (both by Guillaume Coustou, 1677 – 1746) and of Louis XIV (by Antoine Coysevox, 1640 – 1720). The Ambulatory (pourtour) of the Choir was raised above the body of the church by three steps, both sides enclosed by a low grille in wrought iron with gilding. I could well imagine the magnificent set-piece of pageantry of various ceremonial occasions held here; and how the echoes of many “Te Deums” had resonated inside these old walls for victories long forgotten, and for those many long remembered.
The removable stones of the pavement close to the small organ on the north side of the choir lead to a subterranean burial chamber for eminent officials of the cathedral. Remains of a small Gallo-Roman votive pillar to Jupiter (which I had mentioned in the First Part) were discovered some six feet beneath the apse during excavations for this crypt during 1711.
Prior to the northern Rose Window, one could see the famous Porte Rouge (Red Door), a masterpiece that dates back to the 14th century. It derived its name from its painted doors.
Corresponding with the statue of Notre-Dame de Paris on the south is a statue of St. Denis by Nicolas Coustou in the north. Although many of the treasures were destroyed by the Revolution, granted there is time and inclination to explore the interior, one could spot the intrinsic beauty of many things that were well made – the sexpartite system of alternating ground supports, the clearstory, the stone step, the various windows, moulding round the doors, an artistic door handle, the numerous sculptures, fine chandeliers, paintings of much value ,… and the flowers at the foot of the statue of Notre-Dame de Paris which seem, to some, suddenly glow as if they were lit from within.
Having purchased a Médaille for Andrea from a counter at the west end, we walked out through the northern Portail ae la Saint Vierge. In the bright sunlight one could clearly see the splendid character of the ironwork of the outer doors.
Curious tradition relates this to the skill and energy of the devil. Up above, the grotesque representations of Chimères and gargouilles or “Devils of Notre Dame” lurked on strategic locations of the cathedral, scowling down from their point of vantage upon the French metropolis – probably their mark of attention even reached our present hotel somewhat closer to Basilique du Sacré-Cœur – one of the many hotels of Paris noted also for its number of French oils – impressionist, expressionist, and abstract.
As we took leave of Notre Dame de Paris, I reflected on the staying power of this ornate feat of architecture – this edifice of a community’s tangible bygone days. Have I missed something here? Although individual escape from the present into the past has rarely been more widespread than it is now, there is another side of the coin of course. Recently the world has witnessed the cruel destruction of historical monuments to suit the ideologies of certain groups.
In September 2016, The Telegraph (UK) reported the discovery of upto seven cylinders of gas tanks and documents in a specific language in an unmarked Peugeot 607 next to Notre Dame cathedral, sparking fresh terror fears. Condemnations and appeals against such ideologies were heard. Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel, Notre-Dame de Paris, was the product of a similar protest and aimed to draw attention of his contemporaries to deter the destruction of existing architecture.
By visiting and polishing up our love for noble monuments of the past, relating the stories behind their construction, understanding the masters who build them in their times, we not only comprehend the traditions, aesthetic and cultural history of an area but also of the high-values reached by civilization. Time is the most precious commodity I possess. I am glad that the hour glass of my life is also filled by precious moments like the favourite footpaths I have treaded in the course of my visit here – helpful journeys into the past which I am excited to make from time to time. And, hopefully, when I come back here again, I know Notre Dame de Paris will be here – waiting. Jo
- Besides other improvements, the Cathedral’s lighting system was upgraded by late 2012 owing to a year-long 850th anniversary celebration.
- For those in need of flowers for Notre Dame de Paris, there is a huge selection at Marché aux fleurs, Place Louis Lépine – Quai de la Corse near Cité Metro Station.
- I am indebted to many publications dating from the late 19th century onwards, for useful background data;
- This article is dedicated to my daughter Andrea Lalis Sebastine, the architect in our family.
(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)
“The Gothic of Verona is far nobler than that of Venice;
and that of Florence nobler than that of Verona.
… that of Notre Dame of Paris is the noblest of all.”
- The Seven Lamps of Architecture by John Ruskin
The day was bright and filled with leisure hours. We would not have wished to be anywhere else in the world on that day but in the grand Cathédrale of Notre-Dame in Paris, the capital of elegance and art. With the presence of our daughter Bianca, the last few days had swiftly accelerated and rolled away quickly. She was absolutely vibrant. Having visited the central landmarks and point of identification, viz., the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe and the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, Sacré-Cœur, The Louvre and Mona Lisa, all of which has been absorbed into the tradition of Paris, we had decided to take her to other blessedly French places not to be missed including Palais Garnier (Opéra de Paris). She had done her homework and knew there was far more colour and nerve in Paris.
Long before all the above landmarks came into existence and well before the city came to be known as Paris, “Lutetia” (Lutetium) as it was known during the Late Empire, was centred on a small island in the shape of a cradle in the Seine called Île de la Cité, the heart of the city. Years later, it was here on the pavement in the great plaza called Parvis Notre-Dame – Place Jean-Paul II (1) before Notre-Dame de Paris that the official centre of Paris was landmarked with a bronze star on an embedded plaque – proclaiming the central place of Notre-Dame in the country’s life.
This bronze star, (placed by André Jules Michelin), is the point-zero (Point-Zéro des routes de France) for measuring distances from Paris. The local tip-off is that: a) if you stand on the bronze plate, you will return to Paris; b) your love will last forever, if you stand on it with your lover and share a kiss. No reward for guessing what I have often done there.
I know, so much has been written and said about Notre Dame. But, until last time I was here, I never thought that Notre-Dame de Paris is best seen from behind the flying buttresses at the east end. This time around, having reached the area via Quai Saint-Michel, we had crossed the Petit Pont (Little Bridge, erected in 1853) and entered the Parvis (square) which now dwarfs the apocalyptic west façade with its great area. The Parvis was indeed much smaller before Georges-Eugène Haussmann (1809-1891), while remodelling Paris for Napoleon III in the nineteenth century, cleared the structures which clustered before the cathedral and enlarged the Parvis, adding different features to it.
The Parvis was crowded with people – we could pick up the scent of liveliness in the air. Moving past the Crypte Archéologique du Parvis de Notre-Dame, we came across the high stone base bearing “Charlemagne et Ses Leudes”, the imposing bronze equestrian statue of Emperor Charlemagne accompanied by his leudes: Roland and Olivier. It was sculpted by brothers Louis and Charles Rochet in time for the L’Exposition universelle de 1878 (third Paris World’s Fair – open to the public: May 20 to November 10, 1878). Since its erection in the square, it not only has outlived the threat of displacement but also has remained a mute spectator at the area which has played a vital part in so much of France’s history.
If one would track the olden times back from the time of Charlemagne to the origins of Paris, we would find that it was the military importance of Île de la Cité which had motivated the Romans to build the city of Lutetia where there was a small settlement of Gallic tribe of merchants and fishermen called Parisii. Given that the spot was already hallowed by a Druid shrine, no wonder a place of worship for Jupiter came up – the remains of this altar will be mentioned below.
The Roman occupation had ushered in Christendom and from the wreck of the Roman shrine rose a cathedral – just like many mediaeval churches of Western Europe which claim a pre-Christian origin. In his book about Paris, author A.J.C Hare relates that a church dedicated to Saint-Étienne (St. Stephen) was built on the islet about the year 375. (The website of Notre Dame states: This cathedral dedicated to Saint Stephen was very large. Its western façade located about forty metres west of the current façade of Notre-Dame – which is where we are presently sitting now.) Adjacent to Saint-Étienne, an edifice far more rich and beautiful was built in 528 and dedicated to the Virgin Mary (Notre-Dame II), the substructions of which were found during excavation of the Parvis during the 19th century. Notre-Dame II had subsequently assumed a pre-eminence among the churches and for the faithful, became the center of the Christian cult.
During the three hundred years between 1050 and 1350, 80 cathedrals, 500 large churches and hundreds of small parish churches were built in France alone which reflected the wealth and variety of the country’s history and architecture. It has also been regarded as the most typical expression of medieval civilization. It was a period when the country’s faith was humble, her love a mounting flame. Following the construction of the abbey of St. Denis (now Basilique cathédrale de Saint-Denis) on the grave of Saint Denis north of Paris in 1144, there was strong plea for a cathedral much longer and upward looking than Saint-Étienne’s in Île de la Cité, – a cathedral worthy of the great demographic expansion and economic dynamism of Paris. With the low hills region such as Butte Saint-Jacques, nearby Bagneux, Arcueil, and Montrouge dispersed with great beds of granite and limestone, there was hardly any shortage for building materials. Without totally destroying the existing two churches, Maurice de Sully (elected bishop of Paris on October 12, 1160 – died in 1196) commenced to build a new edifice on the same site. It is generally held that Pope Alexander III laid its foundation stone in 1163.
Prior to the start of the work, the Rue Neuve-Notre Dame was created to make it easier to bring the masonry. With the center of worship shifted to the nave of the older Notre-Dame II, the foundations of the new cathedral were dug thirty feet deep and filled with the hard stone of Montrouge on which the enormous weight would rest. The construction was done by professional workers organized in accordance with the traditions and rules of the guilds, and the powerful Chapter of Notre-Dame. The underlying efficiency of the work done is that the vault webs of Notre-Dame are only 6 inches in thickness and they have held steadfast for 850 years!
The chancel was built first so that the church could function. The choir’s high altar was consecrated in 1182. The nave (with the exception of the extreme west end) was realised about the year 1195 (the year Santo Antônio de Pádua was born in Lisbon.) Under Eudes de Sully (died 1208), the successor of Maurice, the work on the west façade which begun in 1202 was completed to the base of the gallery by 1223. The galerie des rois (the Gallery of Kings) was completed under Guillaume de Seignelay (1219-1224). The twin towers (without the spires) were realised by 1235. A transept was not in the original plan, but a short one was inserted before the nave was laid down. Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) was in Paris during the time the transept was being built. After visiting the chapel of the Virgin behind the choir in 1323, French philosopher, theologian Johannes de Janduno wrote, “On entering one feels as if ravished to heaven, and ushered into one of the most beautiful chambers of paradise.” Although the cathedral was never completed consistent to the plan of the original designers, when the work was finally realised circa 1345, the edifice presented an irregular alignment due to interruptions in its construction.
God must have danced around me when I was born – for as it turned out, I have been generously blessed with occasions to travel far and wide – and most importantly in the presence of wonderful persons. For the past few days, Carina was having fun naming to me the various trees adorning Paris: the Linden- and Horse chestnut trees along the Seine; Honey Locust, Mimosa, Empress, Cherry…… and many others including the London Plane by the Avenue des Champs Élysées. That was hardly a fortuitous coincidence, but in lieu of the movie locations of Roman Holiday (1953, William Wyler) which I pointed out to her in Rome on a spring-like day – few of which she knew!
My theory/schedules of longer periods of stay and repeated visits to a given place has aided my endeavours for in-the-field study of important subjects augmented with the minute details of history and architecture available in various writings. The day before, Carina brought me a book from a little shop across from our hotel, which I had been looking to buy for a long time. Everything comes to he who waits. This book to which the quote on the header relates, had given me the right disposition to write this article. But for me, to be in the presence of a cathedral of religious, cultural and architectural significance such as Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris is good fodder in that respect.
We have now moved closer to the cathedral. From where we sat, we could clearly view the features of the major divisions of the west façade crowned by two towers. Dissimilar in size, the towers rose from a parapet or pierced cornice which surmounts an open arcaded screen of gigantic proportions. The spires for the two towers of Notre Dame, originally planned by the builders, were never made.
At the top of the towers are open arcades and small turrets where the staircases end. The panoramic view of Paris from up there is also complimented by the full structural beauty of the cathedral – its grand arrangement of flying buttresses, the great roof ridge, fléche (built in 1859-60 since the ancient fléche was destroyed in 1787), the circular chevet, the host of statues, gargoyles and other sculptured ornaments.
Atop the south tower, one can see the great bell or bourdon of the cathedral which was re-foundered and re-baptized “Emmanuel” (Emmanuel-Louise-Thérèse) in 1686 in honour of Louis XIV, and Marie-Thérèse of Austria. According to a book by Esther Singleton, it was originally named “Jacqueline“ in honour of Jacqueline de la Grange, the wife of Jean de Montaigu (about 1349 – 1409) who had presented the bell in 1400 (very interesting – must read up this history). You could listen to the sound of Emmanuel, topping over the other bells, in Youtube videos featuring liturgical ceremonies of the cathedral.
Under the division containing the wheel window is the Gallery of (28) Kings running across the entire façade. The figures we see now are restorations. Directly below, on ground level, are the three great portals – all asymmetrical in height and width and in sculptural subjects.
Le Portail du Jugement – Central doorway
The Portal of the Last Judgment (Le Portail du Jugement) occupies the central doorway with The Portal of the Virgin (Le Portail de la Vierge) on the left, and commemorating the Blessed Virgin’s mother is The Portal of Saint Anne (Le Portail Sainte-Anne) to the right which is a composite work carved during Maurice’s time (between 1160-1170) but was set up only after Eudes de Sully took over the work of the west façade.
Le Portail de la Vierge – Left doorway
Le Portail Sainte-Anne – Right doorway
It was outside on the porch of the cathedral, in front of the “architectural glory of France”, that the marriage of King Henri of Navarre with Marguerite de Valois took place on August 18, 1572, owing that the King was a Huguenot at that time. In May 1625, the marriage of Charles I of England to the French princess Henrietta Maria (youngest daughter of King Henri IV of France and Marie de Medici) took place by proxy with the west façade as the backdrop (2)(3) (4),
Dedicated to the Virgin Mary (Notre-Dame), the edifice was subjected to reckless mutilation between 1699 and 1753 when the Cloister, the stalls of the sixteenth century, the old high altar, many sepulchral monuments, and stained glass were destroyed – yet, considering the vicissitudes through which the cathedral has passed, it’s a blessing that so much remained unaltered in contour and general effect and also much of original sculpture has been preserved. While the mid-19th century restorer, Eugéne Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc has outshot the others in proving his efficiency for all of the present state of skilful restorations of Notre-Dame which included aesthetic and structural improvements; at any rate, Bishop Maurice de Sully, the ancient designers and premier massons (5) of the cathedral have ensured that everything was essentially arranged to concentrate the eye on the chief altar, and to provide dignity to its position.
Ever since the consecration of its main altar in 1182, the cathedral with its vast open space to accommodate the ever-numerous believers has served the religious services and frequent synods. I read somewhere that St. Dominic preached there. The new-born heir was blessed at its altar. Emperors were crowned there. Standing before the altar of the cathedral on December 2, 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte took the crown from Pope Pius VII (1742 -1823) and crowned himself. For being the venue, it was decorated for spectacular royal marriages like the fairy-tale wedding of Emperor Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte (Napoleon III) and Empress Eugenie (Spanish Eugénie du Derje de Montijo, Comtesse de Teba) in January, 1853, Little more than 100 years later, Princess Françoise of Bourbon-Parma married Prince Edouard de Lobkowicz there in January, 1960.
Prior to ceremonial interment of Saint Louis (Louis IX (1214 – 1270) at St. Denis, his body (having undergone the process known as mos Teutonicus) lay in state at Notre Dame – a custom followed for many French monarchs and princes. In October 1895, the cathedral was the venue for the State funeral of French chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur (reinterred at the Institut Pasteur). When Gen. Charles de Gaulle died in 1970, it was in Notre Dame de Paris, (the very place where gunshots were fired at him in August 1944), where the heads of nations gathered for a Requiem Mass on the day the funeral was held at his home village, Colombey-les-Deus-Églises where he was laid to rest by the grave of his daughter Anna.
Bound in the developments of the times, Notre Dame de Paris had also served as a meeting place for trade unions, dormitory for the homeless, location for movies, while its nave was once used to store wine casks. According to media reports, in May 2013, a French historian pulled out a shotgun and shot himself dead in the cathedral.
Periodical repairs and modifications were done to redress the wear and tear it suffered by time, climate, intolerance and ignorance. In their book, authors Jean-Benit Nadeau and Julie Barlow wrote that by the middle of the 19th century, the cathedral had fallen into such neglect that authorities considered demolishing it and using the stones to build bridges. The restoration of the cathedral finally came when the government of King Louis-Philippe I (1773 – 1850) decided to counter the concerns with remedial measures.
Ever since our arrival, we had noticed that the porch of the cathedral was swarming with visitors of all shades and shapes. Right now, the line-up of people under the southern door: Portail de Sainte-Anne or St. Marcel, has swelled. It was time for us to join the queue.
Merci et au revoir. Jo
(End of Part One)
- Named in September 2006 in honour of the pope who had died in 2005;
- Charles I of England and Princess Henrietta Maria were married in person at St. Augustine’s Church, Canterbury, Kent in June 1625.
- According to the website of Notre Dame de Paris, although masses, vespers and the sacrament of reconciliation are celebrated every day of the year, since the cathedral is no longer a parish, baptisms, marriages and funerals are no longer held there;
- Currently, outdoor wedding ceremony packages are available for couples wanting a symbolic wedding ceremony or symbolic renewal of vows held at major Paris landmarks and in the vicinity of Place Jean-Paul II or at its fringes with Notre Dame Cathedral as backdrop. Of course, I mention here only about symbolic ceremonies.
- Name of the first master of the work is unknown although, according to a book, a “Richard the Mason” witnessed a cathedral document in 1164.
- I am indebted to many publications dating from the late 19th century onwards, for useful background data;
- This article is dedicated to all the brave soldiers of India, the fallen and the living, for their courage and dedication in protecting our country from the menace lurking at our frontier.
(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)
The 240th anniversary of the Independence of the United States of America went past on July 4, 2016 with traditional fireworks displays, parades, concerts, barbecues, etc. Watching the celebrations on TV brought to my mind the bicentennial celebrations of U.S.A on July 4 forty years ago, when yet another jubilation rang out in some parts of the world related to an incident that lasted one week and ended with a daring rescue at Entebbe International Airport in Uganda which was featured in many print and visual media including the following three streams:
1: VICTORY AT ENTEBBE (telecasted on December 13, 1976)
Scarce anything awakens attention like a tale of cruelty – wrote Dr. Samuel Johnson (The Idler, 1758). The hijacking of the Air France flight 139 and rescue of hostages at Entebbe in 1976 had all the right spice and human drama to inspire more than 15 U.S film production units/studios to cash in on the events quickly. Emmy Award-winner screenwriter Ernest Kinoy quickly drew up a 200-page treatment for David L. Wolper Productions, 50% longer than most scripts, since it was originally planned as a three-hour telecast on ABC Television. Directed by Marvin J. Chomsky with music score by Charles Fox, it was also made into a theatrical film for overseas distribution. This moderate telefilm was originally shot on videotape and transferred to film for convenience in shooting and editing. Shot at Warner Bros. Studio in Burbank, California, its stellar cast consisted of Helmut Berger, Linda Blair, Kirk Douglas, Richard Dreyfuss, Helen Hayes, Anthony Hopkins, Burt Lancaster, Elizabeth Taylor, Julius Harris, etc. However, the film suffered owing to a script laden with clichéd dialogues and characterization which should have been reworked. According to the biography of a crew member, few days into the shooting, actor/comedian Godfrey Cambridge, cast in the role of President Idi Amin, died on the filming stage from a heart attack and was replaced by Julius Harris.
2: RAID ON ENTEBBE (telecasted on January 9, 1977)
Made for television, this was written by Golden Globe award winner Barry Beckerman and directed by Irvin Kershner (The Eyes of Laura Mars, Never Say Never Again). Of the two telemovies that came out five months after Operation Entebbe, this is considered a better paced dramatization of the hijacking and rescue and stars Peter Finch, Charles Bronson, Horst Buchholz, John Saxon, Sylvia Sidney, etc. American actor Yaphet Kotto appears as Idi Amin. The factual production had already started in late June 1976 while the hijacking incident was in progress. Telecasted by NBC, it won a Golden Globe as the Best Motion Picture Made for Television in the 35th Annual Golden Globe Awards. The film which originally ran 152 min. but cut to 113 min. for theatrical release was earlier released in theatres of Denmark on December 26, 1976.
Nominated for the Best Oscar for Foreign Language Film, this story of the daring commando raid at Entebbe is presented in a simple narrative of good versus evil and concentrates on the rescue of the hostages, the main issue, without dwelling on hijackers’ motives, etc. Crackling with action, the film was directed by leading Israeli producer/writer Menahem Golan. According to a book, Golan had originally requested and was denied permission to accompany Israeli forces to shoot a documentary film, should any orders were given for a rescue attempt. The film was mainly shot at the specially constructed full-size replica of the Entebbe Airport terminal. The cast featured Israeli singer/actor Yehoram Gaon, Assaf Dayan, son of military leader/statesman Moshe Dayan, stage/screen actress Gila Almagor, etc, besides Israeli military personnel and equipment, some people who had actually been on the hijacked plane, including footage of some key Government officials of Israel of that time. German actor Klaus Kinski appeared as the fair-haired Wilfried Böse while Austrian actress Sybil Danning is notable in the role of deeply macho Halima. Kinski’s presence as leader of the hijackers and Dov Seltzer’s music (performed by Israel Philharmonic Orchestra) elevates this adaptation by American screenwriter Clarke Reynolds, above the two rushed-out TV versions. Golan had later told in an interview that the movie depicts exactly how Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu was hit.
The much analysed and debated Entebbe rescue operation has also spawned books, documentaries, movies, web articles, etc, most of which I have virtually gone through, leading me on to specific or general knowledge on this subject based on which a recap is drawn below (1):
The hostage-rescue operation at Entebbe: Just before 9 a.m on Sunday, June 27, 1976, Air France Flight 139 with 228 passengers on board left Lod Airport (Ben-Gurion Airport International Airport) near Tel Aviv, Israel, bound for Paris, France with an unscheduled layover at Athens, Greece. This commercial flight was hijacked by 4 passengers barely eight minutes after it took off at 12:25 p.m from Ellinikon International Airport, Athens from where the 4 hijackers (transit passengers travelling on fake passports who had arrived that morning from Bahrain on Singapore Airlines without any intention of going to Paris), boarded the aircraft with concealed guns and hand grenades taking advantage of the lax in security measures. Since 38 passengers had alighted and 56 boarded at Athens, the flight was then carrying 246 passengers plus the crew of 12. The passengers were informed that the flight was under the command of the Che Guevara Group and Gaza Unit of the PFLP. It was the first hijacking in the history of Air France.
Cutting across the Mediterranean Sea, the hijacked Airbus A300B4S aircraft’s wheels brushed the tarmac of Benina International Airport, Benghazi, Libya, and seven hours later, it took off from there after topping up its fuel and leaving behind a British-born Israeli citizen with symptoms of a miscarriage. No sooner had the flight set on a different course and the radio transmissions ceased from the Airbus, the alert and first reports reached Israel where the Cabinet was in its weekly meeting. While a liaison office to co-ordinate with the hostages’ families was arranged at the Lod airport, intelligence officials were frantically collecting all information and as more developments became known, various possibilities and steps for the release of hostages were being explored.
After a five hour flight, and having been refused permission to land at Khartoum, Sudan, the twin-engined Airbus finally trundled to a standstill on the landing-strip of the Entebbe International Airport at about 0330hrs (Monday, June 28) where the hostages had to wait nearly nine hours inside the aircraft before they were hustled into the main lounge of the disused old terminal building which was soon securely surrounded by the Ugandan troops.
The woman, who was left at Benghazi and flown to England by evening, confirmed that the Airbus was taken over by two South Americans and their two accomplices. It would be later established that the blond-haired man checked-in as Peruvian A. Garcia, was in fact a German called Wilfried Böse, a member of a German Revolutionary cell, while the Ecuadorian woman travelling as Ortega, was Böse‘s former German lover Brigitte Kuhlmann (2) of RZ. Their comrades were of Middle East origin. At Entebbe, the hijackers reinforced their team with the arrival of more associates which would also allow them to work in shifts. President Idi Amin of Uganda, after visiting the hostages, made it known that he offered his services in the sympathetic role of a mediator and hoped the wishes of the hijackers would be accepted.
The demands for the exchange of the hostages was the release of 53 political prisoners held in jails in Israel (40), Kenya (6), France (1), West Germany (5) and Switzerland (1). To deliver the prisoners to Entebbe, the deadline was set for 11.00 am GMT of Thursday, July 1.
On Tuesday, June 29, having moved the Israeli citizens/Jewish passengers of other nationalities to an adjoining room, the captors released 47 non-Jewish passengers, allowing them to fly to Paris on Wednesday on an Air France airplane.
As the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) looked into the feasibility of several alternative military options, they were grappling with the lack of fresh, credible and reliable intelligence information. For starters, specialists of the planning group had prior knowledge about the Entebbe airport and the merits of the Ugandan troops. Not only had Israeli experts helped train those troops, constructions in the Entebbe airport, including the old terminal building, were done by an Israeli construction firm and they had detailed architectural drawings. On the surface, the impending odds lay in the difficulty of retrieving the large group of hostages which would occasion an eight hour flight through the radar range of other countries and the inevitable refuelling of the aircrafts for their trip back home.
Meanwhile giving in to the mounting plea from the families of the hostages, the captors were made known of the intention of Israel to talk. To facilitate arrangements for the exchange, the deadline was postponed to 11:00 a.m. GMT of Sunday, July 4. Soon, selected 101 non-Jewish hostages were allowed by the hijackers to fly out to Paris. The Air France Flight Captain Michel Bacos, claiming responsibility for all passengers of his flight, chose to stay with the remaining 94 Jewish hostages, a decision welcomed voluntarily by his crew (3).
A passenger, who was amongst the 101 hostages released, provided valuable information about how the hostages were kept under guard and the strength of the Ugandan guards at the airport. It was also welcoming to know that the rest of Entebbe airport was operating normally and scheduled flights were still flying in and out.
Intervention through a possible military option called for the element of surprise, an absolute necessity to deny captors any time to harm the hostages. Opportunities don’t happen, you create them. The possibility of sky-dropping troops into Lake Victoria, spread wide at about 69,000 Sq km and touching on Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya, had to be abandoned owing to the lake’s shallow waters (only 100m deep) infested with crocodiles and rampant of Bilharzia. Besides, its shores were then hide-outs for snails which are the host for the parasitic flukes harmful to the body.
Before long, a suitable but daring ‘long-arm option’ for rescue was found feasible to rescue the hostages remaining in the terminal. Named: Operation Thunderbolt, the mission will be under the overall command of Brig. Gen. Dan Shomron. Two days before the deadline, a British-Israeli hostage named Dora Bloch had to be removed to Mulago General Hospital in Kampala when a piece of food accidently stuck in her throat.
With preparations for military option on, a 100-strong rescue team was drawn up from several IDF units including the elite troops. To support the intricate planning and rehearsal drill for the operation, a partial replica of the Entebbe terminal building, based on the blueprints from the construction firm, was immediately constructed. As weapons and gadgets for operational efficiency and safety were decided upon and coordinated, the disembarkation and embarkation procedures were rehearsed on a Hercules aircraft.
Four tactical Lockheed C130 Hercules transport aircrafts, recently purchased from the United States, which have the manoeuvrability and the range, would be deployed with specific assignments. Each soldier all sparked up and in full webbing, would play a critical role. The first Hercules would carry a black Mercedes car, two Land Rovers, a paratrooper force and IDF’s elite Special Forces assault team led by Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu, the unit’s recently appointed commander.
Rolling off the back cargo door of the Hercules, the “break-in crew” riding in the Mercedes and Land Rovers with Colgate air of confidence were expected to pass through the Ugandan airfield without resistance assuming they would be taken for President Amin and his entourage. Through access doors 3 and 4 of the seven points of entry of the old terminal they would storm the lounge where the hostages were held. Once inside, they will eliminate any resistance, free the hostages and secure the building. At the same time, unit members will also neutralise the control tower, its radar room and the machine-gun nest near it.
The other three Hercules aircrafts scheduled to land in close succession five to seven minutes later would be accorded protection on the ground by the units of the first aircraft, Upon landing, the specific assignments of the units of the three aircrafts included providing cover to secure the aircraft and keep Ugandan troops away; secure the new terminal, the new runway, the refuelling station and the adjoining airfield, and also to destroy the squadrons of MIGs parked on the far side of the airfield. They would also facilitate on-board emergency medical treatments, evacuate any casualties and help hostages to emplane the aircraft. Of the two Boeing 707s forming part of the operation, one would act as an airborne command and control equipped with superlative communications and monitor the on-ground mission and simultaneously maintain link with Tel Aviv where the communication equipment would be tuned to the operation’s wave-band. The second Boeing would serve as a full-fledged infirmary unit.
At 14.30 Saturday July 3, the rescue operation was approved. Operation Thunderbolt commenced that late afternoon at Sharm el-Sheikh, the operation’s “jump-off point” at the southern tip of Sinai where the planes had refuelled, having arrived earlier during the day from Ben-Gurion. To escape detection by radar the formation of C130 Hercules aircrafts equipped with American radar jamming devices flew over the Red Sea at very low altitudes (100 feet above the water and at some places at much lower altitude) and then turned inland over Sudan, flying past Ethiopia and above Kenya to approach Entebbe from over Lake Victoria, covering a distance of about 2,500 miles (4,000 km), the first 1000 miles of which was accorded fighter cover by their Mirages and Phantoms.
Wheels on ground at Entebbe at about one minute past midnight Uganda time, things went wrong even before the team could reach the old terminal 2.4kms away. Two commandos of the front vehicle had to shoot down an armed Ugandan soldier with their silenced .22 caliber Berettas. When the wounded soldier unexpectedly got back on his feet and took aim to shoot, reacting to a perceived threat, a commando in a Land Rover neutralized him with a long burst from his Kalashnikov. The resultant sound of the gunfire sacrificed the much required element of surprise. However, in less than an hour from touchdown of the first Hercules, the mission was successfully achieved liberating 102 hostages and crew and finally the last of the rescue aircrafts had wheels up and departed from Entebbe, marking a dramatic victory in the operation.
The casualties included the death of all the hijackers and their accomplices, at least twenty Ugandan soldiers and three hostages.
The best men are so often the first to be killed, because they are in front. Fatally shot in the back by a Ugandan soldier from the control tower, Lt. Col. Yonatan “Yoni” Netanyahu was declared dead (4) by the time the rescuers reached Nairobi, Kenya, from where, after refuelling, they all flew back to a military airfield in Tel Aviv for a rousing reunion with their families.
Dora Bloch (age 73), the passenger on her way to New York for her son’s wedding who was admitted to hospital in Kampala earlier was reportedly killed in Uganda later (5) in reprisal to the successful rescue operation planned and effected within a short space of time surmounting many odds amidst tremendous tension. Fair enough, the operation was subsequently re-named: Operation Yoni (MIVTSA YONATAN) in honour of Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu.
On July 11, the Sunday following the rescue, Ms. Rina Messinger, a 20-year old aerodynamics instructor was crowned as Miss Universe 1976. Coming on the wake of the victory at Entebbe airport, a source of pride and inspiration, she was happily dubbed “Miss Entebbe” by her jubilant countrymen. From pictures I could see that she certainly looked really pretty when she smiled.
Until next time. Jo
- Several authoritative books are available about the Entebbe rescue operation.
- The woman hijacker is named as Gabrielle Kroecher-Tiedemann in some films and in the book Counter Strike Entebbe by Tony Williamson.
- Captain Bacos was honoured with the Legion of Honour while his crew were awarded with the French Order of Merit.
- Yonatan Netanyahu was buried in Mount Herzl National Cemetery, Jerusalem
- The remains of Dora Bloch, recovered near a Sugar Plantation 20 miles east of Kampala, were shifted to Israel on June 3, 1979, and were buried with state honours in Mount of Quietudes, (Har HaMenuchot Cemetery) Jerusalem.
- The subject is featured in the documentary Operation Thunderbolt – Entebbe (2000) and in movies Follow Me – The Yoni Netanyahu Story (2012): and in The Last King of Scotland (One Episode in 2006)
- Most of the movies and books referred to in this article are available with amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and other leading dealers.
- Books/DVD sleeves credits: amazon.com, en.wikipedia and from my private collection.
- This illustrated article is an affectionate nosegay to movies of the past. Please refer to “About” of my webpage for more details.
- This article is dedicated to the defenders of peace – the fallen and the living.
(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)
This day, July 20 marks the 43rd year since American martial arts actor Bruce Lee bid adios to the world. His meteoric rise to become one of the major movie phenomena of the 70s showed its first signs with the release of Kung Fu actioner, The Big Boss (US: Fists of Fury, Dir: Lo Wei, 1971), a huge commercial success for Hong Kong’s Golden Harvest Productions. The film was followed-up with Lo Wei’s Fist of Fury (The Iron Hand, US: The Chinese Connection, 1972).
Riding on the success of the above two ‘chop socky’ films and by then considered as the Numero Uno Kung Fu star, Lee himself directed The Way of the Dragon, (US: Return of the Dragon, 1973) shot in Italy.
However, Lee’s popularity would hit sky high and elevate him to cult status only after the release of the mind-boggling actioner, Enter the Dragon (The Deadly Three, Dir: Robert Clouse, 1973), his last completed film, in which he directed the stunt sequences and acted as the main protagonist amongst an all-star cast of karate champions built around a quadrennial Karate championship contest on a Chinese island which is the sinister fortress hideout of the evil Han.
Unfortunately, having not seen the final product which he had been eagerly waiting to see on its United States premier in August, Lee died on July 20, 1973 at Kowloon Tong at the age of 32 when he was working on Game of Death.
The prime factor for the growth of interest in the Asian martial arts and Hong Kong movies in international box-office is attributed to this first Chinese superstar of Hollywood with charming screen charisma. Born to a Hong Kong family in Chinatown in San Francisco on November 27, 1940, he was given the Americanised-name Bruce Lee reportedly by a hospital nurse. At the age of six, Lee made his appearance in the Hong Kong movie, The Beginning of a Boy. As he went on to appear in twenty movies, he also took up studies in martial arts from the age of 13, in the process developing his own form of attacking style in karate, Jeet Kune Do, based on street fighting techniques.
By the late 50s, back from Kowloon to United States for his higher studies, he also appeared in supporting roles (1966-1967) in the TV series The Green Hornet as well as in Batman, etc. He was cast in director Paul Bogart’s Marlowe (1969), a slick update of author Raymond Chandler’s The Little Sister with actor James Garner in the role of the private eye Philip Marlowe. This movie in which Lee (also stunt supervisor) reduces Marlowe’s office to rubble was his American début. By then, this muscular young man had become popular in the Far East film circles, eventually paving the way to showcase his brilliance in the martial arts tournament in Enter the Dragon.
The film which has endured all these years, also featured many other martial arts experts: John Saxon (Long time student of oriental martial arts of karate and tai chi chuan); Jim Kelly (the 1971 International Middleweight Karate Champion); Robert ‘Bob’ Wall (1970 United States Professional Karate Champion); Peter Archer (1971 Commonwealth Karate Champion); Yang Sze (Bolo Yeung) (South-East Asian Shotokan Karate Champion), and Angela Mao Ying (Black Belt Hapkido Champion of Okinawa), etc. An Uncut version of Enter the Dragon issued later features interviews, comments about incidents on the set and more footage unseen in the original released version.
Enter the Dragon was Hollywood’s first major involvement in a movie rooted in the Martial Arts scene and no doubt, it was Bruce Lee’s international popularity and his niceties of the martial arts that made the rebirth of these Asian arts worldwide possible. Until next time, Jo
- Movies referred to in this article are available with amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and other leading dealers.
- DVD sleeves credits: Wikipedia, amazon.com, and from my private collection.
- The illustrated scenes are from the movie: Enter the Dragon.
- This article is an affectionate nosegay to movies of the past. Please refer to “About” of my webpage for more details.
(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)
When she brought out the last pearl
She emptied her body like an oyster
On this day June 17, 385 years ago, large populace of India joined their emperor and the royal family to mourn the untimely death of Arjumand Banu Begum, popularly known as Mumtaz Mahal, the 38-year old favourite second wife of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan.
Famed as much for her charity as for her beauty, Mumtaz (The Chosen One of the Palace), was pregnant with her fourteenth child (daughter named Gauhara Begum) when she succumbed to death in childbirth in 1631, leaving her husband heartbroken.
Just as he had promised to her dying prayers, Shah Jahan erected Taj Mahal, the mausoleum of unsurpassed splendour and flawless symmetry on the right bank of the River Yamuna at Agra. In memory of Mumtaz Mahal, Taj Mahal was so named from an abbreviation of her name.
Built of milk-white marble, rose sandstone and studded with precious jewels, the Taj Mahal remains the pride of India from Shah Jahan’s day. I have walked in and around it on five different occasions and I always loved its grand sight – it’s magnificence as it looms proudly within a large interconnected complex of gardens and buildings. Until next time. Jo
How shall I understand the magic of Love the Juggler?
For he made thy beauty enter at that small gate the pupil of my eye,
And now – and now my heart cannot contain it!” – medieval Indian poet Faizi
(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)
The year 1966 – that’s nearly fifty long years of history trailing backwards to it from 2016. For those who have some kind of origins rooted in 1966, the present year would have diverse meanings and values. 2016 would mark the 50th wedding anniversary for some couples; while for few others, it would be the golden jubilee year of their company’s establishment, or to many, it could be a rite of passage into 50 – the latter being the case of a friend who invited us to his milestone birthday bash few months ago.
When that occasion arrived, it turned out to be a lovely time for us to relax and spent some time together with likeminded people – lots of good talk, good food, good drinks, good fun and a speech by the host. The truth is that, on occasions like this, we often swipe our past at the gate and it opens. Then we get back in and out comes thoughts constantly recurring to our friends and events of our early life – in the context of the present occasion, it was how it had all started for our friend in the summer of half a century ago and came up to the time he dipped his toes in the big 5-0, the youth of senior age.
We are the sum of the experiences in our lives. Looking back on his journey from the distance of fifty years, our friend went through a recap of his ups and downs, gains and losses, drawing cameos of his life. Unlike this occasion, I had been to parties where, like an overwound toy that would not stop until its winding is completely unfurled, the host went on and on with narration about himself to make too big a meal of it.
In the end, the summary of our friend’s reminisce sketched the figure of a man with the good sense to confine his ambition to the safer and less contentious way of living – adhering to his belief that all things would come into being, blossom and ripen at the appointed time.
The party had gone with a swing. Back home that same night I had settled in the comfort of our living room while the music of Giacomo Puccini let loose its energy and passion from the music player. With our life-long fascination for the creative genius of Giuseppe Verdi and Puccini, no wonder our hearts lingers in nineteenth-century Italy for good musical experience.
With the happenings of the day still fresh in mind, my attention had wandered to my IPad to google the events of 1966. In history’s roll, 1966 was a conspicuous year. However politically neutral I could be, I could note that, drawing a contrast to the outcome of the present local election, 50 years ago there were celebratory moments for some when on January 24, 1966, Indira Gandhi made her debut entry as the Prime Minister of India owing to the untimely death of the incumbent Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri in Tashkant in Soviet Central Asia on January 11, 1966. Customarily, Mrs. Gandhi’s intellectual-looking face had then dominated the covers of many Indian and some foreign publications. The 5ft. 2in. petite 48 year-old with Nehru elegance and style had certainly reached high places for someone who had once said, “At the age of four, my favourite game was to stand on a table and make thundering political speeches to the servants.”
Another popular face of that year was of the international fashion icon Twiggy (Lesley Lawson, née Hornby). At just seventeen years old, having been voted British Woman of The Year, she was named the Face of ’66 by the Daily Express. In time, her androgynous look splashed across not only on glossy publications, but also on display boards, garments, etc.
Concurrently, British bands like The Beatles dominated the world of popular music while England, beating West Germany 4-2 after extra time at Wembley Stadium in London on 30 July 1966, took home the 1966 FIFA World Cup.
Citing the flash trends of that fab year, if vinyl was the most “in” fabric worn by the young go-go set in Paris, in Britain, besides zippy Mini cars, hemlines of the trendy Mini Skirts progressively climbed upward to the level where some designs had the hem exposing more acreage of leggy delights as popularity for minis grew amongst those who like a mini to be a mini, successfully pushing the squabbles over longhair out of the headlines. At the same time, in the United States, a mandatory health warning appeared on the face of all packaging of cigarettes: “Caution : Cigarette Smoking May Be Hazardous To Your Health”.
I would not miss out on the disasters that occurred later during that year. Before dawn on November 4, 1966, whipped by gale winds and rainstorms, disaster struck Florence (Firenze), Italy, the city for art lovers and one of our favourite haunts for many years. The rising muddy water of River Arno overflowed into the city flooding it to a maximum depth of 20ft, killing many, leaving thousands homeless and damaging not less than 14,000 works of fine art masterpieces and countless historic books, manuscripts and antiques housed at various locations in bella Firenze. At Galleria dell’Accademia, the “David” of Michelangelo tilted on its pedestal owing to buckling of the wet floor.
Just to think of the green and white marble Il Duomo (Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore), Giotto’s belltower (Campanile) and the Baptistery of San Giovanni in the Piazza del Duomo, the Cappelle Medicee e Chiesa di San Lorenzo, the Bargello (Palazzo del Bargello), the piazza and cloisters at Santa Croce, the Piazza della Signoria, the Galleria degli Uffizi, Palazzo Vecchio – all standing waist deep in soiled water with flotsam, oil drums, roofbeams, toys, trees from the diluvio….had brought sadness to our minds whenever we are there.
A similar catastrophe had struck Venice on the same day as La Serenissima flooded as the level of the lagoon rose about 6ft 5in above its normal level.
As Florence gradually came out of isolation and, light, food, and water reinstated with the calm and courage of the Tuscan people and other relief workers, a cause for further joy also came about in England ten days later. On Monday, November 14th, Prince Charles, still a school boy, officially came of age on his 18th birthday.
This enabled him to apply for a driver’s license, or to drink legally in a pub and to draw an income considerably larger than his classmates or teachers. But more importantly, it was the age at which the Prince of Wales, next in line for the British throne, became eligible to assume the throne and rule without a regent. The first joyful cheer to that rang out fifty years ago.
Until next time. Jo
(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)