Da Vinci Code Tour

Paris locales clue in 'Da Vinci' devotees 

Dan Carlin
A journalist at the Arizona Republic
Sept. 26, 2004 12:00 AM to PARIS - Dan Brown's runaway bestseller The Da Vinci Code, with its titillating blend of chase scenes and art history lessons, has inspired a new way to experience Paris.

Conspiracy-minded sleuths, their brains burbling with provocative theories about Renaissance art and secret societies, scour the French capital on a handful of tailored Da Vinci Code tours, which help them sort fact from fiction at some of Paris' most sumptuous locales.

According to the novel, the hulking St. Sulpice Church conceals the activities of a powerful secret society. Da Vinci's masterpieces in the Louvre hold clues to the true nature of Mary Magdalene.

Brown even suggests that a ring of metal medallions running through the sidewalks of Paris leads to the most-sought-after treasure of the Western world.

Many fans come hoping to figure out whether the facts in the book add up to Brown's astonishing claims about the Catholic Church and Jesus Christ - no spoilers here.

But for plenty of visitors, touring the city via The Da Vinci Code offers a novel angle through which to approach what many claim is «the world's most-visited city.»

Norma Najjar, a high school teacher from Wappinger Falls, N.Y., planned her first trip to Paris, in June, by marking pages in her copy of The Da Vinci Code, and jotting down locations that caught her eye.

I had no notions of Paris other than the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, she says. «(The book) gave me ideas of what we would want to check out.»

Najjar eventually took her three children on France Hotel Guide's Da Vinci Code Tour of Paris, a half-day tour of virtually all of the locations mentioned in the book, from the Ritz-Carlton at Place Vendôme to the sumptuous chateaux of La Villette.

Before we started the tour, the guide said there are some inaccuracies in the book, but to me that wasn't a major deal, she says. «I know the book was fiction. I was more interested in the places that are there.»

Museum guides also have picked up on the Da Vinci Code craze.

The Da Vinci Code has sparked genuine interest in so many complex topics: goddess worship, early Christian history, Mary Magdalene, Renaissance iconography, Leonardo da Vinci, says Ellen McBreen, founder of Paris Muse, a company that gives museum tours.

«When the 30th client asked me about hidden symbolism in Leonardo's Madonna of the Rocks, I realized there was a growing interest out there in exploring the book in greater depth.

So McBreen created Cracking the Code, a tour of the Louvre that examines Code-related themes through dozens of works in the museum's vast collection, such as Agnolo Bronzino's Noli me tangere (1560), a classic depiction of Mary Magdalene's encounter with Jesus.

A niche market has even developed for Europe-wide tours that retrace the entire course of the book.

For about $3,000, you can travel for eight days through France, England and Scotland on General Tours' «Cracking the Da Vinci Code» tour, tracking every clue mentioned in Brown's book, from the Louvre to Westminster Abbey and Rosslyn Chapel.

Some of the tours reveal discrepancies in the story, according to guides. But believers in its mysteries shouldn't worry about losing the glow, either, says Rola Cusson, a guide for France Hotel Guide

It's not a big deal if the trains leaving from Gare Saint Lazare don't go to Lille, or if in the Louvre toilet where Neveu and Langdon hid there are no soap bars, and no window to throw the soap bar on a passing truck, she says. «I don't spend my time pointing out these inaccuracies because I don't want to disappoint the people who read the book and liked it very much.»

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