Tag Archives: French Revolution

La Place de la Bastille

Paris is renowned for its historic and beautiful, ‘places’ or squares. One of the most historically significant is La Place de La Bastille which is located in the quaint little quartier known as Le Marais.

La Place de la Bastille
La Place de la Bastille

La Place de la Bastille takes its name from the infamous prison that stood there from 1390 to 1790. Built originally as a fort which formed part of the defences of the old city, the building was converted into a prison by Charles VI in the 17th century. Anyone who opposed the Monarchy or the Church was incarcerated there. La Bastille soon became the most feared and loathed institution in the country, a symbol of injustice and oppression.

It was, significantly, against the Bastille that first blow of the French Revolution was struck. On July 14, the Revolutionaries stormed the building, freed its (few, as it happened) remaining prisoners and liberated the large cache of arms stored there.

By July 14 1790, the last stone of the detested prison had been torn down and carted away.  After the Revolution, the area occupied by the prison became a square celebrating liberty. La Colonne de Juillet, a column to commemorate the Revolution was placed at its centre. The outline of the original prison building is marked out in paving stones on the streets.

While 21st century Parisian traffic whirls in a relentless circle around La Place de la Bastille and modern buildings hover at its edges, there is still something about this corner of Paris that inspires a certain feeling awe and even a slight frisson of fear.

La Place de la Concorde

Emerging from the Metro, even the most intrepid traveller will find La Place de La Concorde a little daunting. The roar of the incessantly whirling traffic makes you want to turn and run for the shelter of the nearby Tuilleries gardens. But don’t, persevere, there’s a lot to see and La Place De La Concorde has its own fascinating history.

Place de la Concorde at the time of the 2007 Rugby World Cup
Place de la Concorde at the time of the 2007 Rugby World Cup

Designed in 1755, the octagonal shaped place was originally named La Place Louis XV, after the King of the time.  His stone image, on horseback, stood at its centre.

During the French Revolution, the statue of the Louis XV was torn down and a guilloutine erected in its place. The square was re-named “La Place de la Revolution” and it was here, watched by cheering crowds, that Louis XVI was executed on January 21, 1793. His wife Marie Antoinette was put to death shortly after.  In 1794 more than 1, 300 people fell victim to the guilloutine in a single month.  The square became a terrible place and its stones were stained with the blood of the people killed there.

In 1795, the guilloutine was removed and the square was renamed Place de la Concorde. At each of the angles of the octagon is a statue, representing eight great cities of France. Two Romanesque fountains represent the rivers and seas. On the northern side of the place are two magnificent stone mansions, dating back to the time of Louis XV. Today one of them houses one of the world’s most luxurious hotels, Le Crillon.

During World War II Le Crillon served as the headquarters of the High Command of the German Army and  La Place de La Concorde became the centre of occupied France.  The obelisk, which today stands on the spot where Louis XV once sat astride his stone horse, is decorated with hieroglyphics celebrating the reign of Ramses II. It once marked the entrance to the Luxor Temple and was gifted to the people of France by the Egyptian Government in 1833.

Finally, La Place de La Concorde forms part of the great vista of avenues, arches, squares and gardens that stretches all the way from ultra modern La Défense through the Arc de Triomphe, down the Champs Elysées, across the Place de la Concorde, through the Tuileries gardens to Le Musée du Louvre.