Between 1787 and 1799, France passed through a period that would change the future of the country completely, an event that became known as the French Revolution, in which the main stage was Paris.
The French Revolution was marked by a bloody period called Reign of Terror, where an estimative of 18,000 to 40,000 people were killed by means of the guillotine, by the hands of the revolutionary army, including the royal family and even the two key leaders of the Revolution Georges Danton and Maximilien de Robespierre.
Despite the fact that it took place more than 200 years ago, many French Revolution buildings are still present nowadays to silently tell us the stories of this bloody yet important period of France, and most of these French Revolution historical sites can still be seen today.
15 French Revolution Places to Visit in Paris
The French Revolution period is a historical marker that helped to shape the world as we see today. This turbulent period gave an end to the absolute monarchy in France that had been on for centuries, changing the political system of France and influencing the rest of the world, creating a completely new global political scenario.
Visiting these historical sites in Paris will give you an idea of how it was like to be in Paris, the epicenter of the movement, during the French Revolution.
To learn more about the French Revolution and its many important figures mentioned in this post, go check the best books on French Frevolution here.
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French Revolution sites to visit in Paris
This beautiful building that now appears in so many Instagram posts, was built in 1633 by Cardinal Richelieu and was known as the Palace-Cardinal for obvious reasons until the Cardinal’s death in 1642. The palace then became a royal property and received the name Palais Royal, being home of some members of the French Royal Family.
On July 12, the eve of the revolution, its gardens served as the stage for Camille Desmoulins, a journalist, and politician of the time, who climbed on a table of the Cafe du Foy, one of the many cafés in Palais Royal garden, and announced the dismissal of Jacques Necker, a French statesman by King Louis XVI finishing his announcement by calling people “To arms!“, apparently losing his mind out of excitement. This is considered the beginning of the Revolution, as his speech was enough to mobilize the population who two days after invaded the Hotel des Invalides to loot its weapons and stormed the Bastille.
Hôtel des Invalides
Built as a hospital for wounded soldiers, by Louis XIV, it is known nowadays as the War Museum, Hôtel des Invalides is now a complex of three museums displaying items related to wars as well as tombs of important figures mostly from the military scenario. One of the most important pieces of the museum is the tomb of Napoleon.
The Hôtel des Invalides was stormed by several thousand men on the morning of 14 July, two days after the speech of Desmoulins in Palais Royal, the crowd plundered the weapons in the site before heading to the Bastille.
Place de la Bastille
This used to be the place where the Bastille prison, a famous prison fortress during the French Revolution, stood until the “Storming of the Bastille” event, where a confrontation between civilians and the old Regime took place in the afternoon of 14 July of 1789.
The Bastille was totally destroyed during the Revolution and little has remained of the old Bastille building. In 1899 a small section of the wall was uncovered in platform Number Five of the Bastille metro station, which can still be seen today.
During the excavation of the metro, part of the Liberté Tower was found. The tower was dismantled and later reconstructed in a nearby garden southwest the Place de la Bastille.
It is also possible to see on the ground of Place de la Bastille some outlines of the fortress.
The Storming of the Bastille officially marks the start of the French Revolution, and despite the fact that it only contained seven inmates at the time of the storming, it was a symbol of abuse by the monarchy. In its place now, stands the July Column that commemorates the July Revolution of 1830. Nowadays the Place de la Bastille is a symbol of the leftists in Paris.
After the monarchy was suspended in a move that some consider as a second Revolution, King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette were arrested, and the French Republic was declared. This was not a good period for the Church, with the implementation of the Enlightenment ideals and the dechristianization of the French population, churches across the city became the main target.
Notre Dame, for example, suffered sacking, pillaging, and had its treasures destroyed, until it was officially turned into the “Temple of Reason”, a place for the practice of the “Cult of Reason”, a state-sponsored atheistic religion created by radicals such as Jacques Hébert and Antoine-François Momoro as an opposition to the Roman Catholicism.
The word Pantheon means “Every God”, and was normally used by pagan people to name their houses of worship, however, the Pathéon of Paris was originally built to be a church called the “Eglise Sainte-Geneviève”. It was only finished shortly before the start of the French Revolution in 1789 and turned into the “temple of the nation and mausoleum for the great men of the Nation” in 1791 by the revolutionary government.
Important figures were buried here including Voltaire, Rousseau, and the revolutionaries that played a big role in the French Revolution, Jean-Paul Marat.
Completed in 1751, Versailles was firstly built to be the hunting lodge of France’s King Louis XIII. Being transformed into the sumptuous residence we see today, by his son and successor, Louis XIV.
The apartments of the King and Queen, as well as the famous Hall of Mirrors, were built and the palace became the official residence of the French royal family in 1682, when King Louis XIV moved to the palace, until the French Revolution.
It was here that King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette used to live until 1789 when they were stripped of power and brought to the Tuileries Palace, in Paris, and ultimately beheaded.
In the 19th Century, the Versailles palace was turned into the Museum of the History of France by King Louis-Philippe. Versailles can easily be visited as a day tour from Paris. Do reserve at least half a day to visit the main areas of the palace, including the gardens, the apartments of the King & Queen, and the Hall of Mirrors.
You can buy the tickets online to save you time, as some days, especially during summer and sunny days, the palace gets a bit crowded. You can get there by train or take a tour with a minibus leaving from Paris.
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Jardin des Tuileries
Tuileries Garden is what is left of the old Tuileries Palace, the palace was burned and destroyed in 1871 by the Paris Commune.
However, in 1789, during the French Revolution, it was here that the royal family was brought to from Versailles and held under surveillance until they were transferred to the Temple and later publically killed. Nowadays the Jardin des Tuileries is the charming garden in front of the Louvre Museum.
Palais du Luxembourg
During the Revolution, the Luxembourg Palace was transformed into a prison. Major figures of the Revolution were detained here, like Danton and Camille Desmoulins (the instigator of the French revolution) in March 1794.
Le Procope Cafe
Opened in 1686, this is the oldest Café in Paris. Considered nowadays a historic monument of the city, Le Procope Cafe still preserves its interior authenticity. During the years the cafe received many remarkable guests, like Napoleon, Voltaire, Rousseau, and Benjamin Franklin.
The cafe keeps some interesting items like Napoleon’s hat and the last letter from Marie Antoinette to Louis XV. It is believed that this was the place where Marie Antoinette’s death warrant was signed.
The building was part of a complex called Palais de Justice, originally a royal palace and the home of governors of Ancient Rome. It was the official residence of the French monarchy until Charles V moved the royal palaces to Marais in 1358 following the Jacquerie revolt.
It was later turned into a prison during the French Revolution. More than 2.600 prisoners were tried here, including Marie Antoinette, who was brought here from the Temple on August 1st, 1793, and separated from her children. Danton was also held here.
Nowadays it is a museum, the cell where Marie Antoinette was held was reconstructed and you can have a feeling of how it was like when she was here.
Place de la Concorde
Originally called Place Louis XV, it was renamed “Place de la Révolution” during the French Revolution and later called “Concorde” to symbolize the reconciliation after the Revolution. Before the revolution, the Place Louis XV used to hold a statue in honor of the monarchy, but it was taken down during the revolution and replaced with the guillotine.
During the French Revolution, many guillotines were places across the city, but the guillotine of the Place de la Revolution was the most famous one, and the site became the focus of the executions during the Reign of Terror.
Over 1,300 people were executed in the Place de la Revolution, including famous figures of the French Revolution were executed including King Louis XVI and his wife, Queen Marie Antoinette, and important revolutionary figures such as Danton and Robespierre.
Today, in the center of the square, you can find a board on the floor marking the exact location of the guillotine and a list with the names of its victims.
Catacombs of Paris
Created as a way to solve the issue with the overpopulation of Parisian cemeteries and the closure of the Cemetery of Innocent. Around six million human skeletons are kept in the Catacombs including many skeletons of those who died in the several riots during the French Revolution.
Basilica St Denis
The basilica bears its name in honor of France’s patron saint, St Denis, and the site where the basilica was built is believed to be the site where the Saint was buried after his death in around 275 AD.
The last home of the royal family. The abbey is known as the royal necropolis as it keeps the remains of many monarchs. During the French Revolution though, many bodies were removed by protesters to celebrate the Revolution.
Louis XVI and Maria Antoinette were initially buried in the churchyard of the Madeleine, but the few remains of the king and queen were found and brought to St-Denis in 1815.
Hotel de Ville
A building that houses the city’s local administration. Back in the time of the French Revolution, it used to be the headquarter of the Paris Commune, where Robespierre and his supporters used to gather. It was here that Robespierre was arrested, after years of the Reign of Terror.
Paris has more than 130 museums, but if you want to know more about the French Revolution, this is the place, the Musée Carnavalet is dedicated to the history of Paris and its inhabitants, it is also known as the Museum of the French Revolution, due to its amount of artworks, documents, and artifacts from the French Revolution.
I really recommend to know a bit about the French Revolution before visiting this museum, and that’s why I have added it as the last item in the list, as without known about history, you will feel kind of lost. Otherwise, this is the perfect place to end your French Revolution in Paris tour.
Among the amazing pieces related to the French Revolution inside the Musée Carnavalet, includes paintings and portraits as well as belongings of Marie Antoinette and the paper on which Robespierre partially wrote his signature when he was seized by soldiers.
The museum has no entry fee, however, it is also not perfectly managed. The logistics of the museum is a bit hard to understand, items are not organized in a clear chronological order, plus there is no information in English. However, if you do love history, don’t miss the opportunity to visit the Musée Carnavalet!
What were the most important causes of the French Revolution?
The causes for the French Revolution were many, the dissatisfaction of the population, especially the bourgeoisie, part of the Third Estate (Clergy, Aristocracy, and Commoners), whose influence was rising towards the Estate and were aspiring for their own political equality.
The influences of the newly developed Enlightenment philosophy that called for a society based on reason instead of traditions and desacralized the authority of the monarchy and the Catholic Church.
All this scenario was fed by a huge financial debt France was facing at the time, due to the involvement with the American Revolutionary War, leaving France severely in debt, added to the absurd amount of money spent by the royal family on superfluous things, like expensive dresses, jewelry, and extravagant parties.