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Place de la Concorde: A Brief History

The Place de la Concorde, located between the Champs Elysées and the Tuileries Gardens is probably the most famous square in the city, known for its famous monuments and for being one of the most significant French Revolution sites in Paris. It was originally designed in the 18th century as the Place Louis XV, named after the reigning monarch at the time. 

However, during the French Revolution, it underwent several name changes and became known as the Place de la Revolution, where public executions, including that of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, took place. 

Later, it was renamed the Place de la Concorde as a symbol of reconciliation and peace.

Once the stage of the bloodiest period of French history, the Place de la Concorde is now a highlight of any trip to Paris, offering a beautiful view of landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower and the Champs-Élysée.

The Beginning: Place de Louis XV

The Place de la Concorde was created in the 18th century, specifically between 1755 and 1775, during the reign of King Louis XV of France, and was originally named the Place Louis XV in honor of the king. 

It was designed by the architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel as part of a project to beautify Paris. It was surrounded by various buildings and was used for different purposes, including markets and public events.

The square was designed in a symmetrical neoclassical style, featuring two identical stone buildings on each side, called the Hôtel de la Marine and the Hôtel de Crillon, which still stand today. The square was adorned with statues and greenery, but the most prominent monument in the square during that time was the equestrian statue of King Louis XV, which was erected in the center of the square in 1763. This statue was the focal point of the square and contributed to its original name.

Stage of the French Revolution: Place de la Révolution

During the French Revolution, the Place de la Concorde underwent significant transformation and became a site of profound historical significance. The square was renamed the “Place de la Révolution” during this period, reflecting the revolutionary ideals of the time.

The square was used for various revolutionary activities, most notably as the site for public executions by guillotine. The decision to use the square for these executions was strategic, as it was centrally located and easily accessible, allowing large crowds to gather and witness the events.

The Place de la Révolution witnessed over 1200 executions, including those of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette in 1793, probably the most famous figures killed during the French Revolution. 

These executions marked significant moments in the revolution and symbolized the overthrow of the monarchy.

During this period, the square would have looked very different from its current appearance. Instead of the ornate fountains and statues we see today, it would have been a more austere and functional space, dominated by the guillotine and surrounded by crowds of spectators.

Final form: Place de la Concorde

After the French Revolution, the square continued to evolve and underwent further changes to reflect the shifting political landscape of France. It officially received its current name, the “Place de la Concorde,” in 1830. 

The name “Concorde” means “harmony” or “concord” in French, symbolizing the desire for unity and reconciliation among the French people after the tumultuous years of revolution and upheaval.

The guillotine, responsible for the death of so many people during the revolution, was removed shortly after the end of the Reign of Terror in 1794. With the transition to more stable governance, the square was transformed into a symbol of peace, progress, and national unity.

Following the end of the French Revolution period, the square underwent significant renovations and beautification projects. In the early 19th century, under the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte, the square was redesigned to its current layout, featuring the iconic Egyptian obelisk, which was erected in the center of the square in 1836. The two magnificent fountains, designed by Jacques-Ignace Hittorff, were also added during this time, further enhancing the beauty of the square.

Conclusion

The same but different, the Place de la Concorde has been part of the Parisian landscape for centuries and has experienced different phases of the country’s history. If you want to learn more about the bloody period known as the French Revolution, do check this list of the best books on the French Revolution, and this list of French Revolution paintings. 

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