Arrondissements 3, 10, 11
A small square close to the present huge open space first appeared in the 17th century soon after the 14th century Charles V wall and its Temple gate were knocked down. It became known as the Château-d’Eau square after 1811 when Napoléon Bonaparte inaugurated a huge fountain surrounded by lions there to celebrate his opening of a much-needed aqueduct bringing fresh water to Paris from the North.
The square witnessed a left demonstration on June 13 1849 against the prince-president Louis Napoleon’s decision to declare war on the Rome Republic. Ledru-Rollin and another 30 deputies marched from the Square, hoping unsuccessfully to secure widespread popular support – something they failed to get because of mistrust over Ledru-Rollin’s involvement in the 1848 June Days insurrection.
Haussmann’s aim to subdue the most working class and militant north-eastern area of Paris created the huge public square we recognise today.
Planning to make troop movements through Paris easier, in 1857 Haussmann approved the knocking down and building through of what are today the Boulevard Voltaire (at the time the Prince-Eugène Boulevard) and the Avenue de la République.
From 1865 the square began to take its present dimensions becoming a rectangular square 280m long by 120m wide. In 1867 a second much bigger fountain with 8 bronze lions around it spitting water was planned for the square (it is now in the Place Félix-Éboué) and the first fountain was moved to supply water to the cattle waiting to be slaughtered at the new livestock market at La Villette. Built between 1860 and 1867 the giant La Villette meat market replaced five other big Parisian slaughter house centres (at Montmartre, Menilmontant Roule, Grenelle and Villejuif).
On May 30 1878 some 6,000 demonstrators staged an illegal demonstration in the square demanding the freedom of all France’s political prisoners. This was one of the first steps in winning the amnesty for the imprisoned, deported and exiled Communards in 1879.
In 1879 the square was given its present name. A competition was also held for a grand monument dedicated to the Republic to be erected in the square. This was won by the Morice borthers. On July 14 1880 a plaster model was inaugurated in the square and the bronze version was inaugurated three years later.
Some of Paris’ most important demonstrations have taken place in the Square. On February 9 1934 the Communist Party organised a demonstration starting at the Gare du Nord and marching to the Square.
Three days after the attack on the National Assembly by the fascists, calling for the outlawing of the right-wing leagues and for a government of workers and peasants. It was banned by the government and attacked by the police. The most significant thing about the demonstration was that many socialist workers also responded to the events of February 6 1934 by joining the communist demonstration. This was the real beginning of the Popular Front.
On July 14 1935 the North African Star movement held up the Algerian flag for the first time during the Bastille Day demonstration in the Square.
On May Day 2002 hundreds of thousands filled the Square to protest against Jean-Marie Le Pen of the fascist National Front getting through to the second round of that year’s presidential election.
The Square was also full two days after the machine gun attacks of November 13 2015 as Parisians showed their determination not to give in to terrorism.
One week later a solidarity demonstration with undocumented migrants and against the State of Emergency took place from the Place de la Bastille to the Place de la Republique.
Two weeks after France’s biggest terrorist attack since the German occupation, the March for the Climate to take place demanding stronger action from the COP21 international conference was also banned under the November 20 State of Emergency. This did not prevent more than ten thousand demonstrators taking to the street.
By the early afternoon on November 22 2015 the 3-5,000 demonstrators still at the Square protesting the infringement of their freedom were tear-gassed and attacked with sound grenades by the police, who made 341 arrests and kept 317 of the protestors overnight.
Still under the State of Emergency, massive trade union demonstrations against the socialist President Hollande’s liberalising labour law measures began. Disillusion with the so-called ‘Socialist’ government sparked anger and a new social movement. After a massive day of demonstrations on March 31 2016, a number of leftists decided to meet in the Place de la République, and not to disperse, but to stay on and sleep there.
The Nuit Debout movement was born. The photograph at the top of this article was taken in April. Every evening at 6 pm people – mainly young people – would meet at the Square, often voting on different issues, and some would sleep there. In June, after the labour law reform had been passed by the government, the meetings got smaller and smaller and fizzled out.
In the 2020s the Square remains the focal point for demonstrations linked to the real demands for freedom, equality and humanity.
One website that keeps Parisians informed on what demonstrations are taking place now in the Place de la Republique and other places in Paris is Demosphere.