Place de la République

Arrondissements 3, 10, 11

Numbers: 12

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 Chateau d’Eau fountain stood from 1811 to 1867 in the Place du Chateau d’Eau that was enlarged in 1854 and finally became the Place de La République in 1879. Cast in iron by the Creusot factory, supplier of canons first to the young Republic and then to Napoleon, the fountain was moved to La Villlette in 1867.

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.

In 1855 Haussmann ordered the building of the huge Prince Eugène barracks at No. 12 behind the fountain. It was big enough for 3,200 soldiers. This postcard dates from the 1900s. The barracks was renamed the Vérines barracks in 1947 after its former Republican Guard commander who was shot by the Germans for his resistance activities in 1943. The barracks was the last German stronghold to surrender in Paris on August 25 1944.

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.

A minority on the competition jury so strongly defended the proposal made by the newly-returned Communard, Jules Dalou, that in 1880 his model was chosen to be put in the Place de la Nation.

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.

Despite fear that the Bataclan terrorists might strike again, tens of thouands filled the Place de la Republique two days after the murders of 130 people and the wounding of another 413.

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.

Solidarity demonstration on Noveber 22 2015 for the sans-papiers and against the state of emergency. Harrassed by police from start to finish it finally arrived at the Square

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.

The police started arresting demonstrators in the Place de la Republique on Sunday afternoon November 29 2015 after their demonstration calling for real climate action from COP21

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.

Steve photographed the base of the Nuit debout protest during the day on April 14 2016. It was still covered with the slogans and placards from the 2015 anti-terrorist demonstrations

In the 2020s the Square remains the focal point for demonstrations linked to the real demands for freedom, equality and humanity.

I found this image stencilled on a wall close to the Place de la Republique on April 14 2016

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.

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Wikipedia

PLACES

Place de la Bastille

Arrondissements 4, 11, 12

Numbers: 12

Called after the ‘small fort’ originally built next to the St Antoine gate into Paris and then turned into a stone fort in 1370, the Bastille soon became a six tower fortress with thick walls and a moat. By 1553 it was an eight-tower fortress with a copper-bottomed moat. In the 17th century it was turned into the prison that was eventually taken by Paris’ newly-formed militia and local people on July 14 1789.

One of the wine merchants, Claude Cholat, who participated in the storming of the Bastille sketched the scene from memory a few days later

Demolition began almost immediately. Voltaire’s coffin was symbolically brought there on its way to the Pantheon on July 11 1791.

In 1792 it was decided to turn it into a huge square, the Place Antoine. The Marseillais volunteer national guardsmen arrived there singing the song that became the national anthem on July 30 1792.

From June 9 to June 14 1794 the guillotine was installed in the ruins of the fort. But after killing 73 people in less than three days the local shopkeepers complained so much (about the smell and those who had come to watch) that it was moved to what is now called the Place de la Nation, and was then the Square of the Overthrown Crown.

After the 1830 Revolution the new King Louis-Philippe decided to erect a column in the middle of the square to honour the 615 victims of the ‘Trois Glorieuses‘ Revolution – the Three Glory Days. It was inaugurated in 1840.

On April 13 1834 barricades went up in the square as local workers rioted in support of the silk workers’ insurrection in Lyon.

On February 24 1848 Louis-Philippe’s throne was taken from the Tuileries Palace and ceremoniously burnt at the foot of the July column. Three days later the 196 dead in the February Revolution were buried in the crypt beneath the column, and the Second Republic was officially proclaimed there.

On June 24 1848, when the new right-wing government announced the dissolution of the National Workshops, the Bastille square was entirely circled by barricades, and a red flag placed in the hands of Dumont’s 1836 allegorical statue le Génie de la Liberté flew briefly from the top of the July Column to accompany the flame of freedom and the broken chains of despotism.

Dumont’s statue is of a winged male god – chosen probably precisely because it was not the traditionally feminine revolutionary with a phrygian gap – in keeping with the rightward direction of the Orleans monarchy. The names carved on the column are of the dead of 1830.

A red flag flew again on top of the column on February 24 1871, when 14 battalions of the National Guard marched by in a commemoration of the 1848 revolution. The government’s attempt to replace the flag by the Tricolour on February 26 and March 9 1871 both failed.

During the 1871 Paris Commune three local sections of the International Workingmen’s Association used to meet in the Cour Damoye at No. 12.

On May 25 1871 when the Versaillais troops entered Paris the Communards tried to blow up the column by setting fire to five oil delivery barges in the tunnel that runs beneath it. This failed, and the column was also missed by shells fired at it, although nearby buildings were hit.

The Communards fought hard to defend the symbol of revolutionary liberty, but were eventually overrun by the Versaillais. During the bloody week of May 1871 nearly all were killed in the fighting or shot afterwards.

The Place de la Bastille became the symbol of left and republican resistance.

The first Parisian demonstration of Communards after the suppression of the Commune took place at the Bastille square on May 9 1880.

In 1935 two major demonstrations took place there. On International Women’s Day 1935, feminists led by Louise Weiss and Cecile Brunschvicg symbolically burnt chains of male dominance in the square.

On July 14 1935 a demonstration that brought together both Socialists and Communists marched from the Bastille to Vincennes. This was called under the name of ‘People Together’ (Rassemblement populaire) that became the Popular Front that won the 1936 parliamentary elections.

On May 29 1968, the day De Gaulle temporarily left France, the CGT trade union organised a mass demonstration against his government, shown here in a police surveillance photograph passing the Place de la Bastille

Since 1991 the Marche de les Fiertes have usually begun or ended at the Place de la Bastille. In the 21st century they have usually attracted at least half a million people. There were certainly about that number when Marian and I watched for hours as the marchers went by.

The 50th anniversary Paris gay pride march June 24 2017
The first Gay Pride march in Paris in 1981 passed through the Place de la Bastille.

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PLACES

Boulevard Beaumarchais

Arrondissement 11

One of Paris’ very old boulevards, first called the boulevard Saint-Antoine and renamed boulevard Beaumarchais in 1831, after the important Enlightenment musician and poet. Two of its buildings (Nos. 23 and 28) are classified as historic monuments.

The low-level concert hall and theatre at No.10 was demolished in 1972

No. 10 isn’t. For good reasons. It’s now an ugly modern building. But from 1855 it was the entrance to a major cafe and music hall. The old entrances to the space behind the facade on the street are still there at Nos. 12 and 8.

The Dance hall le Grand Concert de l’Époque, in 1925 it became Concert Pacra until 1962

Initially opened as a dance hall called le Grand Concert de l’Époque, it became a theatre in 1905 and then a cafe-concert hall, Chansonia, in 1908. In 1925 another name change to Concert Pacra lasted until 1962, when for its last decade it became the Théâtre du Marais and then Music-Hall du Marais and finally a cinema.

Among those who appeared at the Concert Pacra were Charles Aznavour, Edith Piaf and the anarchist Georges Brassens.

In May 1968, while all the other shows in Paris stopped with the strike on the metro and the street battles in Paris, a concert of folk music took place there in support of the French Global Campaign against Famine.

PLACES

Rue Bréguet

Arrondissement 11

Number 2

Named after the Swiss-origin Abraham Breguet who first conceived of the wrist-watch and established a watch-making business in Paris, the street was opened in 1866.


With Paul Hauet (1866-1945), a retired colonel, Germaine Tillion reactivated
the National Association of Soldiers from the Colonies and set up office in the corner building at No. 2 in July 1940. There were around 69,000 prisoners of war originating in the French colonies at the time.

A letter from Commander Bouret, deputy General Secretary of the Assistance Committee for Black Soldiers, to Germaine Tillion asking for her to send on Koranic religious books to be taken by named visitors to two imprisoned soldiers

Officially they were simply sending parcels, letters or copies of the Koran to the prisoners, but in reality they worked organising a network initially to provide papers and clothers for escaping prisoners of war heading for the free zone in the South, and then in collecting information on German army movements.

By the autumn of 1940 Tillion and Hauet had made contact with the resistance group at the Musée de l’Homme. Tillion was finally the only survivor of that network.

Hauet, was finally arrested in January 1944 and deported to the Neuengamme concentration camp near Hamburg, where he died in January 1945.

PLACES

Rue de Charonne

Arrondissement 11

Street of tragic events

This long 17th century road linked Charonne to Paris long before the village was annexed in 1860.

Ho Chi Minh lived in the street in 1917, when he first arrived in Paris.

On February 8 1962 trade union and left political party demonstrators against the OAS and in support of Algerian independence were viciously attacked by the Parisian police as they sought shelter in the metro station Charonne. Maurice Papon, Paris police chief with the backing of the President de Gaulle ordered the police to disperse the illegal demonstration. Six men and three women were killed and some 250 wounded.

Most of those suffocated or killed with blows to the head were members of the CGT trade union.

The following day over half a million demonstrators marched to the Père-Lachaise  cemetery, while the prime minister, Michel Debré visited police stations and wrote a letter to Papon congratulating him and his men. Papon had previously been involved in the murders of hundreds of Algerians in Paris at the FLN demonstration of 17 October 1961. He was finally sentenced to 10 years in prison in 1998 for complicity in the deportation of Jews between 1942 and 1944.

On February 8 2007 the Socialist mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, named the junction between the boulevard Voltaire and the rue de Charonne in commemoration: La Place du 8-février-1962. there is also a plaque inside the metro station.

The CGT and PCF commemorative plaque inside the Charonne metro station lists the names of the victims of the police brutality of 8 February 1962

The same street witnessed 19 people killed and 14 wounded on 13 November 2015 when two gunmen opened fire on the terrace of La Belle Équipe restaurant at No. 92, when 130 people in total were murdered that night.

PLACES

Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine

Arrondissements 11, 12

Numbers: 1, 2, 63, 151, 157, 185

The word faubourg derives from old French meaning ‘outside the village/town/abbey). Saint-Antoine was the name of the hamlet built outside the 13th century Saint-Antoine-des-Champs abbey walls, on whose site stands the Saint-Antoine Hospital.

The abbey brought in the carpenters, varnishers, tapestry-makers, glass makers (Saint-Gobain started here in 1665 thanks to Colbert) that made the area the most populated in Paris in the 18th century.

The Caplain factory employed many women workers manufacturing gas masks during the First World War

It was also the most revolutionary, with its workers forming the biggest contingent among those who attacked the Bastille prison and armoury in 1789. On July 30 1792, when the Marseillais volunteers marched into Paris along the road singing the Chant de marche pour l’armée du Rhin, they had no idea that this song by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle would become the French national anthem for the first time in 1795.

At an address in the road that is unknown, Pierre-Jean Beranger lived with his grandfather in the 1780s, before being taken by him to see the storming of the Bastille in 1789. This influence, and that of an uncle, mitigated against that of his father, and put Beranger on the side of ordinary people for most of his life.

One of the few barricades in the insurrection of June 6 1832 that followed the funeral of the republican sympathiser General Lamarque was outside No. 2. This short-lived insurrection was made famous by Victor Hugo in Les Misérables in his description of the barricade in the Rue Saint- Martin.

On June 25 1848 some 29 barricades were erected in the Sainte-Antoine district. The one across the road between No. 1 and No. 2 was where the Archbishop of Paris, Denys Affre, was mortally wounded by Cavaignac‘s soldiers when he tried to persuade both sides to stop fighting. The barricade fell shortly afterwards.

In 1871 the road was once more barricaded by the citizen-soldiers of the National Guard, called the fédérés. One of the most important again was built on March 18 1871 to block the road between No. 1 and No. 2 and prevent access to the Bastille square. Over 100 Communards were killed in the battle before it was taken by the Versaillais army on May 26 1871.

A barricade across Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine in May 1871 defended by the National Guard. It is photographed from the Eastern side from where the Versaillais troops were expected to come.

Another barricade in the road in May 1871 ran across the Rue de Charonne from No. 63. This was where Marx’s personal envoy to the Commune, Elisabeth Dmitrieff, helped the Hungarian member of the First International, Léo Fränkel who was wounded on the barricade there on May 25 1871.

On December 3 1851 it was at a barricade crossing from what is now the Rue Trousseau at No. 151 that Victor Schoelcher joined the protest against the seizure of power by Louis-Napoleon and tried to raise a revolt in a working class area. He saw his fellow deputy, Alphonse Baudin, shot dead. The 20 deputies who had come to the barricade had met first at the Café des Peuples at No. 157.

On the second floor of 151 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine this plaque is all that records the location of the young deputy’s death defending democracy in 1851

A later use of No. 157 was made by the publication the Cooperation of Ideas there in 1899. It had then become the venue of the Theatre of the People

This was also where the Club of the Faubourg (Club du Faubourg) used to meet in 1919 and 1920. One of the regular visitors to the Club at No. 157 in 1919 was Nguyên Tat Thanh, alias Nguyên Ai Quôc, Ho Chi Minh.

The cooperative connection was continued further down the road in No. 185. In the ealry 20th century ‘The Family of the 11th Arrondissement’ cooperative shop was also a bulk distribution centre for socialist cooperatives.

The Family of the 11th Arrondissement socialist cooperative on the corner with the Rue Saint-Bernard photographed in the early 20th century

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PLACES

Rue Japy

Arrondissement 11

Number: 2

The Salle Japy on the left photographed about 1900

Opened in 1870 the road was named after the paternalist industrialist Frédéric Japy. In the late 18th century he invented machine tools that could make some parts of clocks and built workers’ housing to keep his skilled home workers close. Some of his workshops were nearby.

No. 2 was built in 1870 as a covered market, but it was then converted in 1884 into a gym that could also hold political meetings and was known as the Salle Japy. In the 1900 photograph above the Salle is on the left.

The Salle Japy was where the first steps towards unity of the different French socialist organisations took place between December 6 and 9 1899. Jaures, Guesde and Allemane were all present.

At the end of this meeting the new version of l’Internationale was sung together by the different groups for the first time, becoming the anthem of French socialism. The song’s words had been written in June 1871 by the Communard Eugène Pottier to the tune of La Marseillaise, but they were set to the currently-known melody in 1888 by the Belgian socialist Pierre De Geyter.

Many other significant left meetings took place in the Salle Japy. On April 22 1920 the Third Federal Congress of the Railway workers there decided to call an unlimited strike from May 1st for the nationalisation of the railways. On March 7 1925 Marcel Cachin told a Communist meeting there ‘It shouldn’t be that women have two bosses: their employer and their husband’.

But under the German Occupation the hall was also first used as an internment centre for around 5,000 ‘migrant’ Jews. ‘Foreign’ Jews were the first to be rounded up on May 14 1941 and then deported to their deaths.

On July 16 1942 when René Bousquet, Secretary-General to the Police for the Vichy Regime, ordered the partially autonomous French police to round up Jews in Paris, women and children were interned in the Salle Japy before being deported.

Rue Léon-Frot

Arrondissement 11

Number: 55, 64

Initially opened up in 1816, the name of most of the road was the Rue des Boulets (probably either from canonballs or from the rounded shape much coal was distributed in during the 19th century), but on December 18 1944 the section north of Boulevard Voltaire was renamed Léon Frot.

Frot lived in No. 55 and was an elected 11th arrondissement Communist municipal councillor who had been sentenced to five years imprisonment on May 14 1940 by the Paris military court for distributing communist propaganda. Moved from the Sante prison to the Bourges (Cher) prison and then to Clairvaux (Aube) he was executed there on January 13 1942. Between January and May 21 political prisoners were shot at Clairvaux. This followed the German policy of first selecting Jews and Communists in determining who should be shot in reprisals for Resistance attacks on Germans.

Elected a Communist municipal councillor in 1935, jailed for his Communist Party activities before the German occupation of June 1940 Frot was killed aged 42.

The Worker Albert worked at the button manufacturer Bapterosses situated at No. 64 (formerly 16 rue de la Muette) in the 1840s.

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PLACES

Place de la Nation

Arrondissements 11, 12

A symbol of anti-fascism and left unity

The huge garden-square-roundabout was originally called the Place du Trône. This name was given it from August 26 1660 when the young Sun King, Louis XIV, sat on a huge throne placed there at the entrance to Paris to receive oaths of allegiance from the Paris guilds after he arrived from the Franco-Spanish border having just married his 22-year-old double-cousin Marie-Thérèse of Austria and Spain.

In 1787 two huge columns were erected alongside the two single story customs houses and 60 metre-high gates that completed the tax border wall built by the Paris Tax Farmers. Statues of Kings Philippe II and Louis IX were put on top of the columns in 1845.

After the Jacobin insurrection of August 10 1792 the square was renamed ‘The Square of the Overturned Throne’ (place du Trône-Renversé). Two years later on June 13 1794, three days after the passage of the Law of 22 Prairial, the guillotine was erected on the shadier south side of the square. From then until 9 thermidor an 2 (27 July 1794) and the overthrow of Robespierre, an average of 30 people a day were executed there.

At the restorations of 1814 and 1815 the square’s name became again the Place du Trône.

On July 14 1880, at the same moment that the Third Republic determined that inscription Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité was made obligatory on all French public buildings, the square was given its current name.

Nine years later, on the one hundreth anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, the sculpture The Triumph of the Republic put in the centre of the Place.

This was a large piece by the Communard Jules Dalou, who had returned from exile in 1879 and who had originally designed it for a competition to place a republican statue in the Place de la République. Dalou also sculpted the tombs of Victor Noir and Auguste Blanqui in the Père Lachaise  cemetery.

In 1908 sea monsters in a basin sculpted by Georges Gardet and representing reactionary forces being kept at bay by the Republic were added. The crocodile-like monsters were melted down for the German occupiers in 1942 and the basin concreted over.

A general strike supported by both the CGT and the CGTU in defence of the republic against the growing fascist threat was called on Monday February 12 1934. A Socialist column headed by Leon Blum and other Socialist deputies walked from Vincennes to la Place la Nation, with Dalou’s Republican statue its message. There the Socialist column was joined by an even larger Communist march creating a demonstration of 150,000 in Paris alone, while tens of thousands demonstrated elsewhere in France.

On February 12 the divided trade unions and left parties created the biggest demonstration yet seen in France and marked the beginning of united left action against fascism that led to the Popular Front.

The Place de la Nation became a symbol of anti-fascism and left unity. So two huge contingents came together there on July 14 1936 to celebrate the Popular Front victory. This time the call came from 48 different organisations and delegations in traditional provincial as well as working clothes were present alongside each other. Tartakowsky (1997) estimated there were a million people on the streets of Paris for the occasion, marching from the Place de la Republique and Place de la Bastille to the Nation.

Communist and Socialist columns met at the Place de la Nation again to celebrate the first-ever French May Day public holiday on May 1 1937.

In 1938, with the end of the Popular Front government, the strike called on November 30 by the CGT against the dismantling of the 1936 labour laws saw demonstrators attacked by the police.

A young FTP-M.O.I. resistance group (Meier List, Marcel Rajman and Jaroch Klesczelski) threw a grenade at a group of German soldiers in the Place on December 12 1942.

On May 1 1951 the police attacked a May Day demonstration of Algerians who were carrying the MTLD independence movement’s flag. One hundred police were injured and 1,600 Algerians arrested.

On July 14 1953 the traditional march took place from the Place de la Republique to the Place de la Nation. Then the Algerian demonstrators behind the MTLD banners continued to where their lorry was parked to stack their placards.

At that point the Paris police opened fire on them: six Algerians and one French CGT worker were killed and 126 wounded. No inquiry was held into the police action.

A plaque in memory of those killed is now fixed on the side of one of the customs houses
A film poster about the July 14 1953 police murders of Algerian independence supporters in the Place de la Nation. The film is by Daniel Kupferstein

PLACES