Originally this was the principal road through the farm belonging to the Bishop of Paris, annexed to Paris in 1722, and the section called rue Cambacérès was named differently from the rest of the street in 1865.
It was another street renamed under Louis-Napoléon’s search for greater legitimacy in the eyes of both republicans, Bonapartists and freemasons.
Jean-Jacques-Régis de Cambacérès (1753-1824) was an aristocrat who supported the French Revolution and became president of the Convention and the Committee of Public Safety in 1794. In 1796 he was elected president of the Committee of 500, the lower chamber under the Directorate. In 1799 he became minister of Justice and supported Bonaparte’s coup d’état of the 18 Brumaire (1 November 1799).
Cambacérès’ next promotion saw Napoléon Bonaparte name him Second Consul in 1800. He is a major editor of the March 1804 French Civil Code, known as the Code napoléonien.
President of the Senate on 18 May 1804 he presented its confirmation that Bonaparte is Emperor of the French. The same day he becomes the ‘Archi-chancellor’ of France, number two after the Emperor.
In 1806 he became the Supreme Chief of the ‘Modern French Rites’ of freemasonry and is Grand Master of the Grand Orient of France from 1806 to 1814.
At the Restoration he is stripped of his royal title of Duke of Parma, but instead calls himself Duke of Cambacérès.
Back in the days in 1795 when the whole street was still called rue de la Ville l’Évêque the young Philippe Buonarroti came to meetings at No. 54 (now 26 rue Cambacérès) of the Lycée politique, the future Conspiracy of Equals (Conjuration des Égaux) with Gracchus Babeuf. This was the home of André Amar, a former member of the French Revolution’s Committee of General Safety (Comité de sûreté générale).
The largest square in Paris, covering 18.8 acres (7.6 hectares, was laid out on a boggy piece of land largely belonging to the Crown in 1755. A statue of Louis XV was erected in the square that was named after him on June 20 1763.
On May 30 1770 the firework display to celebrate the marriage of the future Louis XVI and the Austrian princess Marie Antoinette went wrong. 132 people died and were buried in the nearby Madeleine cemetery.
In 1787 Louis XVI commissioned a bridge over the Seine on its southern side to be called the Pont Louis XV.
By 1791, when the bridge was finished, the French Revolution had forced the King back to Paris from Versailles and the statue torn down. On August 11 1792 the new bridge was renamed the Pont de la Révolution at the same time as the Square was renamed the Place de la Révolution and the statue of Louis XV destroyed.
The west of the Square saw the ‘humane’ execution machine, the guillotine, installed there for the first time on January 21 1793. The beneficiary of this humane public death was King Louis XVI. The square’s public went on to witness another 1,118 executions before the guillotine stopped publicly killing people in Paris’ largest square.
On May 11 1793 the guillotine was brought back to the square and placed on the east side. It stayed there until June 9 1794, when it was moved again with the introduction of the Great Terror. It was then placed between the square’s centre and the entrance to the gardens of the Tuileries Palace.
Queen Marie Antoinette lost her head in the square on October 16 1793 as did Georges-Jacques Danton on April 5 1794. Soon afterwards the guillotine was moved to what is now the Place de la Bastille (for four days) and on June 13 1794 to the currentPlace de la Nation, which was at that time called ‘The Square of the Overthrown Throne’ (Place du Trône-Renversé ).
The guillotine only returned for the last time to the Place de la Revolution on July 28 1794. This was expressly to execute Maximilien Robespierre, the principal architect of the ‘Terror’. A day later it was then transferred back to the square in front of the Town Hall, the Place de Grève, the traditional site for Paris executions.
Other name changes for the square followed French revolutionary and counter-revolutionary history. In 1795 the final session of the Convention before the Directorate took over renamed it La Place de la Concorde. This was intended to mark an agreement to end the bloodshed and promote reconciliation.
At the Bourbon restoration under Louis XVIII it was rebadged as the Louis XV Square. Then, two years after the accession of Charles X, in order to show exactly what the new absolutist king felt about the First Republic executing his eldest brother, it became the Louis XVI Square.
In the 1830 July Revolution there were several exchanges of fire in the square between the insurrectionaries and troops still loyal to Charles X. When Charles fled and the constitutional monarchists who had seized power passed the crown on to Louis Philippe, the Duke of Orleans, the square’s name went back to Place de la Concorde.
In 1836 King Louis Philippe installed the 3,400 year-old Egyptian Obelisk in the centre of the Square. It had once marked the entrance to the Luxor Temple in Egypt and had been ‘given’ to Charles X in 1829. Its gold cap was added under Chirac in 1998.
On the north side of the square several buildings witnessed key events in the history of the French left. In 1789 the recently built Royal Hôtel du Garde-Meuble became the Marine ministry at No. 2 in 1789. It remained there with this function, under German occupation becoming their marine headquarters, until the building was closed in 2015 for (continuing at the time of writing in 2020) renovations.
This building was where, on March 4 1848, Victor Schoelcher chaired the opening meeting of a commission to abolish slavery in the French colonies.
On May 23 1871 the Marine Ministry was the site of the most important barricade defending the Commune captured by the Versaillais troops. Its defenders were all massacred.
The square saw further bloodshed on February 6 1934. Some 20 were killed and 2,300 wounded as far-right demonstrations attempted to seize the National Assembly. The left’s reaction to this evidence of the growing strength of French fascism was to hold counter-demonstrations and to build Left Unity between the divided trade unionists and between Communists and Socialists.
No. 10, the Hotel de Crillon, was built in 1758. Under the Occupation from June 14 1940 it became the Headquarters of the occupying German army, initially under Bogislav von Studnits and then, from 10 August 1944, by Dietrich von Choltitz. To his shame, the singer Maurice Chevalier performed at a charity function there during the way.
In 1968 the square saw a massive demonstration by the right in support of De Gaulle on May 30. This effectively turned the political tide against the left; but it did not restore De Gaulle’s brand of absolutism that the mass protest movement and wave of factory occupations had broken.
The right used the Place de la Concorde again, on May 7 1995 and on May 6 2007 to celebrate the presidential election victories of first Chirac and then Sarkozy.
One of the arms dumps organised by the FTP-MOI resistance during the German occupation was at No. 14. After she was captured in November 1943, the Jewish Romanian communist Olga Bancic responsible for the dump and for up to 100 attacks on the occupying troops, was guillotined in Germany on May 10 1944.
The tax office and barrier across the road at No. 77 was burnt down on 22 February 1848 in the uprising against Louis-Phillipe.
Leading up to the Saint-Lazare station built in 1837 the road was called du Havre in 1845 after the port in Normandy that the station served. The name was extended to include a section of the Rue de la Chaussée-d’Antin with its reference to the Duke of Antin whose town mansion was built there.
The earlier name had been changed during the French Revolution first to Rue Mirabeau le Patriote from 1791 to 1793 and then to Rue du Mont-Blanc from 1793 to 1816. With the Bourbon restoration it had gone back to Chaussée-d’Antin.
The odd numbers in the road are in the 9th arrondissement and the even numbers in the 8th.
Emile Zola was often seen walking in this road, since in 1897 he rented an apartment at No. 3 for Jeanne Rozerot, his mistress and mother of his two children.
At No. 8 the Lycée Condorcet, opened in 1803, in the relatively recent monastery of the Capucin monks built in 1780 and nationalised in the Revolution, is one of the four oldest secondary schools in Paris.
Besides three former presidents of the Republic, among the leftists who were educated there were Victor Schoelcher and Paul Verlaine, and much more recently Alain Krivine. Jaurès and Sartre both briefly taught philosophy there while Mallarmé taught English.
A Karaite-Jewish Russian exile who had arrived in France in the 1930s, Michel Szkolnikoff, made one of the biggest fortunes during the German occupation of Paris. He bought about 50 addresses in the Champs-Élysées area, including 16 in the Rue Marbeuf.
Sequestered in 1944 upon the liberation of Paris, the Aubrac family was given an apartment in No. 39 on their return and lived there until the spring of 1946.
Szkolnikoff was killed in Spain in 1945 by the French security services as they tried to bring him back to France for trial. All the properties in Rue Marbeuf were sold off individually in 1947-48. Not all his massive fortune was ever fully restored to the French state.
Since 1798 the new road built running alongside the Grand Égout (the major drain collecting sewage from Paris right-bank) had been called ‘the street of squashes’ (rue des Gourdes) since these had been grown for hundreds of years in the bog that covered the area from there to the Place de la Concord. But in 1829 it was renamed the Rue Marbeuf, after the Marquise de Marbeuf who had owned the nearby Marbeuf Garden, and who was executed on February 5 1794 for having ‘been found guilty of wishing the Prussians would come to Paris’.
In 1982 a car bomb planted by Carlos (Ilich Ramírez Sánchez) was exploded outside No. 33, the offices of a pro-Irak and anti-Syrian regime Lebanese newspaper, killing one person and wounding 66.
For centuries before 1881 its name was the New Road of the Mathurins (rue Neuve-des-Mathurins) after a farm that had belonged to Mathurin monks who took the name of the 4th century martyr, Mathurin of Larchant. This Saint was very very popular in the Middle Ages, supposedly because of his prowess in healing madness and anxiety, and was the patron saint of clowns.
Daniel Stern, author of the History of the 1848 Revolution, was Marie d’Agoult. Under the July monarchy (1830-1848) she used to host a salon at No. 10 that was frequented, among many others, by Victor Hugo.
George Sand was living at the Florence private house at No. 26 with Baron Casimir Dudevant when she gave birth to her son, Maurice, on June 30 1823. At the time it was owned by the former head chef of Napoleon. It is now a 3-star hotel called George Sand.
The Michel Theatre founded by Michel Mortier was in the basement of No. 38.
This café was also where Marx and Engels met on August 28 1844 and agreed to work on ‘The Holy Family‘ together. Further along the street, at No. 251, was the Valentino Hall, which Engels entered on one occasion in his brief 1844 visit to Paris to escape the police spies who were following him.
Upstairs the Café de la Régence was the centre of French chess for over a century. It was where Robespierre, the young officer Napoléon Bonaparte and Louis Philippe all played their chess (no not together!). The café also doubled as one of Paris’ four cafe/shop post offices in the early 19th century.
The Café was well-positioned. It was close to the Palais Royal before the Revolution and afterwards it was on the route of those being taken from the Conciergerie prison to the Place de la Concorde to be guillotined.
At 10.30 pm on the evening of December 3 1973 one of the cartoonists for the French satirical paper Le Canard enchaînéreturned to its offices at No. 173 to find a government DST ( Direction de la surveillance du territoire) team of spies installing microphones. The French State has always believed it has the right to spy on dissidents.
Nearly two hundred years earlier the French state still believed in its right to execute dissidents. One issue was how this done. Should it be a lengthy process by strangulation (hanging) or a lengthy process by chopping at your neck with an axe?
Dr Joseph Ignace Guillotin, a humanist who opposed the death penalty helped develop a quicker, more efficient way of killing people. One of those who drafted the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, he died on March 26 1814 in his medical office at No. 209. This was on the route of those travelling to be ‘humanely’ executed at what is now the Place de la Concorde.
On November 29 1847 Bakunin spoke to the 1,500 people who attended a commemoration banquet of the 1830 Polish uprising against Russia at the Valentino Hall. Before Haussmann’s re-modelling of Paris its address was No. 359 rue St Honoré. This was where Valentino, the orchestra conductor and violinist, introduced the polka dance to Paris that same year, 1847.
The size and central location of the Hall attracted many revolutionaries to hold meetings there. In 1848, in February Cabet held a meeting of the Icarians there.
In March, Blanqui organised meetings of the Central Republican Society he chaired at Valentino’s. The Club of Political Prisoners presided by Armand Barbès with Blanqui as its vice-president also met there.
The Socialist Workers’ Club whose honorary president was Louis Blanc also met there until the May 15 1848 demonstration when it was dissolved after the failure of a left insurrectionary attempt to defend the socialist aspects of the February 1848 revolution.
On January 27 1871 the Valentino Hall was used by the Officers of the 1st Battalion of the National Guard to protest against the Armistice signed by the Thiers government with the Prussians.
Olympe de Gouges, opponent of slavery and author of the 1791 Declaration of the Rights of Women and Women Citizens, lived at No. 270. A History of Paris marker post has been put by the front foor to mark this feminist pioneer and martyre.
The main entrance to the second Jacobin monastery in Paris was at No. 328. Its side entrance in the Rue St Hyacinthe led to the monk’s canteen where the anti-royalist Breton Club began to meet in 1789. After the closure of the monasteries in 1790 the convent was rented to the Friends of the Constitution, who later took the name the Jacobin club .
General Lamarque died at his home at No. 368 of cholera. His funeral procession that left from here on June 5 1832, sparked the 1832 uprising against Louis-Philippe’s increasingly authoritarian rule that features in Hugo‘s Les Misérables.
When Robespierre was himself guillotined on July 28 1794, the cart carrying him to the scaffold stopped outside No. 398 (formerly No. 366) where he had lived for three years since he moved there secretly on July 17 1791 to avoid arrest after the Champs de Mars massacre. The house’s walls had been dripped with the blood of butchered cattle.
Built in 1831 near the place de l’Europe, the original long road was almost entirely eaten by the Saint-Lazare railway station when it was built in 1859.
Ho Chi Minh lived in more than 16 known addresses in Paris between 1917 or 1919 and 1927. Police records only began in 1919 and show that he stayed briefly at No 10 rue de Stockholm in June 1919, when he was a member of the socialist party, the SFIO. He then signed himself Nguyen Ai Quoc (Nguyen the patriot) in the call for an independent Indochina he signed that was presented to the Versailles Peace Conference.
One of 12 broad radial roads that leaves the Arc de Triomphe from what used to be called the ‘Square of the Star’ (Place de l’Étoile) and was renamed Place Charles-de-Gaulle in 1970. The road was first opened on January 16 1789 when the section of the Farmers’ tax wall was completed between the Etoile (Neuilly) and Roule (Ternes) customs posts. It became de Wagram on March 2 1864 during the Second Empire to honour Napoleon I’s significant victory over the Austrians at the Battle of Wagram on July 6 1809.
The Salle Wagram at No. 37/39 witnessed some key meetings in the history of the Left in France. On the site of a guingette (open air café) run by a Napoleonic war veteran since 1812 on a country lane outside the city walls (and so providing cheap wine), under the restoration he developed it into dance hall, the Bal Dourlans.
In 1865 a new covered hall designed by Fleuret was inaugurated surrounded by two rings of seats. In 1899 the hall was given in a legacy to one of the five academies grouped within the Institut de France, which continued to run it as a dance hall, concert hal, exhibition halll and venue for political meetings.
Immediately after the 5th Congress of the Second Socialist International was held at the Salle Wagram from September 23 to 27 1900, leading to the establishment of a permanent international committee, an even more important development took place.
On March 28 1910 Vera Figner presided at a fund-raising concert at the Salle Wagram to support Russian revolutionaries escape from prison. Among those who attended were Lenin and Maxime Gorky, although Lenin avoided meeting Gorky since he didn’t wish to have a political argument with him.
Shortly before Lenin left Paris he attended an event at the Salle Wagram on April 15 1912 to honour the centenary of the birth of Alexander Herzen, the founder of Russian socialism.
André Malraux attended at least two meetings organised by the Communist Party in the Salle Wagram. One in 1933 was support of ErnstThälmann, the jailed leader of the German Communist Party, and on December 23 1935 he spoke at the second anniversary of Dmitrov’s acquittal of setting fire to the Reichstag.
On July 30 1936 Malraux was given huge applause at the Salle Wagram when, returning from Spain, he spoke at the first major solidarity meeting with Republican Spain.
Under the Occupation the fascist French Popular Party mounted a ‘Bolshevism against Europe’ exhibition at the Salle Wagram that opened on March 1 1942. On March 8 three resistance fighters failed to set off a bomb in the exhibition. The Romanian-born Jew André Kirschen (aged 15 and a half), Karl Schoenhaar and Georges Tondelier were arrested. They were tortured and the two older men were executed. Kirschen was sent to a concentration camp because of his youth, and survived.
After the Second World War the Salle Wagram was hired by the extreme right on October 28 1948 to hold a meeting for ‘Peoples oppressed by the Bolsheviks’. A counter demonstration by 12,000 communists was attacked by the police, involving 1 death and 300 wounded.
After the war it was also the major Paris jazz venue, with musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, Bud Powell and Django Reinhardt all playing there. Sidney Bechet performed his last concert there in 1958.
On September 1 1950 a communist meeting in support of the Vietnam liberation movement was held at the Salle Wagram. Its principal speaker was Léo Figuères, a resistance fighter who had visited Vietnam and whose arrest had been ordered by the military.
The Algerian liberation movement whose president was Messali Hadj, the Mouvement pour le Triomphe des Libertés Démocratiques, held huge meetings at No. 37 on June 13 1950 and, in protest against police violence on May Day, on May 5 1951.
The Algerian war for independence that began in 1954 saw a joint protest meeting of the SFIO and Marceau Pivert‘s recently founded (June 1955) Mouvement pour la justice et les libertés outre-mer (Movement for Justice and Freedom in the Colonies) taking place at the Salle Wagram on October 7 1955. The meeting called on the government to stop sending military reinforcements to Algeria.