Place des Vosges / Place Royale

Arrondissement 4

Numbers: 6, 14

When this impressive square was first built under Henri IV between 1605 and 1612 in the then fashionable aristocratic Marais part of Paris, it was called la Place Royale. The King’s mansion on the south side and the Queen’s on the north (although they never lived in them) were higher than the 36 private mansions around the rest of the square . All of the other houses had similarly designed fronts.

During the French Revolution the square was renamed several times. The names changed from the Fédérés  square (after the 1790 Federation celebration on the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille), to « place du Parc-d’Artillerie and then Place de la Fabrication-des-Armes, and then Place de l’Indivisibilité (referring to the administrative unification of four Paris districts in 1795).

Finally, in 1800 it was given its current name Place des Vosges in honour of the French Vosges Department which had been the first in 1792 to send the taxes it owed to the republican government. During the Restoration (1815-1830) and under Louis-Napoléon’s Second Empire (1852-1870) the name went back to Place Royale, and from March 20 1848 until 1852 it was known as the Place de la République.

In February 1871 several canon were moved for safe-keeping by the National Guard into the square. On March 11 1871 Jean Allemane persuaded the National Guard not to allow the Versailles troops to take the artillery back under their control. The same thing happened again on March 14 and on March 16.

Victor Hugo lived at No. 6, now a fascinating museum, from October 1832 until 1848. His wife Adèle Foucher (1803-1868) lived there with him, while on February 16 1833 he began a life-long relationship with Juliette Drouet (1806-1883).

The town hall (from 1793 to 1860) at No. 14 of what was in 1848 the 8th arrondissement was taken over by the insurrectionaries on February 24 1848, supported by the local National guard. They disarmed the municipal police.

Four months later, on June 23 during the workers’ insurrection against the closure of the National Workshops, the insurrectionaries again took over the Town Hall and raised a Red Flag over it. Some 350 regular soldiers put down their weapons.

My father, whose dying wish was to for me to get him a copy of a late Georges Simenon novel that had finally appeared in paperback, probably didn’t know that before the Second World War when Simenon had lived at No. 21 (first on the ground and then on the first floor), his neighbour was called Maigret.

On June 8 1942 two members of the Second Jewish Section of the FTP-M.O.I, Léon Pakin and Élie Wallach, were arrested in the Square as they prepared to sabotage a furrier’s workshop who was supplying the German army. Pakin and Wallach were shot on July 27 at the Mont-Valérien prison fort.

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