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.




Montparnasse Cemetery

Arrondissement 14

3 Boulevard Edgar Quinet

Originally called ‘the Southern Cemetery’ it was opened in 1824 as one of four that made up a new network of burial places outside the original walled city centre: Passy (west), Montmartre (north) and Père-Lachaise (east).

It was developed on the private burial plot of the ‘Brothers of Charity’ religious order (now called St-Jean-de-Dieu Hospital Order) and on three local farms. Soon it stimulated a local monument statutory industry, among whom was Antoine Bourdelle, Jules Dalou‘s studio neighbour. Dalou was himself buried here, having famously sculpted the Père-Lachaise tombs of Victor Noir and Auguste Blanqui.

Around 35,000 people are now buried there, and with them memories of those who struggled for a better world.

Among these is a broken column, commemorating the four sergeants of La Rochelle, Jean-François Bories, Charles Goubin, Jean Pommier and Charles Raoulx guillotined on September 21 1822 in the Place de Grève outside the Hotel de Ville for being members of the Carbonari and plotting to overthrow Louis XVIII.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the pivotal figure of French socialism in the mid-19th century, is buried here.

Denis Dussoubs has a commemorative tomb in the cemetery. He was shot while trying to persuade troops to remain faithful to the Second Republic and to stop Louis-Napoleon’s coup d’État  that had taken place two days earlier on December 2 1851. His brother, Gaston, a deputy was unwell, and asked him to go to speak to the troops in his place.

Pierre Leroux, the first to use the word ‘Socialism’ was buried there shortly after the declaration of the Paris Commune in April 1871.

Alfred Dreyfus, against whom such an anti-Semetic injustice was done in the 1894 that France became politically divided in ways that shaped its 20th century history.

Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre are buried next to each other.

The cemetery also includes two monuments: one to those killed in the Franco-German war (1870-1871) sieges of Paris and Strasbourg; the other to the Communards killed there during the bloody week of May 21-28 1871 and afterwards.

During the retreat from the cemetery Jean Allemane prevented Joseph Piazza from being shot by his own men, by locking him up in the 5th arrondissement’s town hall next to the Pantheon. Sadly, the Communards forgot to release him and he was killed by the Versaillais. The executions and quick burials in the cemetery finally ended only on June 19 1871.



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