The present square includes the chapel of the Saint-Lazare prison. It started as a leper colony run by monks in the 17th century and then as a special prison for the well-to-do. 165 prisoners were executed here over the three days before Robespierre’s arrest on 27 July 1794 at the height of the terror. It became a women’s prison later that year. After being rebuilt in 1834 and closed in 1935 to become a hospital, it was also closed in its turn in 1998.
Saint-Lazare had dual roles: medical treatment and jail. After the 1802 law requiring prostitutes to have regular medical check-ups, the Saint-Lazare prison became one of the first prison hospitals in France, with many women undergoing treatment. They would not be released until they were given a ‘clear card’. Those who didn’t have a card at all could simply be locked up in the prison side of the establishment. This law continued in force until 1946, when all women’s detention centres in France were finally closed.
Saint-Lazare was rebuilt by the architect Louis-Pierre Baltard as a special women’s hospital in 1834 after the old Saint-Lazare church collapsed.
In 1838 the Paris police chief made the Sisters of Marie-Joseph responsible for guarding the prisoners.
In 1857 Saint-Lazare had about 1,300 prisoners in three
sections: those convicted or waiting trial; those undergoing treatment or
refusing it; and girls between 7 and 16 or 20 who were deemed to be vulnerable.
Records show some 11,000 women and girls passed through the Hospital/Prison in the single year, 1885. This was two years after Louise Michel was imprisoned there.
In 1935 the old prison was demolished but the special
hospital continued to treat women prostitutes until 1975, the international
year of women.
The only remaining bits of the prison are the Chapel in the Square and the old hospital’s wings, now associated with the Françoise Sagan media centre.
Louise Michel lived on the Boulevard just outside Paris proper for a few months in 1856 in a flat opposite the Farmers-General wall. It was then a low rent, strongly working-class district. It is now one of the circle of broad boulevards created when that wall was demolished. To the North-West of Batignolles lies Levallois-Perret where Michel is buried.
The word Batignolles comes either from ‘bastillole’ meaning
little country house, or from ‘batagliona‘, the Latin for a battle. In medieval
France the rural commune of Batignolles-Monceau belonged to the Benedictine
nuns of Montmartre. It was used by the Bourbons for hunting.
Batignolles lay just to the North, outside the Farmers-General Wall around Paris built between 1784 and 1791 by the corporation of hugely wealthy tax farmers (paid by Louis XVI to collect taxes on goods entering Paris), 28 of whom were guillotined in 1793.
The 24km long wall with 64 toll barriers had boulevards on the outside. The Boulevard des Batignolles was one of these boulevards.
Today the line of the wall is roughly followed by the Metro lines 2 and 6.
Anger at Paris being ‘put in jail’ by the wall was a big factor in making the Bourbon rule highly unpopular. The tolls were abolished on 1 May 1791, although restored by the Directorate in 1798.
In 1860 the Batignolles district was incorporated into Paris by the Paris Prefect, Baron Haussmann, and the remaining sections of the wall destroyed, leaving just a handful of the classical designed custom houses.
A working-class area with low rents through the second half of the 19th century, Paul Verlaine (1844-1896) lived here as a child. Édouard Manet lived at No. 34 from 1864 to 1866. Émile Zola (1840-1902) supported him when Manet’s paintings were rejected for the 1866 Salon.
A bustling square on the 1791-1860 northern boundary of Paris at the old tax gate into Paris to the south of the Montmartre hill. Its barricade in May 1871 involved fighter from the Women’s Union. Today it is home to Le Moulin Rouge that opened in 1889 and dozens of tacky strip bars and sex shops.
The Place Blanche (White Square) was named after a café called the ‘White Cross’. It got its name from the showers of white flour and gypsum whose mills and quarries often covered those working on and near the Montmartre hill.
The tax collectors’ building in the Farmers-General Wall at the Place Blanche was burnt down here on 11 July 1789 in a protest by quarry workers against the taxes on the carts they had to pay to enter neighbouring inner Paris. It was one of the many sparks that ignited in Paris three days later on July 14 1789.
The tax wall was first abolished by the Constituent Assembly in 1791 and in November 1793 32 of its wealthy tax collectors were arrested and 28 guillotined. After the tax wall’s reintroduction by the Directorate in 1798, it and its gates survived until 1860, when Montmartre was incorporated into Paris.
The halfmoon-shaped square was laid out in 1803 as La Place de la Barrière Blanche, and only
became La Place Blanche in 1864.
The women fighters had already retreated from the Batignolles barricade, and after the Versaillais took this barricade they were then forced to retreat again to the next barricade at the Place Pigalle.
Louise Michel and Mlle. Poulin taught a class for 60 students at No. 24 in what was formerly rue Oudot in 1868. The street’s name had just been changed under Napoleon III in 1867 to Championnet, the name used by one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s favourite generals, Jean Etienne Vachier, but it was still called Oudot by the locals and in Louise Michel’s memoirs.
The site of the school is now entirely occupied by a huge extension of the original Bus Depot at No 34 by the publicly-owned Paris Transport Company. To imagine the kind of building Michel taught at, it’s best to look at Number 36.
The Central Bus Depot of the then privately-owned Paris Region Transport company (STCRP) was based at No. 34 rue Championnet. Its huge factory workshop employed between two and three thousand workers – and as soon as this Germans occupied Paris its collaborationist employers jumped at the chance to become a major site for repairs to German armoured vehicles and lorries.
The maintenance factory was the first target for a bomb (that didn’t go off) chosen by the French Communist Party in the summer of 1941, when the PCF started military resistance to the German occupation. Throughout the war resistance members within the workshop sabotaged the vehicles whenever possible.
The Château d’Eau road runs towards the Gare du Nord for nearly 700m from the Boulevard de Magenta that leads directly from the Place de la République. The road used to cover a sewer that was finally completely covered up in 1841. The old road was renamed in 1851 by the government the Rue du Château d’Eau. This was one of the first demonstrations of how the then President Louis Napoléon was using his uncle’s achievements to bolster his own political designs to become Emperor.
In 1811 Napoléon Bonaparte had inaugurated a huge fountain, surrounded by lions, in the square of what became known as the Place du Château d’Eau that became the Place de la République in 1879. The original fountain erected to celebrate the opening of a much-needed aqueduct bringing fresh water to Paris from the North, was moved to La Villette in 1867.
Louise Michel taught briefly at a boarding school based in 14 rue du Château d’Eau in 1856-7.
One of the most interesting buildings at the start of the Rue du Château d’Eau is the monumental Bourse du Travail at No. 3. Built between 1888 and 1896 for the City of Paris after the left Republican majority on the City council was the first to vote in 1887 to create a trade union alternative venue to private employment hiring agencies. Reproduced nearly everywhere that the centre left won municipal councils, the federation of Bourses du Travail was one of the key components of early French trade unionism. Even today, where they still exist, unions using the Bourses du Travail are provided with free office space. meeting rooms and phone lines by their local councils.
In 1944 the Bourse du Travail was one of the first municipal buildings taken by the resistance. The Paris Liberation Committee used to meet there after the liberation of Paris in August 1944.
Next to the Bourse du Travail there’s a nice cafe, with some old trade union banners and memorabilia. Well worth a stop…
By selling her last fields outside Paris, Louise Michel‘s mother was able to buy a day school business for her daughter in this street in 1865.
It was then a much longer Montmartre street, going as far as the Rue Championnet. Its name comes from a corruption of the old French word claye, meaning a grill that could be used to close access.
Today the road passes the Square Léon Serpollet, named after the man who built his first steam-powered tricyle at Number 27.
A Communist resistance printworks was operated clandestinely at Number 17 during the Second World War. This was where the first issue of France d’abord (France first), the news sheet of the Communist-founded resistance movement FTP (Franc-tireurs et partisans (Sharp-shooters and patriots) was printed.
A short street now full of hair salons, in May 1871 it was where Louise Michel organised a school to teach young women draftsmanship, industrial art. It had previously been the girl’s school annex of the free Royal Decorative Arts School, next to the old Cordeliers Monastery, where girls had been taught only four skills: drawing figures, ornaments, animals and flowers.
The road was named by a decree on 9 April 1851 under the Prince-President Louis Napoleon. He gave the nod to the skilled surgeon who successfully treated his uncle’s haemorrhoids. Guillaume Dupuytren had also subsequently served the last Bourbon kinds, Louis XVIII and Charles X. Louis XVIII have him the hereditary title of Baron. He was the surgeon who attempted, unsuccessfully, to save the life of Charles’ son, the Duc de Berry, the third in line to the French throne, after he was knifed at the Opera in February 1820.
In 1832, when cholera was sweeping France and Paris in particular, Louis-Philippe added to his honours collection. Thanks to his 10,000 annual consultations he was then one of the richest men in France and his daughter Adeline married one of the pretenders to the Imperial throne, Louis Napoléon Bonnin de La Bonninière, Comte de Beaumont.
The free-mason and atheist surgeon also gave his name to the ‘bent finger’ or ‘Vikings’ disease I’ve already had three operations to straighten out. His article about the disease was published in the Lancet in 1834. Its highest incidence is in Iceland, but 10% of Norwegian men and 3% of Norwegian women also have the ‘contracture’.
The rue Dupuytren leads up to one of Paris’ amazing 17th century carved doors in rue Monsieur le Prince.
The short road was the site of an attack by resistance fighters attached to the FTP-MOI on a German patrol in March-April 1943. The three men linked to the attack were Wolf Wajsbrot, Thomas Elek and Marcel Rajman, one of its leaders, who was shot aged 20 in February 1944.
The communal bread oven (four) belonging to the Abbey Saint-Germain was situated at what is now No. 43, and so gave its name to this 13th century road. In 1470 under King Louis XI (‘Louis the Prudent’) all the inhabitants were required to use this oven.
François-Vincent Raspail published his newspaper, L’Ami du Peuple (‘The People’s Friend’) at No 40 between February and May 1848.
On 9 March 1883 the street witnessed the end of the unemployed march led by Louise Michel with a black, anarchist flag. Three bakeries were entered and bread stolen. Michel was later sentenced to 6 years in jail as a result, while Emile Pouget, who supported her and (allegedly) took a pistol away from her before her arrest, was too.
On May 27 1943 the National Council of the Resistance met secretly at No. 48 in the flat belonging to René Corbin . Those attending were: Jean Moulin (1899-1943), Roger Ginsburger (Pierre Villon, FN), Roger Coquoin (Ceux de la Libé), Jacques Lecompte-Boinet (Ceux de la Rés), Charles Laurent (Libération-Nord), Jacques-Henri Simon (OCM), Eugène Claudius-Petit (Franc-Tireur) and Claude Bourdet (Combat).
This street changed its name at the French Revolution from ‘Petite Rue Royale’ – as a continuation of the Rue Royale which used to be the name of the current rue Jean-Baptiste-Pigalle. It was first called Rue Nationale and then the Rue de lÉgalité.
After the annexation of Montmartre to Paris in 1860 it was given the name of the French sculptor, Jean-Antoine Houdon, known as the ‘Sculptor of the Enlightenment’. In 1785, after the American war of Independence, Houdon travelled to the newly independent United States of America and sculpted a statue of George Washington.
He is known for his busts of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Napoléon Bonaparte.
Louise Michel moved here in 1865 at a time when she was beginning to secure a reputation as a feminist and republican.
During the Paris Commune, artillery was placed across the street between Nos. 1 and 2, its corner with the boulevard de Clichy, to protect the hill.
Auguste Renoir and Aline Charigot, who began modelling for him in 1880, lived at 18 rue Houdon at the time their first son, Pierre-Auguste, was born in 1885. They married in 1890 and had two more sons together.
At No 15 a plaque on the outside of the school informs us that 700 Jewish children from the area were deported under the German occupation, and inside the school another plaque makes it precise: 13 children on the school registers of the 1940s were deported and never returned.
The square was originally laid out as a square in 1853, by flattening the mounds of gypsum quarrying debris. It was laid out as a garden in 1877 and named the Square Saint-Pierre after the nearby Saint-Pierre de Montmartre church.
Today’s Square Louise-Michel lies just below the Sacré-Coeur basilica. Building the basilica began in 1875 but was only completed in 1912 and finally opened after World War 1 in 1919. It represented a 17th century Catholic cult that celebrated the heart of Jesus, and had the aim commemorating the victory over the Paris Commune.
inside of the dome a giant figure of Christ appears, David Harvey tells us,
where ‘two words stand out directly from
the Latin motto – GALLIA POENITENS. And beneath this stern admonition that “France
Repents,” stands a large gold casket containing the image of the Sacred Heart
of Jesus, burning with passion, suffused with blood, and surrounded with
The Paris Archbishop who chose the spot and laid the basilica’s founding stone (and eventually had the street next to the Sacré Coeur named after him), only accepted the post when, a month after the May 1871 Bloody Week of the Commune, Thiers, the mastermind of the massacres, wrote to Monsignor Guibert:
The ‘reds’, totally vanquished, will not recommence their activities tomorrow; one does not engage twice in fifty years in such an immense fight as they have just lost.
June 1871 Thiers writes to the prime candidate as Archbishop of Paris
later, with the 2001 election of the first socialist as mayor since the Commune,
Paris’ municipal council began to look at remembering the left history of
Paris. There are now three plaques commemorating the Commune. Two are in
Belleville, near the sites of the last barricades, and one is in the Town Hall,
remembering Commune’s elected representatives.
In 2005 the Paris municipal council decided to change the name of the Square Willette to the Square Louise Michel.
Adolphe Willette had been a local artist who had designed the famous mill on top of the Moulin Rouge in the Place Blanche. He stood in the 1889 municipal elections as the Antisemitic Candidate. Nonetheless, the year after his death, the Saint-Pierre Square below the Sacré Coeur was renamed the Square Willette.
Hidden at the lower western edge of the Square walking up a gravel path to the left of the carousel, is the Fountain of the Innocent, sculpted by the anarchist Émile Derré and placed in the Saint-Pierre Square in 1907.
Around the mother and children are Rabelais’ words, loosely translated by me as ‘It’s easier to write laughing than with tears’ (Mieux est de ris que de larmes escrire). And the next well-known line of the poem continues: ‘Because [the capacity to] laugh is unique to man’. When the fountain is on the water shoots out of the baby’s penis.
It was given its slightly marginal position
and name by the local Catholic authorities who disapproved of it from the
start. Below the basin is Derré’s quizzical face of another mother. She is
asking, perhaps, whether the French Republic is as happy as the smiling faces
Derré also sculpted Louise Michel’s gravestone in the Levallois-Perret cemetery and the Column of Kisses (moved from the Luxembourg Gardens and now in Roubaix). A little higher up the Louise-Michel Square on the other side of the main stairway in the garden/hill on the pathway near the rustic bridge are Derré’s two lovers in the Grotte de l’amour.
The sculptor answered the nearby mystical reactionary philosophy of the Sacré Coeur with humanity, laughter and physical joy, without forgetting the tears.
Cemetery was opened in 1825. Like the two larger Parisian cemeteries, Père
Lachaise (1804) in the east and Montparnasse (1824) in the South, it was
located just outside the Paris Farmers-General Wall after laws were passed
banning the burying of corpses within the city.
The cemetery was laid out in an abandoned gypsum quarry that had been used as a mass grave for the bodies of the Swiss Guards killed when the Tuileries Palace was stormed in 1792. Its official name is Cimitière du Nord.
Philippe Buonarroti (1761-1837), the Italian revolutionary who resurrected Babeuf’s communist and insurrectionist politics in France from 1830 onwards, is buried here.
This is also where on May 23 1871 Louise Michel sheltered behind the tombstone of Henri Murger as the Versaillais troops shelled the Communards. From there she made her way to top of the Montmartre Hill, to the National Guard post at the corner of the old Rue des Rosiers and Rue de la Bonne, now 36 rue du Chevalier de la Barre, to exchange herself for her mother as a prisoner.
Émile Zola (1840-1902) was one of the many other radicals who was buried in Montmartre Cemetery. His, however, was, only a temporary burial. Six years later his remains were moved to the Panthéon. During the ceremony, Alfred Dreyfus (who had been pardoned two years earlier) was shot twice and wounded in the arm by a nationalist who was later acquitted on the grounds that it was ‘a natural nationalist act’.
His wonderful art nouveau tomb designed by Frantz Jourdain and sculpted by one of Zola’s oldest friends, Philippe Solari, can still be seen near the entrance to the cemetery.