Boulevard Diderot

Arrondissement 12

Numbers 23-25 Prison de Mazas

The 1200-cell Prison de Mazas was built in 1850. Its entrance was at 23-25 boulevard Mazas, which was renamed the boulevard Diderot in 1879.

The location of the Prison Mazas superimposed on a google Map. The Gare de Lyon main station entrance is directly opposite the southern end of the Rue Emile Gilbert.

On April 30 1870 Louis-Napoleon‘s new more liberal government drummed up a red scare and arrested 38 active supporters of the First International just days before a referendum on the latest constitutional moves towards a slightly more parliamentary government system. The ‘reds’ were jailed at the Mazas Prison with its American-style cells. The idea was to keep prisoners isolated at all times from one another.

The cell windows in the Mazas prison shown in an early photograph from the 1850s.

One of the new prison’s earliest political uses was in briefly jailing the republican Assembly representatives and other opponents of Louis-Napoleon’s coup d’Etat of December 2 1851. Among these was the socialist biologist François-Vincent Raspail (1794-1878). His sentence was commuted to exile from which he returned in 1862.

The scientist and republican socialist Francois-Vincent Raspail drawn in the 1850s. Already imprisoned under Louis-Philippe he ran for president in December 1848.

After Louis-Napoleon won the May 8 1870 referendum overwhelmingly by 7.4 million votes to 1.5 million, the republicans believed the Empire was stronger than ever. On July 18 France declared war on Prussia. The Third Republic was declared on September 8.

The 16-year-old Arthur Rimbaud was held at the Mazas prison for a few days from 29 August 1870 on suspicion of being a Prussian spy.

The prison was used to keep many of the hostages taken by the Commune in April 1871 intended (unsuccessfully) to be exchanged for Auguste Blanqui. It was the site of fierce fighting during the Bloody Week of May 1871. After the Austerlitz bridge was taken by the Versaillais on 25 May, the defenders retreated to the prison and fought from there. On 26 May more than 400 Communards were executed there, with their bodies thrown into a well.

Felix Fénéon at the Mazas Prison opposite the Gare du Lyon in 1894 sketched by Maximilien Luce.

In 1894 the 30 anarchists and anarchist sympathisers were imprisoned at the Mazas during their trial for conspiracy to commit bomb attacks and murders in Paris. Felix Fénéon (1861-1944) was sketched here by another anarchist sympathiser, Maximillien Luce , who also produced a lithograph self-portrait of the inside of his prison cell.

Jailed while awaiting the ‘trial of the 30’ in 1894, Maximilien Luce produced this lithograph.

Both Fénéon and Luce and another 24 of those tried in August 1894 were acquitted.