Numbers: 2, 10
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 current Place 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.
Arrondissements 11, 12
Numbers: 1, 2, 63, 151, 157, 185
The word faubourg derives from old French meaning ‘outside the village/town/abbey). Saint-Antoine was the name of the hamlet built outside the 13th century Saint-Antoine-des-Champs abbey walls, on whose site stands the Saint-Antoine Hospital.
The abbey brought in the carpenters, varnishers, tapestry-makers, glass makers (Saint-Gobain started here in 1665 thanks to Colbert) that made the area the most populated in Paris in the 18th century.
It was also the most revolutionary, with its workers forming the biggest contingent among those who attacked the Bastille prison and armoury in 1789. On July 30 1792, when the Marseillais volunteers marched into Paris along the road singing the Chant de marche pour l’armée du Rhin, they had no idea that this song by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle would become the French national anthem for the first time in 1795.
At an address in the road that is unknown, Pierre-Jean Beranger lived with his grandfather in the 1780s, before being taken by him to see the storming of the Bastille in 1789. This influence, and that of an uncle, mitigated against that of his father, and put Beranger on the side of ordinary people for most of his life.
One of the few barricades in the insurrection of June 6 1832 that followed the funeral of the republican sympathiser General Lamarque was outside No. 2. This short-lived insurrection was made famous by Victor Hugo in Les Misérables in his description of the barricade in the Rue Saint- Martin.
On June 25 1848 some 29 barricades were erected in the Sainte-Antoine district. The one across the road between No. 1 and No. 2 was where the Archbishop of Paris, Denys Affre, was mortally wounded by Cavaignac‘s soldiers when he tried to persuade both sides to stop fighting. The barricade fell shortly afterwards.
In 1871 the road was once more barricaded by the citizen-soldiers of the National Guard, called the fédérés. One of the most important again was built on March 18 1871 to block the road between No. 1 and No. 2 and prevent access to the Bastille square. Over 100 Communards were killed in the battle before it was taken by the Versaillais army on May 26 1871.
Another barricade in the road in May 1871 ran across the Rue de Charonne from No. 63. This was where Marx’s personal envoy to the Commune, Elisabeth Dmitrieff, helped the Hungarian member of the First International, Léo Fränkel who was wounded on the barricade there on May 25 1871.
On December 3 1851 it was at a barricade crossing from what is now the Rue Trousseau at No. 151 that Victor Schoelcher joined the protest against the seizure of power by Louis-Napoleon and tried to raise a revolt in a working class area. He saw his fellow deputy, Alphonse Baudin, shot dead. The 20 deputies who had come to the barricade had met first at the Café des Peuples at No. 157.
A later use of No. 157 was made by the publication the Cooperation of Ideas there in 1899. It had then become the venue of the Theatre of the People
This was also where the Club of the Faubourg (Club du Faubourg) used to meet in 1919 and 1920. One of the regular visitors to the Club at No. 157 in 1919 was Nguyên Tat Thanh, alias Nguyên Ai Quôc, Ho Chi Minh.
The cooperative connection was continued further down the road in No. 185. In the ealry 20th century ‘The Family of the 11th Arrondissement’ cooperative shop was also a bulk distribution centre for socialist cooperatives.
Numbers: 23, 58, 60, 83, 107, 122, 125
This is the old royal road into Paris that linked the Saint-Denis basilica in the north to the Rue Saint-Denis in the South. Whenever the Bourbons and earlier kings entered Paris this is how they got directly to first their fortified palace on the island of the Cité , and later to their Louvre Palace in the heart of Paris.
In 1849, No. 23 was the location of the People’s Bank experiment set up by Proudhon to allow ordinary people to exchange work and goods. It only lasted four months.
Paul Éluard lived in 1909 to 1909 No. 58 (then taking the name of his grandmother, Grindel).
The house at No. 60 was the birthplace in 1804 of Victor Schoelcher, who from wealthy origins became a lifelong campaigner against slavery as well as a left republican.
Maurice Feld, one of the first young communists to be shot for attacks on the Germans on August 22 1942, was aged just 17. He lived at No 83 and is remembered by a plaque there.
The St Lazare prison was at No. 107. The barricade across the road was taken from behind by the Versaillais troops in May 1871. Seventeen Communards who were captured after refusing to surrender were put up against the prison wall and shot on 25 May 1871.
Louise Saumoneau, the seamstress turned feminist and pacifist journalist was jailed at Lazare for making anti-war propaganda on October 2 1915.
A rare Communist Party demonstration took place under the German occupation at No 122, on the corner with the Boulevard Magenta on 1 July 1944.
On June 23 1848 a barricade was put up across the road at No. 125 where it meets the Rue de Chabrol. This was one of the three major centres of the workers’ uprising in Paris and the last to be crushed on June 25.
Arrondissements 8, 9
Numbers: 3, 8,
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.
Arrondissements 9, 18
Numbers: 19, 34, 65, 79
Named because it was an old road that headed towards Montmartre village where, legend had it, St Denis, the first Paris bishop, and his followers were beheaded. It was temporarily renamed the ‘Field of rest’ road (rue du Champ-de-Repos) from 1793 to 1806 at the moment during the French Revolution when the cult of Reason was on the rise.
Victor Schoelcher spoke at a meeting on February 4 1879 at the Paz gym at No. 34 about education reform.
An art gallery at No. 65 was owned by the antique dealer Père Soulier that was a meeting place for Spanish artists. In 1901 Picasso bought a Douanier-Rousseau painting there that he kept throughout his life.
Picasso was also a regular at the Café du Grand Hôtel des Deux Hémisphères at No. 79, along with Appolinaire and many others. The photograph above was taken in the 1900s looking southwards towards where the road crosses the Boulevard de Clichy.