History of Place de la Concorde
Place de la Concorde, built to complement a statue of the French King, Louis XV, was raised in 1763. The statue was erected at the site to celebrate the recovery of the king after a severe illness.
The square itself was created later, in 1772, and was named “Place LouisXV.” However, the name “Place Louis XV” and the king’s statue didn’t last for long.
During the French Revolution which followed, many buildings and sites which had connections to the monarchy were attacked and destroyed, and the statue of King Louis XV was, of course, no exception.
The surrounding square was also renamed “Place de la Révolution.” It was a direct counter to “Place de Grève ”, a square where the nobility entertained watching convicted criminals being dismembered alive.
The “Place de la Révolution” was thought to be a reversed “Place de Grève,” where the people punished the nobility for their crimes, and not the other way around. This symbolic name change and the reference to “Place de Grève” sent a grim message to the nobility of what was awaiting them ahead.
The place de la Révolution was the place where the famous guillotine stood. The first notable person to be executed was Louis XV: grandson, Louis XVI.
Following him came much of the Paris nobility, all falling victim to the guillotine’s blade, often in front of cheering crowds.
The guillotine was most active under the summer of 1794, during a period which has been called the “Reign of terror”. In a single summer month, more than 1.400 people, executed by the guillotine.
It is said that the smell of blood was so strong that herds of cattle refused to cross the place. The guillotine was removed one year after the “Reign of Terror.”
The name of the square changed from “Place de la Révolution” to its current name, Place de la Concorde.
It was done as a gesture of national reconciliation and a way to put the horrible past behind. The French word “Concorde” means agreement, so the square of revolution changed the name to the square of agreement. Today, “Place de la Concorde” is dominated by a large obelisk.
If you take a closer look at the obelisk, you will see that covered with what looks like Egyptian hieroglyphs.
While it might seem unlikely, the obelisk is an authentic 3.300-year-old Egyptian obelisk, with hieroglyphs that praise the reign of Ramses II.
It is one of two obelisks given to France in 1829 by the Ottoman leader and founder of modern Egypt, Mehmet Ali.
This 23 meter high, red granite obelisk, once served as one of two obelisks marking the entrance to the Egyptian Luxor Temple, and it is therefore known as the “Luxor Obelisk.”
Today, the Luxor Temple is a famous Egyptian tourist destination, but it only has one obelisk at its entrance. If you ever visit the temple, you will be one of the few visitors who know where the other half can be found.
Top of the obelisk had been missing before its arrival to France. But in 1998, the French government added a gold-leafed cap at the top to complete the obelisk.
The obelisk also called “L’aiguille de Cléopâtre,” or “Cleopatra’s Needle”. As you can imagine, moving this 230-ton heavy piece during the 19th century was no easy task.
If you look at the pedestal on which the obelisk rests, you can see diagrams explaining the technique used during the transportation.
The transportation issue was why the other obelisk remained in Egypt, as it was even heavier than the one standing next to you.
During the 1990s, President François Mitterrand gave the subsequent pillar back to the Egyptians. Another main feature of place de la Concorde Is its two large fountains, designed by the architect Jacque-Ignace Hittorff.
If you take a closer look at the fountains, you will see that both fountains have marine themes. The south one, closer to the Seine, is devoted to the oceans, with figures speaking to the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.
The north one is devoted to the rivers, with figures representing the rivers Rhone and Rhine.
The same man who designed the fountains also designed the statues you can find at each octagonal square corner.
The Statues were installed in 1836 and symbolize the cities; Bordeaux, Brest, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Nantes, Rouen, and Strasbourg. On the off chance that you look north of the square, you can see two indistinguishable stone structures, isolated by the road Rue Royale.
The eastern one houses the French Naval Ministry, and the western one is the classic Hôtel de Crillon. The hotel served as the headquarters of the occupying German army during World War II. To the left of the hotel, you can also find the US embassy.
Even though today’s place de la Concorde thankfully doesn’t have a guillotine, it very much looks the same as it did during its early days, excluding all the modern traffic.
The square had played an essential part in French history, and it continues to play a central role in the Paris cityscape.