Among the places of the French Revolution was the Place Louis XV (later called the Place de la Concorde). It was located between the Palais des Tuileries and the Champs Élysées. The square, which was originally a spot where market-gardeners grew cabbage and lettuce, was established and named in honor of King Louis XV. Ange-Jacques Gabriel designed the square and laid it out in 1755. The center piece was a statue commissioned by the city of Paris in 1748, sculpted by Edmé Bouchardon, and completed by Jean-Baptiste Pigalle after Bouchardon’s death. It was an equestrian statue of King Louis XV: “The king, crowned with laurels and arrayed in Roman costume, sat a top a prancing charger of bronze.”
After its creation, Place Louis XV was the site of many events. One haunted event occurred in May of 1770 when the Dauphin (the future Louis XVI) married 14-year-old Marie Antoinette. In celebration of their marriage a fireworks celebration was erected in the square, and because of a variety of issues, there was only one way out thereby making the event dangerous for the spectators who thronged the square. During the celebration one of the firework displays tipped and set fire to other nearby displays. Because the spectators were so densely packed into the area and because there was only one way out, the celebratory event quickly became horrific: Many people were maimed, injured, or killed because they could not escape.
Place Louis XV once again became a spot of mishap several years later. In 1777, a lively religious street festival, known as the Fair of St. Ovide, was held at the Place Louis XV having been moved from the Place Vendome because of a fire. The Fair of St. Ovide had originated in 1665 and ran annually from 14 August to the 15th of September. The fair of 1777 included a number of strolling players, animal acts, jugglers, food vendors, and mountebanks, which caused aristocratic neighbors to declare the event a public nuisance. The aristocrats petitioned the government to suppress it, but before anything could be done a fire erupted. Apparently, one of the flimsy booths of canvas and wood “took fire, and in less than 20 minutes 27 … shops were burnt … one child was totally burnt; and a woman so scorched that her life [was] despaired of.”
Another unfortunate event occurred at Place Louis XV some 15 years later during the French Revolution. The day after the Palais des Tuileries was stormed, on 11 August 1792, the glorious equestrian statue of Louis XV was ripped down by revolutionaries and melted into coins. The area was then rechristened Place de la Revolution and another statue, called Liberté (freedom), was erected. Additionally, a guillotine was erected in the area, and a multitude of people, 1119 to be exact, were executed over the next few years. Among those executed were the following well-known individuals:
- King Louis XVI – Executed on 21 January 1793
- Charlotte Corday – Executed on 22 January 1793
- Marie Antoinette – Executed 16 October 1793
- Philippe Égalité (Louis Philippe II, Duke d’Orléans) – Executed 6 November 1793
- Madame Élisabeth of France – Executed 10 May 1794
- Maximilien Robespierre – Executed 28 July 1794
- Louis Antoine Léon de Saint-Just – Executed 28 July 1794
After these executions, the area underwent several more significant changes. In 1795, under the Directory (the government in revolutionary France from 1795 to 1799), the square was rechristened Place de la Concorde as a gesture of reconciliation. It reverted back to Place Louis XV in 1826, and, then, after the July Revolution of 1830, the name returned to Place de la Concorde, which is the name that it is known by today.
The 19th century Place de la Concorde had better luck than Place Louis XV because it became known for two things: an Egyptian obelisk and two fountains built during the time of Louis Philippe I. The obelisk was a gift from the Egyptian government and installed on 25 October 1836. Standing 75 feet high and weighing over 280 short tons, it was decorated with hieroglyphics and exalted the reign of the pharaoh Ramesses II. The two fountains were built between 1836 and 1840 and were designed by Jacques Ignace Hittorff, who was influenced by the fountains of Rome, and today, these fountains symbolize all the fountains in Paris.
- Cains, Georges, Walks in Paris, 1909
- Edwards, Henry Sutherland, Old and New Paris, Vols 1-2, 1893
- Lansdale, Maria Hornor, Paris; Its Site, Monuments, and History, 1899
- “Postscript,” in Shrewbury Chronicle, 11 October 1777
- Ragon, Michel, The Space of Death, 1983