Places of the French Revolution: Place Louis XV

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 and was an equestrian statue of King Louis XV with “‘the king, crowned with laurels and arrayed in Roman costume, sat a prancing charger of bronze’; round the pedestal, which was of white marble adorned with bas-reliefs in celebration of the Monarch’s exploits, were four figures of the Virtues, gazing in ecstasy at their exponent.”[1]

Place Louis XV - Statue of Louis XV

Inauguration of the Statue of Louis XV. Public domain.

At the north end, two magnificent identical stone buildings were constructed that were separated by the rue Royale. These buildings the among the best examples of Louis Quinze style architecture, a style of architecture and decorative arts that appeared during the reign of Louis XV. The eastern building initially served as the French Naval Ministry and the western building became the opulent home of the Duc d’Aumont, who came from an illustrious family of great antiquity that descended from Jean sieur d’Aumont, the man who accompanied Louis IX on the Crusades. The home was later purchased by the Comte de Crillon, whose family resided there until 1907.

After its creation, Place Louis XV became the “resort of all the fashionables and would-be fashionables of Paris.”[2] It also became the site of many interesting events with one being a celebration that unfortunately turned into something deadly and haunting. It occurred in May of 1770 when the Dauphin (the future Louis XVI) married 14-year-old Marie Antoinette and in celebration a fireworks celebration was erected in the square. 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. According to the Old and New Paris:

“There was … a general rush towards the rue Royale, far too narrow to receive such an invasion; and in the crush numbers of women fainted, fell, and were trampled to death. To make matters worse the stream of persons pressing into the rue Royale was met by a counter-stream, advancing, in ignorance of what had taken place, to the Place de la Concorde. Even these, who were no in imminent peril, were now affected by a panic which soon became universal. In the midst of shrieks and groans some desperate men drew their swords and endeavoured to cut for themselves a passage through the dense mass by which they were surrounded.”[3]

Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, Public Domain

Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Public domain.

As summarized because the spectators were so densely packed into the Place Louis XV 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. Later, although there were several reports that hundreds died, official reports put the death toll at 133.

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.”[4]

Place Louis XV - Fair of St. Ovide's While

Fair of St. Ovide’s while at Place Louis XV. Public domain.

One interesting event that happened at the Place Louis XV becoming the talk of the town for weeks: 

“On a summer’s evening in 1788, a fawn, put up in the Bois de Boulogne by the Comte d’Artois’ pack, leapt the fences, took the road to Paris, sped down the Champs-Élysées, and [was] followed by hounds and huntsmen, the prickers sounding their horns and the calèches of the ladies invited to the chase galloping after, turned at bay in the Rue Royale; there it was killed, the pitying spectators having vainly begged the poor beast’s life.”[5]

About four 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
Place Louis XV - pulling of the Louis XV statue

Pulling down of the Louis XV statue. Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France.

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 an eyewitness provided the following information:

“Permit me now to give you a succinct description of a very interesting ceremony which I witnessed on the Place Louis XV. …. the obelisk of Luxor was raised upon the pedestal of the intended monument to the memory of Louis XVI. Well do I remember the day on which the first stone of that monument was laid. On the spot where the bloody scaffold formerly stood, was a pavilion hung with violet coloured cloth, in sign of mourning for a royal personage: — under this pavilion a temporary altar was raised. The day fixed upon for this solemn ceremony was the 3rd of May 1826, being the close of the Jubilee. There were about 2000 ecclesiastics of all degrees in the procession, which proceeded from Notre Dame; and making stations at the churches of St. Roch and the Assumption, arrived, at about two in the afternoon, at the Place Louis XV. The king (Charles the Tenth) and the Royal Family accompanied the process, on foot. The Dauphiness, (Duchess D’Angouleme,) however, left it at St. Roch, and proceeded to the Expiatory Chapel which she had caused to be built in the Rue d’Anjou, on the site of the burial ground of La Madeleine, where her Royal Father’s remains were discovered. This Princess had never crossed the Place Louis XV since her return to France. She could not support the idea of traversing the ground on which her parents had suffered. The king took his seat under the pavilion; and being surrounded by the foreign ambassadors, the grand officers of state, peers, deputies, judicial authorities, &c. an expiatory service was performed by the archbishop of Paris: after which the king laid the first stone and a salvo of artillery from the Hotel des Invalides announced the event to the public.”[6]

Duchess d’Angoulême. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The pedestal was completed in July 1830 and about the time that the statue of Louis XVI was ready to be placed the July Revolution broke out. It resulted in the overthrow of King Charles X and brought his cousin, Louis Philippe, Duke of Orléans, to power. The site then returned to the name of 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.

Place de la Concorde, Public Domain

Place de la Concorde. Public domain.

References:

  • [1] Cains, Georges, Walks in Paris, 1909, p. 314-315.
  • [2] Ibid., p. 318.
  • [3] Old and New Paris: Its History, Its People, and Its Places, Volumes 1-2, 1893, p. 146.
  • [4] “Postscript,” in Shrewbury Chronicle, 11 October 1777, p. 3.
  • [5] Cains, Georges, p. 319.
  • [6] “Original Correspondence,” in Dover Telegraph and Cinque Ports General Advertiser, 15 November 1834, p. 8.

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  1. Sue Bursztynski on July 29, 2016 at 3:47 pm

    Goodness, it sounds like an unlucky place! Even if it is a lot nicer and safer today. My two nephews are in Paris right now, perhaps they’ll visit and tell me all about it.

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