Saturday, May 17, 2008

La Fontaine St-Michel

This 75-ft. tall fountain is the centerpiece of Place St-Michel, a left bank bastion usually overrun by tourists and university students. The fountain, by Gabriel Davioud (1860), was designed to cover the end façade of an apartment building that spoiled the view at the end of the avenue, which accounts for its extraordinary height. The bronze statue of a winged St. Michael wrestling with Satan is by Francisque Joseph Duret, a professor at the École des Beaux-Arts. Four red marble columns, each supporting a statue, add distinction. To gild the lily, a pair of bronze griffins spout water into the basin. It is in this very basin that students often "celebrate" important occasions, and university students stake out a spot on the surrounding pavement to sell used textbooks at the end of term.
In May of 1968, a time of social upheaval all over the world, striking students battled riot police batons and tear gas, took over the square, and declared it an independent state. Factory workers followed their call to arms and went on strike (two-thirds of the entire French work force), toppling the Charles de Gaulle government and forcing change. De Gaulle fled Paris to seek safety at a German military base. It's a little calmer these days.
The original plan was to make this fountain a monument to Napoleon, but the winds of politics proved fickle.

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