Friday, May 9, 2008

Place de la Concorde

La fontaine des Mers adorns the city's largest square.

Place de la Concorde means “square of peace,” (or “harmony”), an ironic moniker, because some of the goriest events in the history of France took place here.
During the French revolution the square was named Place de la Révolution. A statue called “Liberté” (freedom) was placed here, and a guillotine was subsequently installed. 1,119 people were beheaded during a two-year time span, chief amongst them Louis XVI, Marie-Antionette, and Robespierre. After the revolution the square was renamed several times before it was given its current name in 1830.
The history of this square goes back to 1763, when a large statue of King Louis XV was erected to celebrate his recovery from a serious illness. In 1772 twenty one acres of land surrounding the statue was designed as a grand plaza by architect Jacques-Ange Gabriel. The square was then dubbed “Place Louis XV.”
The octagonal Place de la Concorde is bordered by the Champs-Élysées and the Tuileries gardens. The Obélisque de Luxor, which stands dead center in the square, and two enormous bronze fountains flanking either side of it form a north/south axis with the National Assembly and the Madeleine church.
Jacob Ignaz Hittorf redesigned the Place de la Concorde between 1833 and 1846. At each corner he placed a statue representing a French city: Bordeaux, Brest, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Nantes, Rouen and Strasbourg. Hittorf was also responsible for the addition of the bronze fountains.
The superluxe Hôtel Crillon, still operating today, opened its doors not long after the square was completed. It was here that Marie Antoinette spent afternoons relaxing and taking piano lessons; later, the hotel served as headquarters of the occupying German army during World War II. The Hôtel Crillon is the neoclassical building shown beyond the fountain in the photo at the top of this post. Its architectural twin across Rue Royal is the French Naval Ministry.
Parisian drivers, however, know the Place de la Concorde as a traffic nightmare, second only to the Place Charles-de-Gaulle (see photographic evidence).

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