The Place de la Concorde
is the largest public square in Paris. Situated along la Seine
in the 8th arrondissement
, it separates the Tuileries Gardens from the beginning of the boulevard-des-Champs-Élysées
. Initiated by Louis XV's mistress, Mme de Pompadour
and originally named Place Louis XV, the square was designed by Jacques-Ange Gabriel, Louis XV's architect, for the purpose of showcasing an equestrian statue of the King — which had been commissioned in 1748 by the city of Paris and sculpted by Edmé Bouchardon.
Construction of the square began in 1754 and was completed in 1763. It is actually in the shape of an octagon, and was once bordered by large moats which no longer exist. The square marks an intersection of two axes: The major axis is that of the Voie Triomphale
(Triumphal Way) which extends east-to-west in a perfectly straight line from the former royal palace (now le musée du Louvre
), past the Arc du Carrousel
and through the Tuileries Gardens, up the Champs-Élysées
to the Arc de Triomphe
, and beyond — now culminating at the Grande Arche de la Défense
in the Paris suburb of La Défense just across the northwest boundry of the city. The second (minor) axis is formed by the line between Place de la Madeleine
, down rue Royale
through the square and across the Pont de la Concorde
, culminating at the Palais Bourbon
Several decades after its construction, this square was to serve as a focal point for the bloodiest political upheaval in the history of France: the French Revolution. When the hordes of revolutionaries seized power, they renamed the square Place de la Révolution
, tore down the statue of Louis XV and replaced it with a guillotine. Between 1793 and 1795, more than 1300 people were beheaded in public executions, including Louis XVI
, Marie Antoinette
and Robespierre. It is said that the scent of blood was so strong here that a herd of cattle once refused to cross the grounds.
Following the Revolution, the square underwent a series of transformations and several changes of name: place de la Concorde, place Louis XV (again), place Louis XVI, place de la Chartre, and once again place de la Concorde — symbolizing the end of a troubled era and the hope for a better future.
Today, the open-air square still looks quite similar to the way it did in the 1700s, save the actual ground — which now consists of tarmac and cement. Supplanting the guillotine is the powerful Obelisk of Luxor, a pink granite monolith that was given to the French in 1829 by the viceroy of Egypt, Mehemet Ali. The edifice, which once marked the entrance to the Amon temple at Luxor, is more than 3,300 years old and is decorated with hieroglyphics portraying the reigns of the pharaohs Ramses II and Ramses III. Gilded images on the pedestal portray the monumental task of transporting the monolith to Paris and erecting it at the square. Installed in 1833, the Obelisk — weighing 230 tons and standing 22.83 meters (75 ft) high in the center of the Place — is flanked on both sides by two fountains constructed during the same period. Having survived more than 33 centuries, the Obelisk has suffered the greatest damage during the past half-century by air pollution from industry and motor vehicles.
At each corner of the octagon are statues created by Jacob Ignaz Hittorf representing the French cities of Lille, Strasbourg, Lyon, Marseille, Bordeaux, Nantes, Brest and Rouen. French sculptor Guillaume Coustou's monumental statues of the Horses of Marly — located at the beginning of the Champs-Élysées — are copies of the originals which are now exhibited at la Louvre
. At the south end of the square, the Pont de la Concorde, built by Jean-Rodolphe Perronnet between 1787-1790 and widened between 1930-1932, crosses the Seine, leading to the Palais Bourbon — home of the French National Assembly (Assemblée Nationale).
Other places of interest which border the Place are the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume
(originally Napoléon III's indoor tennis court) and Musée de l'Orangerie
, both in the Tuileries Gardens, and the Embassy of the United States. Monet's
"Water Lillies" are on display at le Musée de l'Orangerie
. Le Musée de l'Orangerie
originally was a hot house for growning oranges for the royal court.
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