Place de la Concorde

A History of the Place de la Concorde

Through many name changes, rulers, and revolutions, the Place de la Concorde has remained one of the most famous squares in Paris. Its location holds many important memories for Parisians of all social status', especially because a King's blood was shed there.

Here we have The Place de la Concorde, which was where Louis XVI was beheaded on January 21st, 1793. Louis had been held prisoner in the Temple, an uninhabited tower, since the monarchy’s collapse in August of 1792. The Temple was in the working class district, so for the first time the king was living amongst his people. Louis traveled from the Temple to the Place de la Révolution, formerly the Place Louis XV, to meet his gruesome death. Louis XVI was sent to the Temple because he and his family tried to escape the political unrest of the Revolution in 1791. The family hoped to meet Austrian troops at the eastern front, but were stopped by French forces in Varennes (Burton 41). On the family’s four day journey back to Paris, they were spat on by the people of France. When they arrived in Paris, the family was greeted by an “excommunication of silence (42).” Parisians of all social statuses felt betrayed and hurt by their king. After their failed attempt to flee, Louis and his family were more hated than ever. On August 10, 1792, a crowd of revolutionaries stormed the Tuileries and arrested Louis and his family. This quickly led to the “abolition of the monarchy and declaration of the Republic on September 21, 1792 (43)”. He was put on trial and found guilty for treason. Some people wanted to exile him while others wanted death. Robespierre said, “Louis must die because the Republic must live (43).”

After traveling through the city for nearly two hours, Louis XVI reached the Place de La Révolution where the executioner awaited him on that cold January day (44). Before he was executed, Louis said “I die innocent of all the crimes imputed on me. I forgive the authors of my death, and I pray to God that the blood you are about to shed will never fall back on France (44).” The executioner made Louis strip in front of the crowd. After his execution, the people dipped paper and pens in the blood. The executioner began to sell Louis' hair and the cord that held his neck (44-45). The Place de la Revolution was not the only place where political executions occurred, but it was the most famous because it was the place a King’s blood was shed (99).

The name of the square changed very frequently from its inauguration until the early 19th century. The Place de la Revolution was originally named Place Louis XV when the square was unveiled in 1763 to honor the King at the time. The name was changed in 1792, in the height of the revolution, to Place de la Révolution. In 1795, it was renamed Place de la Concorde only to be revised 19 years later (61-62). In 1814, in hopes to commemorate his executed brother, Louis XVIII wanted to name the square after Louis XVI and repave it black. He planned to have weeping willows surround the square, however this idea never came to fruition. In 1828, Charles X gave the square its original title, Place Louis XV. Finally in 1830, Louis Philippe named the square Place de la Concorde in hopes to avoid any controversy amongst the French people (63).

Throughout the constantly changing monarchs, the statues within the square would adjust to the new ruler's style. During the inauguration of the square in 1763, Bouchardon’s Bronze Equestrian statue of the king was unveiled. In 1792, the Bouchardon’s bronze statue of Louis XV was melted down and replaced with a large Statue of Liberty by Lemot. Within the year, the statue had cracked and was quickly replaced by a fasces of eighty three rods with a tricolor flag, a symbol of the revolution. This stood for five years before being replaced by a statue of Liberty that held a nestful of live turtle doves. In 1800, Napoleon ordered its removal and replaced it with a very uncontroversial fountain (61-62). In 1836, an obelisk of Luxor was installed in the square. It was from the reign of Rameses II in the 13th century BC and was given by Mehemet Ali to Louis Philippe. Louis Philippe wanted to install a statue that did not represent any aspect of politics. This was the beginning of a movement where statues did not have to necessarily have an important significance (64).

In addition to its incorporation of statues, the Place de la Concorde is also famous for Edgar Degas painting, Place de la Concorde. The man with his two daughters in the image is meant to be Ludovic Lepic, who was a bonapartist and a French artist. The painting depicts an emptiness within the square which is not seen in much of Paris. The colors throughout the painting are yellow and dull. The painting is meant to depict a sadness about the square, where people do not stay for long, but leave as soon as they enter. This sadness is felt by many Parisians who believe the square will always be associated with sorrow and Louis XVI (64).

Despite a happy beginning, the Place Louis XV would be thought of as a place of tragedy for many Parisians. On May 30, 1770, fireworks were set off to celebrate the marriage of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. A fire erupted from these fireworks, which caused a massive panic from the crowd and 133 people died. Of course, this is also the location where the Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, would be executed in 1793 (62). For many Parisians, this square would always be associated with Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

Before her inevitable death, Marie Antoinette would be sent to the Conciergerie to live out her last days. Today, the Conciergerie is a museum where people can learn more about the history of the prison. The Conciergerie does exploit Marie Antoinette, and makes the entire prison focused on her, while thousands of other prisoners passed through the same halls during the revolution. Although a lovely tribute to the beheaded Queen, the Conciergerie made her a martyr that she was not.

In one room, there were 4,000 names of people who stayed at the Conciergerie between 1793 and 1795. The section label described these people as martyrs, but at the end of the reading it says we are “understanding and no longer weeping,” for these people. First to call them martyrs and then to say we should shed no tears for these people, makes it seem as though their lives were not important and that people should just move on. This room is meant to be remembering those who were lost during the Revolution and the Reign of terror, but they aren’t important enough to cry for. It not only comes of insensitive, but makes this room to memorialize these people is not genuine.

Below this disheartening tribute, is a list of people who stayed at the Conciergerie who were ‘well known’ in their time, beginning with Marie Antoinette. This makes Marie Antoinette seem more important than the other people who lost their lives during this time. The revolution worked to erase these social barriers that the Conciergerie is making more prevalent by separating the martyrs.

Not only did this room make Marie Antoinette seem like a revolutionary hero, but King Louis XVIII created a chapel to honor her. The room is filled with paintings of Marie Antoinette and is quite dim, almost as if to evoke sadness from the viewer. In one painting in the room, Marie Antoinette is looking longingly at a cross as if she could change her unavoidable fate. Not only did the Conciergerie paint Marie Antoinette as a martyr, but as a good Christian.  

Marie Antoinette committed treason and was rightfully sent to prison, but this shrine of her portrays her as a perfect French Queen. The theme throughout the museum was this focus on Marie Antoinette as a hero for France, or a martyr for her people. In reality, she spent too much money, was not adored by her people, and tried to flee France when times were tough for many Parisians. The Conciergerie made Marie Antoinette into a martyr, which was a role she was not meant to play and would never have the chance to. Marie Antoinette’s last home would be at the Conciergerie before she met her fate at the Place de la Concorde in 1793.

A frenchman Chateaubriand, returned to the Place de la Concorde after it was just renamed in 1800. He was shocked to see dance halls all around the square with all kinds of instruments playing. He said, “I was afraid of putting my foot in blood of which the slightest trace remained; my eyes could not detach themselves from the part of the sky where the instrument of death had risen up… despite the joys of the street, the church towers were silent; I felt I had returned on the day of the greatest of sorrows, on Good Friday itself (62-63).” 

Today, the Place de La Concorde is on the edge of the Tuileries garden. The Place de la Concorde will always be remembered for Louis XVI’s death. In 1990, the Belgian Artist, Francoise Schein created a mosaic of tiles that spells out - "letter by letter ("Concorde Station: The Declaration of the Rights of Man")" - the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789). This document was one of the first documents of the Revolution. The mosaic of this important document symbolizes the vital role the Place de la Concorde held in abolishing the monarchy and allowing Parisians to gain their fundamental human rights ("Concorde Station: The Declaration of the Rights of Man").