Place de la Concorde history
The massive 86,400 square meters large Place de la Concorde, located between the Champs-Élysées and the Tuilerie Garden, dates back to mid 18th century. Place de la Concorde was built to complement a statue of the French King, Louis XV, which was raised in 1763. The statue was erected at the site to celebrate the recovery of the king after a serious illness. Place de la Concorde itself was created later, in 1772, and was named originally named “Place Louis XV”.
A grim message
However, the name “Place Louis XV” and the statue of the king didn’t last for long. During the French Revolution which followed, many buildings and sites which had connections to the monarchy were attacked and destroyed, and the statue of King Louis XV was of course no exception.
The surrounding square was also renamed “Place de la Révolution”. This as a direct counter to “Place de Grève”, which was a square where the nobility were entertained watching convicted criminals being dismembered alive. The “Place de la Révolution” was thought to be a reversed “Place de Grève”, where the people punished the nobility for their crimes – not the other way around.
This symbolic name change and the reference to “Place de Grève” sent a grim message to the nobility of what was waiting them ahead.
A bloody mess..
The Place de la Révolution was the place where the famous guillotine stood during the revolution. The first notable person to be executed was Louis XV:s grandson; Louis XVI. Following him came much of the Paris nobility – all falling victim to the blade of the guillotine, often in front of cheering crowds.
The guillotine was most active under the summer of 1794, during a period which has been called the “Reign of Terror”. In a single summer month, more than 1.400 people were executed by the guillotine. It is said that the smell of blood was so strong that herds of cattle refused to cross the place.
The guillotine was removed one year after the “Reign of Terror” and the name of the square was changed from “Place de la Révolution” to its current name; Place de la Concorde. This was done as a gesture of national reconciliation and a way to put horrible past behind.
The French word “Concorde” means agreement, so the square of revolution changed name to the square of agreement.
Why visit Place de la Concorde ?
Today, Place de la Concorde has much to offer. The center of the square is dominated by a large obelisk. By taking a closer look at the obelisk, one will see that it is covered with what looks like Egyptian hieroglyphs.
While it might seem unlikely, the obelisk is actually an authentic 3.300 year old Egyptian obelisk, with hieroglyphs that praises the reign of Ramses II.
This is one of two obelisks given to France in 1829 by the Ottoman leader and founder of modern Egypt; Mehmet Ali. This 23 meter high, red granite obelisk, once served as one of two obelisks marking the entrance to the Egyptian Luxor Temple, and it is therefore known as the “Luxor Obelisk”.
Today, the Luxor Temple is a noted Egyptian tourist destination, but it only has one obelisk at its entrance. If you ever visit the temple, you will be one of the few visitors who know where the other half can be found. The top of the obelisk had been missing before its arrival to France, but in 1998, the French government added a gold-leafed cap at the top to complete the obelisk. The obelisk is sometimes called “L’aiguille de Cléopâtre”, or “Cleopatra’s Needle”.
As one can image, moving this 230 ton heavy piece during the 19th century was no easy task. By looking closer at the pedestal on which the obelisk rests, visitors can see diagrams explaining the technique that were used during the transportation.
The transportation issue was the reason that the other obelisk remained in Egypt, as it was even heavier than “Cleopatra’s Needle”. In the 1990s, President François Mitterrand gave the second obelisk back to the Egyptians.
Fountains and statues
Another main feature of Place de la Concorde is its two large fountains, designed by the architect Jacque-Ignace Hittorff. A close inspection of the fountains will reveal that both fountains have marine themes. The south one, closer to the Seine, is dedicated to the seas, with figures representing the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. The north one is devoted to the rivers, with figures representing the rivers Rhone and Rhine.
The same man who designed the fountains also designed the statues which stand at each one of the octagonal Place de la Concorde’s corners. The statues were installed in 1836 and symbolize the cities; Bordeaux, Brest, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Nantes, Rouen and Strasbourg.
The northern buildings
Directly north of Place de la Concorde stands two identical stone buildings, separated by the street Rue Royale. The eastern one houses the French Naval Ministry and the western one is the classic Hôtel de Crillon. The hotel served as the headquarters of the occupying German army during World War II. Right next to the hotel is where US embassy is located.
Even though today’s Place de la Concorde thankfully doesn’t have a guillotine, it very much looks the same as it did during its early days – excluding all the modern traffic.
Place de la Concorde location
The square can be found in the city’s 8th arrondissement. The square is located at the end of Champs-Élysées and can easily be accessed by foot.
It is also located near the metro station Concorde; line Champs-Élysées 1, 8 and 12 will all take you to it. For the exact location of Place de la Concorde, check out the location map to the right.