Roundup and anecdotes on some historical sites in Paris

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A roundup of some of the most emblematic squares in the capital.

Charming meeting points, leafy crossroads, impressive junctions steeped in symbolism; Parisian squares are all unique, charming and full of history. Here is a roundup of some of the most emblematic squares in the capital, which has about 500.


PLACE CHARLES DE GAULLE ÉTOILE

Who could have predicted the destiny of Roule hill, which until the end of the 18th century, was no more than a mere mound? In 1806, following his victory in Austerlitz, Emperor Napoleon promised his soldiers, “You will return home marching through a triumphant arch”. So a project was commissioned and entrusted to the architects, Chalgrin and Raymond, who took inspiration from the Arch of Titus in Rome. The 50-meter high and 45-meter wide colossus was not completed until 1836, with its façades depicting battles or war allegories.
In the early 20th century, it eventually represented fighters of the Great War. The Unknown Soldier was buried there in 1921 and a torch has been burning there since 1923. Formerly called Place de l’Étoile, due to its geometric shape, it was renamed Place Charles De Gaulle, following the death of the general in 1970.

PLACE VENDÔME

The centre of this square has had a turbulent history and many twists and turns. In 1699, a statue of Louis XIV was erected, only to be destroyed during the Revolution. Napoleon had a column built there with canons taken from Austerlitz. Perched at the top of the column was a statue of the great man himself, portrayed as Caesar. However, this statue was to be replaced by one of Henri IV in 1814. Napoleon III, following the family spirit, subsequently restored the statue of his uncle.
The Place Vendôme owes its name to Cesar de Bourbon, Duke of Vendome, natural son of Henri IV and Gabrielle d’Estrées.

PLACE DE LA CONCORDE

It is here that Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette were decapitated. In 1795, the Management, eager to throw a veil on the square’s macabre past, decided to rename it Revolution Square, Concorde Square. Extending over eight hectares, it is the largest square in Paris.
As its centrepiece, Charles X chose a politically neutral figure: an obelisk offered by the Viceroy of Egypt. Dating back 33 centuries, it originates from the temple of Ramses II at Thebes. Made of pink granite rose, with a lead and gold tip, its main façade is covered in hieroglyphs. In addition, the shadow from its tip marks international time, thus making Place de la Concorde the largest sundial in the world.

PLACE DE LA BASTILLE

La Bastille, the former prison, was the symbol of royal arbitrariness, where the king’s enemies were sent by a mere written edict by the king. The square houses the remains of over 500 revolutionaries who fought during the revolutions of 1830 and 1848 for democracy. Perched atop this necropolis is an emblem to the fallen; the July Column and a statue of The Genius of Freedom, by Dumont.