Extending from the Seine all the way to the Rue de Rivoli is the Place de la Concorde, the largest and the most famous single square in Paris. It probably would be possible to come to Paris and miss this square if (a) your hotel were located somewhere in the Latin Quarter and you never ventured beyond it; (b) your only reason for coming to Paris was to go night-clubbing, in which case you would probably want to sleep all day; and (c) you just naturally don’t take any interest in anything, in which case there really was no reason for you to come to Paris in the first place.
However, assuming that you fall into none of these categories, I might begin by saying that your first impression of the Place de la Concorde, which covers an area of nearly seventeen and one-half acres, is apt to be startling. The first thing you will see when you enter this square from the Rue Royale, will, of course, be the obelisk of Luxor and the two splendid, and almost identical, fountains on each side of it. But this is really only the beginning, for as soon as you step out into the open there will expand before your eyes such a vast view as you have never seen anywhere.
To your right as you emerge from the Rue Royale you will see, at the exact midpoint of the square, the beginning of the Champs-Elysees, with its two more than lifesized Numidian horses, in white marble, rearing up into the tree tops on each side of it. On the opposite side of the square you will see the entrance to the Gardens of the Tuileries, which is similarly framed by the two socalled “Winged Horses,” high up on their pedestals, of which the one on the right carries “Mercury” and the other “Renown.” In addition to these magnificent sculptured groups, there are eight other huge groups of seated figures on high pedestals around the circumference of the square. These represent the principal cities of France: Lille, Strasbourg, Lyons, Marseilles, Bordeaux, Nantes, Brest and Rouen.
Looking straight ahead of you a considerable distance will be added to the vastness of this view first by the unusually broad Pont de la Concorde, which crosses the Seine at the far end of the square, and then by the Quai d’Orsay at the other end of this bridge. Only then will your view be arrested by the facade of the Palais-Bourbon I mentioned to you yesterday. And now, there are only two more surprises in store for you, or rather three. The first one is that after you have reached the center of the square and look up the Champs-Elysees, you will obtain your first view of Napoleon’s Arch of Triumph at the very end of it. The second one has to do with the two Gabriel palaces, which close off the northern end of the square, but about these I will tell you something after we have looked at surprise number three. Surprise number three is the view of the Place de la Concorde you will have after you have reached the Palais-Bourbon on the other side of the Seine.
If you will then stand with your back to this palace and look across the Seine, you will have an unobstructed view of the entire square, the two Gabriel palaces, and the Madeleine Church closing the gap between them. And if you will look still farther, you can also see the Basilica de Sacre-Coeur on top of the Montmartre Hill this time bell tower and all. If you will look to your left you can follow the Champs-Eylsees by its tree tops, and a little ways up the avenue you can see the roofs of the Grand and the Petit Palaces rising above them. When you look to your right you will see the Gardens of the Tuileries, and still farther to your right, the beginning of the Louvre. The entire view, which extends over an arc of about one hundred eighty degrees, will let your eye roam over an area of at least three-quarters of a mile in all directions, with not a discordant object, building, tree, hotdog stand, billboard or anything else to mar it. And all this, mind you, not somewhere miles out in the country, but in the very heart of modern Paris.
As I already mentioned when we entered this square, we entered it between two identical palaces, which you may not have noticed because they were at our back, but which form an essential part of this square. These palaces were started by the architect Gabriel in 1760 during the reign of Louis XV, or about twenty-eight years after the Rue Royale was built, and it was this same Gabriel who laid out the square. The facade of each of these palaces is three hundred eleven feet long and they are today considered to be two of the finest examples of French Renaissance style. The palace on the right now houses the Admiralty, and the one on the left the Hotel Crillon, one of the most expensive hotels in Paris, the French Automobile Club and a bank. Perhaps I also ought to mention that the building surrounded by the high iron fence, with a United States Marine at its entrance, to the left of the Hotel Crillon, is the United States Embassy.And now, in accordance with my usual custom of telling you a little bit of history in these articles, let me tell you a little about the history of this square, for this, too, surely could not have been built in just a few years.
When Gabriel started to build the Place de la Concorde, which, incidentally was not completed until 1772, the Champs-Elysees was already there. However, in those days it did not run into a square, but directly into the end of the Tuileries Gardens. The idea of building a square on this site really came about through the desire of the people to erect a statue to their king. For some years, Louis XV, who was also known as “Louis the WellBeloved,” had been involved in the Wars of the Austrian Succession, which was really a war between Prussia and Austria over possession of Silesia. When this war ended, the people of Paris, either because they had become tired of this war or out of some genuine affection for their monarch, wanted to erect a statue to him to show their appreciation for his accomplishments; and, as what is now the Place de la Concorde was right next to the King’s private gardens, that seemed like an appropriate place for it. This statue, which was deisgned by Bouchardon, showed the king on horseback in the garb of a conquering Roman Emperor, and was placed in the very center of the square in approximately the position where the obelisk of Luxor now stands. At the same time the square was christened Place Louis XV. Actually, of course, Louis didn’t conquer anything during this war. Frederick the Great Unser Fritz obtained Silesia, and France was left no better off than she had been before.
Strange to say, when this square was first built, the entire square was surrounded by a deep moat with eight massive sentry boxexs spaced at intervals. This might seem a little unusual, but them you must not forget that this area adjoined the King’s private gardens and that in those days kings took no chances. During the reign of Napoleon III, these moats were filled in, but the sentry boxes and parts of the balustrades which surrounded the moats were left standing. Believe it or not, but these very sentry boxes are today the pedestals of the eight huge figures representing the principal cities of France. These “sentry boxes,” by the way, are so placed that, with the balustrade which connected them along the edges of the moats, they formed the limits of the original square, so that the Place de la Concorde was originally octagonal. So much, then, for the evolution of the Place de la Concorde.
Unfortunately, Louis the Well-Beloved did not remain well-beloved forever. The high living at the court, together with the political influence the shrewd Madame Du Barry exerted on him, soon brought him into disfavor with the populace. In accordance with the usual custom of assigning non-existent virtues to royalty, the base of his statue had been ornamented with bronze figures representing Strength, Prudence, Justice and Peace, the very virtues which Louis seemed to have been lacking. These representations had quickly given rise to a little ditty among the Parisians of his day to the effect that all the virtues were at the base and all the vices were mounted. When Louis XV died on May 10, 1773, he was despised by everybody, and when the French Revolution broke out fifteen years later, his statue was toppled from its pedestal and cast into cannons. Fortunately a small replica of it had been cast some time before and placed in the Louvre, and if you are interested enough you can see it there in the Salle Houdon.
Shortly after this statue had been torn down, a clay model of a seated Liberty was placed on this square and the square was renamed Place de la Revolution. It was to this clay model that Madame Roland addressed the famous words, “Oh, Liberty, what crimes are committed in thy name,” as she calmly stood on the guillotine awaiting her turn to be executed. After the Reign of Terror the square was renamed once more to the more hopeful name Place de la Concorde, a name by which it has been known ever since.
To the historically-minded tourist the Place de la Concorde will, of course, always recall its association with the French Revolution, for it was on this square that the guillotine was set up. When it was set up for the first time-it was moved around now and then it stood very near to the spot where the statue of Brest now stands, and it was on this spot that Louis XVI was guillotined on the Sunday morning of January 21, 1793, as the chronicler recorded it, “at 10:22 precis,” twenty-four hours after he had been condemned. However, I do not intend to spoil this account by giving you a detailed list of all the innocent victims who lost their lives on this squareeven if that were possible. Those were fearful, fearful times, during which each new faction invariably exterminated anyone it suspected of being opposed to it; and that is what Carlyle meant when he wrote in his French Revolution that “Sans-culottism thrives on what all other things die of.”
In his History of France Guizot tells us that during the last forty-nine days of the Terror alone, two thousand two hundred eighty-five people lost their lives on the guillotine. During the entire period of the Terror, which lasted from March, 1793, to July, 1794, some four thousand victims are believed to have perished on the scaffold,and of these nine hundred are said to have been women. However, not all of these victims were executed on the Place de ‘la Concorde, for the guillotine was also set up in other parts of Paris. It sometimes performed its chore on the Champ-de-Mars, on the Place da la Bastille, and on what was then called the Place du Trone, but is now called the Place de la Nation, and it was there that the Poet Andre Chenier lost his life, on July 20, 1794, the tragic victim of mistaken identity. Eight days later Robeshierre was executed-on the Place de la Concorde, this time-and that was also the end of the Terror. But this will be all I shall want to tell you about these terrible times. Perhaps I will tell you a little more about some of the other prominent people who died on this square when I take you to the Parc Monceau and we will stop briefly at the Chapel le_Expiatoire, where they were buried.
And now, we are faced with a dilemma. In my next account I can either take you to the Gardens of the Tuileries or I can take you up the Champs-Elysees. This magnificent avenue is, naturally, an absolute must on any visit to Paris, but then, in my opinion, so are the Gardens of the Tuileries.
We are now at the beginning of the Champs-Elysées, but at the end of the “I’uileries Gardens. You will get a glimpse of the beginning of these gardens when the bus from your conducted city tour stops at the Arc du Carrousel, where tourists generally have their picture taken. But since these gardens, like the Luxembourg Gardens, are not open to vehicular traffic, we will have to make a special trip through them later. So, for our trip for tomorrow, I plan to take you up the ChampsElysees, even though this will take us away from the center of the city and we will have to come back to this spot again some other day.
However, as this would be much too long a walk from the Opera, and we have already covered the territory between it and the Place de la Concorde, we will take a taxi as far as the Place Clemenceau, which is about one quarter the way up the avenue, and then we will walk the rest of the way from there. I shall meet you again at our usual rendezvous tomorrow morning at ten.