I don’t think that I would want to ask anybody to visit the Hotel de Ville, which is what the Parisians call their City Hall, if it were miles out of the way; but it, too, is practically in the heart of the city, though in this case it is the old city, so that no matter where you go in this part of Paris you will go by it, or see it from a distance, sooner or later.
At one time the square on which this City Hall is located was known as the Place de Greve, which means “the strand.” As in the case of the Strand in London, the river, which was not, of course, banked in as yet came right up to it. However, in those days the square was much smaller than it is now. In 1830 the name of the square was changed to the somewhat unwieldy name of Place de 1’Hotel-deVille. The Hotel de Ville itself is a rather ornate building and occupies an entire city block. On the west it is bordered by the square in front of it; on the east by the narrow Rue Lobau; on the north by the Rue de Rivoli; and on the south by the Quai de l’Hotel de Ville and the Seine.
In order to understand the part of the city we are now in, it will again be necessary for us to go back to about the end of the eleventh century when the city had already ,extended beyond the two islands in the Seine upon which it was originally established. In those days, the Place de Greve, which was also known as the Port an Gr&e, was also the site where the river traders-;the Marchands d’Eau–unloaded their produce. The square, in consequence, became the chief mercantile center of medieval Paris. Its location was ideal too, since it roughly represented the point where the river passed the main arteries of traffic that led in and out of the city. To the north were the Rues St. Denis and St. Martin which led to Calais and other points to the north; on the south, but on the other side of the Cite, was the equally ancient Rue Saint-Jacque which led to Orleans; and going east toward the valley -of the Marne was the Rue Saint-Antoine, down part of which we came a few days ago.
Well, anyway, the markets on the Place de Greve remained there until the reign of Louis VI (1081-1137), when they were moved to their present location next to the Church of Saint Eustache as I already mentioned when we visited les I-Ialles. However, the seat of the Municipal ,Government remained very much where it is today. As with other squares in the medieval community, the Place de Greve became the site of many historical events, both ,civil and political. Since workmen who were about to go on strike always gathered on the Place de Greve, the expression se mettre en greve has come to mean “to go on strike.” Also, since people who were to be executed or tortured were always executed or tortured publicly-for to be burnt, boiled alive, strangled, quartered, broken on the wheel or just to have one’s head chopped off, was thought to have a salutary effect on potential evil-doers and also provided a memorable spectacle to the beholders -all important executions in medieval Paris were invariably carried out on the Place de Greve. Hence, the expression une place de greve has come to mean a place of execution, just as “to the wall” means in Communist Cuba today. Only this was eight hundred years ago.
It was on this square that Ravaillac was put to horrible tortures in the hope that he would reveal the accomplices he did not have. It was Ravaillac’s grand illusion that Henry IV was going to turn the country over to the Protestants when all Henry IV wanted was to have all of his subjects live in peace. Ravaillac’s final ordeal, or what was left of him, was to have his four limbs tied to four horses and torn asunder. It was also on this square that Marie de Medici’s half-sister, Leonora Galigai, was beheaded because the people felt that she had been riding the “gravy train” just a little too long. And the same fate became the unlucky Captain Montgomery. He had made the mistake of returning to Paris fifteen years after he had fled to England. But to me the most unfortunate victim was still Anne Dubourg, who was not a woman, but a rnan. Anne Dubourg was a Councillor in the Parliament of Paris who had pleaded for more humanitarian treatrnent of heretics who, during the reign of Henry II, made up a goodly number of the people who were executed on this square. Unfortunately, and such was the spirit of the time, his very ardor for justice made him suspect of being a heretic himself. He was condemned to death and six months later he was taken to the Place de Greve to be burnt alive. The only favor his friends could obtain for him was that of being strangled before his body was confined to the flames. This was on December 23, 1559. But now, let us leave the early history of this grisly square and conic back to the City Hall.
In the early days of the city, Paris was governed by a representative of the King who was responsible to the King alone; but in 1260, Saint Louis, who was not a despotic King, turned the Government of the City over to the merchants who had, in the meantime, formed into guilds and become quite powerful. The first “Town Hall” where these merchants met was in a single room, probably in the nearby Grand Chatelet, and this room became known as the Pardoir-aux-Bourgeois, or the room of the burghers. And now, we will have to jump about an hundred years and come to another story.
In the year 1354, Etienne Marcel, whom I already mentioned in connection with the Porte Saint-Antoine was made provost of the merchants. No one seems to know where Etienne Marcel came from or when he was born. His having become provost is almost the first notice we have of him in history. But we do know that almost from the day he became provost, he constantly fought for the rights of the citizens and against the prerogatives of the King. Unfortunately, as sometimes happens with people of similar ambitions, Etienne became just a little too ambitious. In an evil hour he started to conspire against the King, and when he tried to gain his ends more quickly by trying to open the Saint-Antoine City gate to the enemies of Charles V, he got killed, and that was the end of Etienne Marcel. His body was exposed for several days, stark naked, and then thrown into the Seine in the presence of an immense crowd who had, in the meantime, all turned against him.
However, it is not for his having employed the wrong means to accomplish a desirable end that his countrymen later erected the beautiful equestrian statue to him you now see on the Seine end of the City Hall, but for the fact that his ideas were, after all, patriotic. I think that M. Gnizot sums up Etienne Marcel’s position in French history pretty N-vell when he says of him-“Etienne Marcel attempted by means of the states-general of the Fourteenth Century to bring to pass what we in the Nineteenth, after all the advances of the French Nation, have not yet succeeded in getting accomplished, to wit, the government of the country by the country itself.” And that, of course, applies to many other nations as well.
Anyway, in 1357 Etienne Marcel had purchased a house on the Place de Greve which he intended to use as his official residence. Because this house was ornamented with pillars, this house became known as the Maison des Piliers, and that was the first municipal building in Paris. The next Town Hall to be erected on the site was the large building erected during the reign of Francis I. This building was started in 1533 after the design by the Italian architect Dominique Cortone. In style it looked almost like the present building, except that the two end sections were not added until 1854 after the building was sacked by the Commune and had to be rebuilt. It was in the earlier building that Robespierre and a few of his followers took refuge on July 27, 1794, after they had been denounced by the Convention, and here is where they were arrested. When their pursuers closed in on them, one of Robespierre’s party was thrown out of a window; two others jumped voluntarily, and all three of them landed on an iron picket fence. Robespierre himself was shot in the jaw, which left it half dangling from his face. Another committed suicide-he was the lucky one. By the next afternoon all of them, including the three who had been impaled on the picket fence, had been carted off to the Conciergerie where Sanson was Just looking over the victims who were to be guillotined that afternoon. Instead of the intended victims-how lucky these were, for this day, the twenty-eighth of July, 1%94, was to mark the end of the Terror-the whole lot of them, twenty-two in all, the wounded as well as the well, if under the circumstances any of them could still say that they felt well, were unceremoniously bundled into tumbrils and carted off to the guillotine.
Of course, the French Revolution was not the only time that the Hotel de Ville served as the backdrop in the history of France. A French writer has called it the “Parisian’s Temple of Revolution,” and not without reason. Whenever there were any disorders in Paris the rioters invariably made for the City Hall. It was so during the insurrection of 1830, when Charles X had to eat crow and beat it to England; it was so again in 1848, when the “Citizen-King” Louis-Philippe had to go on the same journey. But during the Commune of 1871, the rioters were not just satisfied to voice their displeasure they burnt the whole damned place down along with the Tuileries and the Palais-Royal. And that’s when Paris got a new City Hall.
The Town Hall you see on the Place de l’Hotel-deVille today was started in 1874 and completed in 1882, and, as I already mentioned, its style followed that of the earlier building except that an additional section was added at each end of it. It is a rather ornate, three-story building with a high slate roof, some parts of which are higher than others, so that one could easily mistake it for a French chateau, except that in a chateau one would not find so many statues. My guidebook tells me that there are one hundred thirty-six statues of various Parisians scattered about the numerous niches of its fa~ade. I am sorry to say that I have never been inside this building, but my ;ttidebook tells me that there are almost as many figures, mostly allegorical, and practically all of them en deshahille, inside the building as there are outside.
I also understand that it is not the easiest thing in the world to get permission to visit this building without good reasons. Of course, if you should happen to be the Mayor of Paris, Texas, and would like to make a courtesy call on the Mayor of Paris, France, you might get permission to do so. Only, in that case you would not be calling on the Mayor of Paris, but on the Prefect of Paris. To call on the “Mayor,” you would have to call on twenty of them, for the City of Paris is divided into twenty districts, called arrondissements and each of these arrondissenrents has its own City Hall, called a Mairie, and its own Mayor. The Prefect of Paris is nominated by the Minister of the Interior, but the Mayors of the various arrondissements are nominated by the President of the Republic. Each of the twenty districts is, in turn, divided into four quarters, each of which has one Representative. These, in turn, make up the Municipal Council (eighty in number) which meets at the Hotel de Ville. And that’s that.
When you are at the Hotel de Ville, you will be very close to the Mairie of the Fourth Arrondissement on the Rue de Rivoli. Incidentally, the various arrondissements are all numbered in a clockwise direction, starting with the First at the Louvre, very much in the order in which the city grew. This is the Marrie we saw next to the church of Saint Germain-l’Auxerrois when we came out of the Cour Carree some days ago. This manner of nunrbering is also the reason why you will sometimes find a high-numbered arrondissement right next to a low-numbered one. Where these adjoin, the number of the arrondissement is generally shown on the street sign along with the street name. So, if you should happen to see a street sign reading “Rue Pigalle-18 e Arrondisement” on one side of the street and another reading “Rue Pigalle-9 e Arrondissement” on the other side of the same street, don’t say “What kind of ward numbering is that?” It is all quite logical.
Anyway, instead of calling on the Mayor of the Fourth Arrondissement who, I am sure, would just as well not see you, why don’t you take a look at the ancient Church of Saint-Gervais, which is right behind the City Hall, or, better still, take a walk down to the Hotel-de-Sens? To get to the latter, all you will have to do is to walk along the Seine the distance of two bridges. The first bridge you will come to, walking up-stream or away from the Pont-auC:hange, will be the Pont Louis-Philippe, the next one will be the Pont-Marie. Walk another short block, look sharp to your left and-Voida. For details of these two places of interest, you can always consult your Michelin Guide.
And this will be all I’ll have to tell you about the I-Iotel-de-Ville and its history. Tomorrow we are going to cross over to the Ile de la Cite. But as we are not going to walk this distance all the way, I suggest that you meet me again tomorrow morning at our usual rendezvous, let us say, at about ten.