Place de la Concorde is the biggest square in Paris. Built between 1755 and 1775, it was commissioned by King Louis XV, intended to glorify his majesty. How ironic then that his successor Louis XVI and his wife Queen Marie-Antoinette were guillotined here just 18 years after it was completed…
What to see at Place de la Concorde
Today the almost 20 acres square is a stunning reminder of the glory days of monarchy, surrounded by prestigious mansion houses built in classic style by Ange-Jacques Gabriel. He was the King’s primary architect and also designed the Petit Trianon and the Royal Opera house at Versailles. In Place de la Concorde he designed the magnificent Hotel Crillon and the Hotel de la Marine, headquarters of the French navy until 2016, now a fabulous museum.
One end of the square leads to Jean Perronet’s Pont Louis XV (bridge) which crosses the Seine. It was begun in 1787 but not completed until 1791, by which time the French Revolution was underway. The bridge was renamed Pont de la Revolution and then Pont de la Concorde.
The two fountains in the square were designed by Jacques Ignace Hittorff who worked on the development of the square from 1836-1840. The fountain here in the north end represents maritime commerce and industry in France. The one in the south end which represents the navigation of commerce on the French Rivers. He also designed the stunning lampposts – possibly the most beautiful in Paris.
It’s now one of the busiest road systems in the city and you can’t help but think the many cyclists who dash through the traffic are either brave – or crazy.
History of the Place de la Concorde
Around the periphery of the square, Gabriel built eight giant pedestals upon which statues representing provincial capitals were eventually placed. Viewed clockwise from the Hotel de la Marine, the statues symbolize Lille, Strasbourg, Lyon, Marseille, Bordeaux, Nantes, Brest, and Rouen.
The focal point of the square was to be a statue of Louis XV seated on a horse. It was destroyed during the revolution. The king followed suit. He lost his head near the pedestal with the statue of Brest, a plaque marks the spot where he, Queen Marie-Antoinette and around 1200 people were executed.
Named Place Louis XV at its birth, the square was renamed Place de la Revolution and eventually Place de la Concorde
There have been many modifications over the years. The addition of fountains, lamp posts and an obelisk (see below). Two monumental marble sculptures by Guillaume Coustou called the Horses of Marly were installed at the entrance to the Champs-Elysées. In 1984 they were removed for preservation to the Louvre and replaced and replicas installed on the Champs-Elysées site.
The obelisk of Paris
In the centre of Place de la Concorde you’ll find two fountains and a 3000 year old Egyptian Obelisk. It was a gift to King Louis-Philippe from Muhammed Ali, the Viceroy of Egypt and the Sudan. The Obelisk is inscribed with Egyptian hieroglyphics exalting the reign of the pharaoh Ramses II, and it is officially the oldest monument in the city.
Transporting it to Paris was a tough task. On the pedestal are diagrams depicting the transportation and the installation of the Obelisk. Weighting more than 250 tons and at 23m high it took a whopping six years to get it to Paris from Egypt and to erect it in its new home. When it was finally erected in October 1836, a crowd of 200,000 turned up to watch. The King watched from the reception rooms of the Hotel de la Marine. The gold cap you see is not the original. That went missing in the 6th century BC and today’s gold tip was added in 1998.
It was such a difficult event that a second obelisk offered to the king was never collected. It wasn’t until 1981 that French President Francois Mitterrand officially “returned” the obelisk!
Did you know? Very few people realise that the metal Roman numerals you can spot inlaid into the square’s cobble stone surface are there so that the obelisk functions as a sun dial. Place de la Concorde is actually one of the biggest sundials in the world!
More Paris stuff
A-Z of Paris – 26 fascinating facts about the world’s favourite city
Butte Bergeyre – a secret village in the heart of Paris
Promenade Plantée – the most unusual park in the city