We usually associate Paris with romance and art, however, some two hundred or so years ago, that same beautiful city was unrecognisable as a result of the French Revolution in Paris. Riots, protests, and looting became a daily occurrence and many of the city’s grand establishments associated or commissioned by French royalty were nearly destroyed because of its connection with the Crown. The city also became infamous for its public executions, most notably that of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
14 of July is France’s “La Fête Nationale”, a day commemorating the storming of Bastille and the beginning of the decade long French Revolution.
French Revolution in Paris: The Sites
At the site of these lovely gardens once stood the Palais de Tuileries. Built around the mid 16th century by Catherine de Medici, it served as the royal residence of Bourbon kings and queens before moving their court to Versailles. During the French Revolution in Paris, it became a pivotal location for the rising socialist group. They eventually set up their headquarters here. This is also where King Louis XVI and his family were held after their removal from Versailles. The king remained under constant surveillance in the palace for the duration of his constitutional reign before being transferred to another location prior to his execution. The palace survived destruction during the French Revolution in Paris, but did not escape the damaged caused by the uprisings of the Paris Commune.
Place de la Concorde
Located adjacent to the Tuileries Gardens is a large public square now referred to as Place de la Concorde. This square, once known as Place de la Révolution, reached popularity as the execution center during the revolutionary era, particularly during the Reign of Terror (1793-1794). The square saw some 40,000 beheadings in the span of a year including both King Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette. But the remnants of its dark past are long gone. The infamous guillotine has since been replaced by a large Egyptian obelisk and two distinct and decorative fountains dedicated to France’s maritime history. High-end hotels and shops surround the area, and pigeons, instead of rotting flesh fill the square. The other end of the famous Avenue de Champs Elysée also begins here.
Palace de Versailles
One cannot discuss the history of the French Revolution in Paris without mentioning the Palace of Versailles. For over a century, it was the heart of French political power. Monarchs reigned and brought their court here. Built by the “Sun King” Louis XIV in 1661, it was, and remains a symbol of French opulence and grandeur. The practice of absolute monarchy and imperialism, together with grandiose displays of pomp and circumstance, were some of the reasons that led to the uprisings during the middle of the 18th century. It reached its peak in 1789, when a mob of protesters marched toward Versailles and insisted that the royal family, led by King Louis XVI, move its court back to Paris in order to effectively deal with the rising economical and social problems. The king, queen, and most of their courtiers were forced to comply and eventually moved back to Paris. Not long after, its hallways were emptied of its décor and furnishings, and the palace was abandoned. The once grand chateau was suddenly decrepit.
Palais de Justice and The Conciergerie
In the middle of Île de la Cité stands several Gothic structures collectively known as Palais de Justice. Its origins date back from the Middle Ages and served as the main royal residence. When the Court was moved to the Louvre in the 16th century, the building became the primary seat of the Court of Justice and has remained there ever since. During the French Revolution in Paris, it served as the principal tribunal during the infamous Reign of Terror.Many individuals who were eventually executed saw their fates sealed here, and they spent their last days in the adjacent prison cells.
The Conciergerie is perhaps the most famous prison of them all. A high security prison well known for holding notorious prisoners, this is where Queen Marie Antoinette was transferred after her husband’s death, and where she remained until her execution by guillotine several months later. Ironically enough, the instigator for her and the king’s execution, Robespierre, was also imprisoned here, and eventually suffered the same fate.