In Paris, Place des Vosges is Fit For a King...
Paris is known for its symmetry in architecture and landscape design, and few other locations showcase this thought of perfect alignment like Place des Vosges. It's a breathtakingly quiet and serene escape from the crowds with their hustle and bustle of le Marais (in the 3rd and 4th arrondissements). Remembering that the name "Le Marais" actually means "The Marsh," the undertaking from marshland to royal quarters was quite an inspired plan!
Before we get to that construction, we must recall what stood on the site before the plans were drafted. The Hôtel de Tournelles had remained in this spot since the 1300s, and was one of the main royal residences.
As you can see left center on this medieval map, there is a little equestrian knight about to joust (this is gonna be important in a second)...
It was on June 30 1559, when Henry II of France participated in a festive jousting tournament, set to celebrate two royal weddings. During the third match, Gabriel de Montgomery (accidentally?) fatally struck Henry, causing his death. His wife, Catherine de Medici had the royal area demolished and moved herself and her court to the Louvre Palace, thus abandoning hundreds of years of royal inhabitance.
P'Niche may not agree with much of what Catherine de Medici had done in her lifetime and reign, but she definitely gets Catherine's wish to move and start over fresh with her royal life. Let's move forward in time now to the 17th century and Henry IV...
Place des Vosges was originally called Place Royale by King Henry IV, who, in an attempt to stimulate France's commerce, commissioned the construction of this Royal Pavilion.
Not only would this construction give jobs to the manual laborers of the site, but also to the manufacturers of silks and linens, giving them stronger leverage against the craftspeople of Milan.
While construction lasted from 1605 - 1612, good King Henry IV would not live to see its completion, having been felled by an assassin in 1610. It was his son, King Louis VIII who attended the 1612 inauguration.
While we like to credit Louis XIV (Henry IV's grandson) with gathering all of his bustling courtiers (and their intrigues) to one place, Versailles, it was actually Henry IV who sired the idea of keeping everyone in eyesight, stating, "It is more necessary than ever to increase the size of Paris so as to readily accommodate the seigneurs, gentlemen, and other officials of our entourage." Clever Henry!
Another bonus that came from the construction of the royal pavilion was that the planners and builders took the liberty of paving over an ancient sewer path, thus creating what we know as rue de Turenne (named in honor of le Vicomte de Turenne). This street became quite the fashionable hangout for the courtiers who could shop in leisure for their fine clothing and accessories.
You can see from this image that Henry IV determined that clean, even symmetry and uniformity were king (pun intended). We wonder what lessons Haussmann took away from this look. We'll learn more about Haussmann soon, so do subscribe to return to the Parisian Niche...
Defining the trend, symmetry was the name of the game in the construction of Place des Vosges. The 140m by 140m square is a totally symmetrical grouping of buildings (save the King's Pavilion on the south part of the square and the Queen's Pavilion to the north). These two buildings can be seen on opposite sides jutting out just a touch. Despite their lack of symmetry, they do not lack class - The Queen's Pavilion is now the current host of the luxurious hotel, Pavilion de la Reine.
Aside from its symmetry, some of the more critical points to recognize in the architecture are:
- the façades, which are comprised of red bricks and rows of stone wedges
- the slate rooftops, which are peppered with smaller dormer windows
- the vaulted arcades, which run the entirety of the ground floor of the square.
This uniformity of design is most often attested to Jean Baptiste Androuet du Cerceau, the French architect, who most notably designed le Post Neuf.
Let's talk about the perimeter of arcades for a moment.
A stroll through these vaulted ceilings will allow you views of the most quaint but glorious of luxurious art galleries, top tier antique shops, and the most Parisian of cafés. Speaking of cafés in the Place des Vosges...
You may recall from the recent P'Niche post dedicated to the best hot chocolates in Paris, that one is found under these very vaults at the Café Carette, snuggled in at 25, place des Vosges.
This café boasts many delicious French standards, but their cocoa and pastry selections and quality are truly next to none. Next time you stroll through this square most royal, you might like to treat yourself!
Located in the center of Place des Vosges is a stunning statue of Louis XIII, on horseback. Commissioned by Cardinal Richelieu, this marble beauty was made in 1821 by Jean-Pierre Cortot (based on a model by Charles Dupaty). Placed in the center of what is called Square Louis-XIII since 1825, it replaces the former statue commissioned by Armand Jean du Plessis de Richelieu, made by Pierre II Biard. It was first inaugurated in 1639 but subsequently destroyed during the French Revolution.
Psst - it was during the French Revolution that the Place Royale officially became retitled Place des Vosges. Ok, back to the 1600s...
Upon the completion of the square in 1612, and as Henry IV was no longer with us to attend the grand opening, the inauguration was held (complete with grand carousel) to celebrate the engagement of Louis XIII to Anne of Austria.
And while it is true that there are two pavilions dedicated to his and her majesties, it is of note that no royal ever took up residence within this aristocratic square, unless we count the brief time that Anne of Austria spend in the Queen's Pavilion.
Fear not, the square had its share of famous residents. Cardinal Richelieu resided in the Place des Vosges, as did Madame de Sévigné, not to mention writers Alphonse Daudet and Téophile Gautier.
That's to say nothing of the most popular of French writers who lived at number 6, place des Vosges, from 1832 - 1848, one Monsieur Victor Hugo until his exile by Napoléon. Wait, what?
OUI! The most beloved writer Victor Hugo lived and worked in this petit corner of Paris, penning masterpieces until his exile and was visited often by his biggest rival, but also most loyal friend, Alexandre Dumas (of The Three Musketeers fame). Have we got your attention? Come join us in the Parisian Page Turners book club as we read these classics and more!
Today, you can still visit Hugo's home (now museum) which has been curated in such a fashion as to walk you through his life - while evoking his writings through his home furnishings, artworks (that either belonged to him or were created by him).
6, place des Vosges
Métro: Saint Paul
Open Daily (except Mondays) 10am - 6pm
Inside the square are installed four gorgeous (and identical) fountains, inaugurated in 1825. These quadruplets were designed by the famed architect Jean-Francois Menager, and each is adorned with 16 uniform lion's heads, who spew water into the larger, round basins below.
Not very originally, they are titled by their orientation in the square - northeast, southeast, southwest, and northwest.
Waters were originally supplied from the Ourcq river, which also supplied water to many parts of Paris until Haussmann's massive reconstructions.
There are many treasures in Place des Vosges - some easy to spot and some a bit more discreet, but worth the hunt...
Paris is well known for its street art, but did you know Paris' first graffiti tag is found in the Places des Vosges? Ouaip! At number 11. The simple tag, reading "Nicolas 1764," was carved by author/printer Nicolas Restive de la Bretonne. He engraved many tags all over Paris and his carvings gave him the name "The Griffon" or "The Scribbler." This is the only remaining tag of The Scribbler to remain in Paris.
As you can see and imagine, there is so much to explore in the Place des Vosges as well as the charming surrounding arrondissement. Getting there is quite easy...
The closest métro stop is St-Paul (line 4). When you exit, you will be walking for approximately seven minutes on Rue Saint-Antoine and Rue de Birague. Easily enough, after walking a spell, Rue de Birague leads into the square. Given what you now know about its unique architecture, you won't be able to miss the gorgeous red bricks façades!
Place des Vosges is also reachable by getting off at the métro Chemin-Vert stop (line 8), Bastille stop (line 5 or 8) or Bréguet-Sabin stop (line 5) to reach the square. Place des Vosges is yours to explore!
What do you think, P'Nicher, are you ready to discover all of the beauty and architectural symmetry Place des Vosges has to offer? If you've been, what is your favorite aspect of the square? Let us know in the comments below, et à bientôt!