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  • Writer's pictureParisian Niche

Le Tour Jean-sans-Peur in Paris...

Some of the best parts of playing a flâneuse all throughout the city of Paris are the "blink and you miss it" moments, like the Medici Column and the Turbigo Angel, found on simple walks. As I've been fortunate enough to spend over a month now in the 2nd arrondissement, and stumbled on a new little hidden gem, today, let's take a P'Niche peek at La Tour Jean-sans-Peur.

Let's hop, once again into the P'Niche Time Travel Machine (truly, one of the best investments I've ever made) and head back to ye olde medieval France with courts of Royal leadership and intrigues.

Commissioned by the Counts of Artois, it was in 1270 that Robert II, Count of Artois (nephew to King Louis IX, AKA Saint Louis) had purchased several homes just adjacent to the wall of Philippe August - the original wall of protection. The issue was, some of the land purchased lie outside the boundaries of the wall, but Charles V's new wall, erected in 1383 ensured that all was now within Paris proper. This property became known as l'hôtel d'Artois. Hotel, in this case, means manor, or private home. Some house, eh?!

The construction of the tower itself was begun by Philip the Bold - the Duke of Burgundy, during the Hundred Years' War, which lasted from 1337-1453. This is important to note as around 1392, King Charles VI began to suffer from madness and two opposing family branches were at war to see who would take over - the Armagnacs (supporter of the king's brother (Louis d'Orléans) or the Burgundians with the new Duke of Burgundy (Jean-sans-Peur, which translates to Jean the Fearless).

Now, we don't need a spoiler alert here - given the name of the tower in question. Jean-sans-Peur.

In a street battle royale, Louis d'Orléans was murdered at the behest of of Jean. (gulp!) The king, now in a better (?) state of mind did forgive Jean-sans-Peur this cousinly fratricide after a successful military campaign fought in Flanders on his royal behalf. He even made Jean the guardian of his royal heir - le Dauphin, Duke of Guyenne.

With that guardianship came much prestige - and money...

As an outward display of his newfound power and wealth, Jean has a spacious new mansion designed and constructed - with one of the main design elements being that it be firmly fixed to the existing 27 meter high tower (which is the highest medieval tower visible still in Paris.)

The goal here was to ensure the Duke's safety as The Chronicle of Enguerrand de Monstrelet noted: "In this time, a force of workers made for Jean a strong chamber, of well crafted stone, in the form of a tower, and there he slept at night. The tower had the advantage of keeping him safe."

I guess once you've ordered a hit on royal, you can never bee too careful right?!

The construction of this new "compound," again, affixed to the tower, was to demonstrate the wealth, power, and authority of the Burgundy house over then rival Louis d'Orléans. It's height was rivaled only by the massive central tower of the Louvre palace.

Some of the constructed defenses of the buildings included great height, thick walls, a narrow and winding staircase (hey, in case you have to make a quick getaway), and several exterior machicolations.

Machiolations are floor openings (attached between the supporting corbels of a battlement) where, during a battle or invasion you might throw stones, boiling water, scorching oil, heavy sand, etc. upon your attackers. This would be your first line of defense when you saw invaders approach.

Now, that is not to say, that aesthetics, charm, and grace were omitted during the construction of this safe hold. Far from it.

In fact, at the top of the main stairway, we can find this stunning relief pattern, which incorporates intertwined emblems of Jean-sans-Peur and the House of Burgundy, with oak leaves (Philip the Bold, his father), hawthorn (Marguerite de Mâle, his mother) and hops (Jean's personal emblem).

Think fortress, but make it fashion!

Now, as we move forward in time to 1413, Jean-sans-Peur was forced to flee Paris after opposition became rather fierce.

I guess he wasn't so fearless after all? Gong!

He did return to Paris in 1418, but very quickly thereafter, in 1419, he was murdered on Paris' Bridge of Montereau, by his opponents, under the watchful eye and command of the new Dauphin, the future Charles VII.

The estate was inherited but Jean's son, Philip the Good, who wisely spent little time in Paris, moving between various other palaces in Dijon, Brussels, Lille and other spots within his dukedom. Good call!

After the exodus of the Burgundy family, the palace was left mainly empty. With several already exiting royal palaces within Paris' confines, French kings had little need for this additional residence.

Having changes royal hands over the coming decades and centuries, we learn that the tower itself was not fit for living and remained empty throughout the larger part of the 17th century.

Most notably, we recall that Saint Vincent de Paul, who we met in our discovery of Paris' Marian chapel offered food to the poor and needy from this location.

Moving forward to the massive reworking of Paris by Baron Haussmann (under the direction of Napoleon III), the construction of rue Étienne Marcel saw the destruction of the entire residence, save the tower.

The Tour Jean-sans-Peur was purchased by the City of Paris in 1874 and declared a historical monument in 1884.

Now, it may seem that P'Niche is being a bit vague on describing the interior of this historical monument. That's because I'd be doing you no favors to ruin the surprise of the exceptional architectural delights - the spiral staircase, true to the period reconstructions of furnishings, décor, stained glass windows, and even clothing)

You can even visit the Squire's room and the private chamber of Jean-sans-Peur, brought back to life in vivid and accurate detail.

There are also temporary exhibits which circulate through the space. It's worth heading "off the beaten track" for this one...

Want to check this secret jewel out for yourself? Great!

20, rue Étienne Marcel (75002)

Métro: Étienne Marcel (Line 4)

New 2024 Hours:

Wednesday, Saturday & Sunday ONLY

1:30pm - 6:00pm

What say, P'Nicher? Have you seen this petit gem already, or are you adding it your growing list of hidden treasures to explore?  Let us know in the comments below et à bientôt!


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Debra Borchert
Debra Borchert

I've been studying French history for about 15 years and never knew all this. Merci, Chrissy!


it was a real surprise to me too - and only happened as i got turned around on my google maps - what a treat it turned out to be! merci!

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