Mapping Paris

Ideals: Political Symbolism in Paris

Site Home
Mapping Home

Realities vs. Representations
Hugo's Paris
The Real Paris

A City Divided
Paris & Politics
Cultural Paris
Streets of Paris

Gas Lights

Space & Money





As Maurice Agulhon says in his essay Paris: A Traversal from East to West, "The political diversity of Paris has not been without influence on French memory" (524). This political diversity of which he speaks is directly reflected on the changing maps of Paris. As France moved through the different political stages of its revolution, the city of Paris was made to accommodate the different ideals of each government. These ideals were radically different from each other in the beginning of this period but by the time of Victor Hugo, they had found a way to peaceably (most of the time) coexist. It was in this politically divided Paris where neither extreme ruled that the bourgeoisie were able to rise and claim Paris as their own.

Modified Map of Paris in 1794. The Blue shows the locations of the first squares in Paris, from left to right: the Place Louis XV (Place de Concord), the Place des Conquetes (Place Vendome), the Place Des Victoire, and the Place Royal (Place Des Vosges). The Green spot shows the location of the Place de la Bastille. Also on the map are red name changes -- not visible except in a close up. Unmodified Map Courtesy of Yale University Map Collection and Frederick W. Musto, Curator

The clash of political ideals was first seen in the French Revolution of 1789. The Paris of Louis XIV was a city seeped in the monarchical tradition. There was little to no city planning of streets or houses, the city was greatly behind meeting the sanitation needs of the people, and everywhere one went they were constantly reminded of the monarchy. The quarters that housed the palaces and mansions of the nobility stood out like diamonds among pebbles. It was in this tradition that King Louis XIV planned the first four squares of Paris and (see map to left) dedicated them all to royalty: the Place Royal (now the Place Des Vosges) contained a statue of Louis XIII; the Place Des Victoire contained a statue of Louis XIV; the Place Des Conquetes (now the Place Vendome) also had a statue of Louis XIV; and, well, the Place Louis XV (now the Place de la Concorde) is pretty self explanatory (Agulhon, 529). However, were one to look for any of these squares on a map today they would never be found. This is because they no longer exist under the same name. After the Revolution of 1789 and the destruction of the Bastille, each of these squares were renamed, all royal statues were removed and new ones were put in their place. The map to the left is an example of this. Made in 1794, all the names written in red on it are new -- for example the Place Louis XV became the Place de la Revolution and was decorated with a statue of the personified Liberty (Agulhon, 536).

The Place de la Bastille,
first under Napoleon I in Alvoine's drawing Elephant caparaconne d'or, and then under Louis-Phillippe in Testard's La Colonne de Julliet. Both illustrations were done in the 19th century.

Napoleon's assuming power in France after his coup de 'tat in 1799 was the first backward step for the revolution. He did not want revolt any more than Louis XIV had, and this is reflected in the changes he made in the city. First of all, he replaced the statues of Liberty with ones celebrating his army, as well as a column dedicated to himself in the Place Vendome. However one of the strangest things he did was to place a statue of a giant elephant in the Place de la Bastille (the sight of the ruined fortress). This dilapidated elephant plays a small part in Hugo's Les Miserables as the home of the gamin Gavroche, who lived in its hollow underbelly. Even to Hugo this elephant was a mystery. As he himself says:

One knew not what it meant. It was a sort of symbol of sorts of the force of the people. It was gloomy enigmatic and immense. It was a mysterious and mighty phantom , visibly standing by the side of the invisible spectre of the Bastille. (Hugo, 826)

Both of the Vendome column and the giant elephant fit with Napoleon Bonaparte's design to 1) glorify the accomplishments of France under his own rule, and 2) de-emphasize the revolution of 1789.

The restoration, under King Louis XVIII and Charles X, had a very similar theme to that of Napoleon in down playing the acts of the regime before it. In keeping with the goals of the restoration, the statue of napoleon was taken down from the Vendome column, the royal statues from the time of Louis XIV were returned to their original places, and there was even plans for a statue of "Louis XIV, martyr" to be put up in the Place de la Concorde, the central square of the city -- and the one where he had been guillotined in 1789 (Agulhon, 533). Luckily, Louis-Phillippe shut down this plan when he came in to power in 1830.

It was under Louis-Phillippe bourgeoisie centered rule that the monuments of Paris began to be neutralized. Yes, the statue of Napoleon was returned to its place atop the Vendome column, but certainly contradictory to this was the placement of a column topped by the Genius of Liberty at the Place de la Bastille (Napoleon's elephant had been allowed to crumble into disrepair). Also between these two monuments, at the Place de la Concorde, was placed the Obelisk of Luxor: a monument with almost no local political significance whatsoever set in the central square of Paris. Like Napoleon Bonaparte's elephant, this had the effect of neutralizing the square in that no one political party could claim the center of Paris as its own. At the same time, this placement separated the two halves of Paris between their respective political orientations. Like the bourgeoisie, politics would stick to the middle ground.

The Evolution of the Place de la Concorde: from left to right: 1) Place Louis XV, an anonymous engraving entitled "Vou de le'ordre et de le marche Des ceremonies qui doivent etre observees le jour de la publication de la paix a la place Louis XV", eighteenth century, 2) La Statue de la Liberte, Place de la Revolution, anonymous, eighteenth century, 3) La Ceremoniepour les Journees de juin 1848, Place de la Concorde ornee de l'obleisque; painting by J.-J. Champin, 1848

This page maintained by your Friendly Neighborhood Mappers.