Thursday, October 28, 2010

Marais: Place des Vosges, Oldest Planned Square in Paris

Henri IV built the Place des Vosges from 1605 to 1612. A true square (140 m x 140 m), it is the first European example of royal city planning. It was built on the site of the Hôtel des Tournelles and its gardens: at a tournament at the Tournelles, a royal residence, Henri II was wounded and died. Catherine de Medicis had the Gothic pile demolished, and she moved to the Louvre.

The Place des Vosges, inaugurated in 1612 with a grand carousel to celebrate the wedding of Louis XIII and Anne of Austria, is the prototype of all the residential squares of European cities that were to come. What was new about the Place Royale in 1612 was that the house fronts were all built to the same design, probably by Baptiste du Cerceau, of red brick with strips of stone quoins over vaulted arcades that stand on square pillars. The steeply-pitched blue slate roofs are pierced with discreet small-paned dormers above the pediment dormers that stand upon the cornices. Only the north range was built with the vaulted ceilings that the "galleries" were meant to have. Two pavilions that rise higher than the unified roof line of the square center the north and south faces and offer access to the square through triple arches. Though they are designated the Pavilion of the King and of the Queen, no royal personage has ever lived in the aristocratic square. The Place des Vosges initiated subsequent developments of Paris that created a suitable urban background for the French aristocracy.

Before the square was completed, Henri IV ordered the Place Dauphine to be laid out. Within a mere five-year period the king oversaw an unmatched building scheme for the ravaged medieval city: additions to the Louvre, the Pont Neuf, and the Hôpital Saint Louis as well as the two royal squares.

Cardinal Richelieu had an equestrian bronze of Louis XIII erected in the center (there were no garden plots until 1680). The original was melted down in the Revolution; the present version, begun in 1818 by Louis Dupaty and completed by Jean-Pierre Cortot, replaced it in 1825. The square was renamed in 1799 when the département of the Vosges became the first to pay taxes supporting a campaign of the Revolutionary army. The Restoration returned the old royal name, but the short-lived Second Republic restored the revolutionary one in 1848.

Today the east side of the square is planted with a grove of mature lindens set in grass and gravel, surrounded by clipped lindens.

Many famous people lived around the Place des Vosges. Two significant ones are No. 6, "Maison de Victor Hugo" Victor Hugo from 1832–1848, in what was then the Hôtel de Rohan-Guéménée, which is now a museum devoted to his memory, managed by the City of Paris. The other is No. 7 Hotel du Sully, Henri IV's great minister, which is a lovely grand edifice and garden, currently housing the offices for all historical buildings.

Around the periphery of the square are shops, galleries, restaurants and cafes galore. We went to an art opening one night, ate lunch in the park several times, had late afternoon coffee at a cafe a few times and thoroughly enjoyed the area which as around the corner from our hotel. We also viisited the Victor Hugo Museum and Hotel du Sully which are free and well worth seeing. The gift shop at Sully had wonderful gifts to bring home.

(Photographs from the bottom: Statue of Louis XIII, Fountain in center of square, Place Royal with distinct brick and stone design and Clipped linden trees)

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