Monday, February 18, 2013

Silk and Spectacles in the Place des Vosges

photo: AINo
Place des Vosges, the centerpiece of the Marais district on the Right Bank of the Seine, was one of the few architectural undertakings of King Henri IV, who ascended to the throne in 1589 and eventually brought an end to France's religious wars. Originally named Place Royale, the square was intended to be a revenue-producing site, dedicated to the manufacture of silks and other textiles. The four-story red brick buildings that line the square were designed to house factories on the second and third floors. The ground floor shops, accessible through sheltered arcades, would sell the goods manufactured upstairs; factory workers and shop staff could live in dormitories and apartments on the fourth floors, under the eaves.

In tandem with its commercial purpose, Place Royale would provide Paris the public setting it lacked for the grand processions and elaborate spectacles that marked important events like royal births and marriages. Accordingly, the square was paved with cobblestones, and two pavilions were built for the royals' viewing pleasure. The Pavilion du Roi,

photo: Bruno befreetv
marked with Henri's monogram,

photo: Bruno befreetv
was erected on the north side of the square, and the Pavilion de la Reine anchored the south.

Construction, begun in 1605, proceeded to a rapid conclusion by 1612. However, the notion that the buildings would house factories died along with the king when Henri was assassinated in 1610. His wife Marie de Médici, regent to his young son Louis XIII, abandoned the manufacturing project and allowed the elegant buildings to be subdivided into residences for the wealthy. Later in the century, an equestrian statue of Louis XIII was erected in the center of the square.

This statue remained in place for 150 years, until it was destroyed during the Revolution--along with the square's royalist name. The new moniker, Place des Vosges, commemorated the first district that raised a volunteer army to repel the Prussian invasion. Fifteen years after the restoration of the monarchy in 1814, a new statue of Louis XIII--the one presently gracing the square--was installed.

photo: Mbzt
Place Royale was built on the site of the Hôtel des Tournelles, a royal residence dating back to the fourteenth century. The residence comprised a collection of buildings and pleasure gardens spread over a twenty acre estate. François I's mother, Louise de Savoie, had lived there, and his mistress Anne de Pisseleu d'Heilly later used it as her Parisian residence. Henri II, François's son and heir, held his coronation there in 1547 and granted its use to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers. It was at the Hôtel des Tournelles in 1559 that Henri II died after a horrific jousting accident. His widow, Catherine de Médici, had the buildings demolished several years after his death. The space was used as a military training ground for many years until Henri IV dedicated it to his innovative project.

Hotel des Tournelles and surrounding area around 1550. Published map of Paris.
[The information about Place Royale's commercial origins comes from Alex Karmel's delightful book,  A Corner in the Marais: Memoir of a Paris Neighborhood (1998).]


Mary Tod said...

How exciting to read the history. I walked through it on a cold January afternoon :)

Julianne Douglas said...

I'm sure it looks quite dreary, though still elegant, in January, Mary!

Place des Vosges has always been one of my favorite spots in Paris--even more so now! And isn't that old map of the area wonderful? I added the caption I'd forgotten when I originally posted.

Darlene said...

I love reading your posts although I haven't always commented. I would love to walk the grounds - I bet you can just feel the history.

Julianne Douglas said...

Thank you so much, Darlene! The history in this area is very rich, and not just early modern history. The paragon of nineteenth century Romanticism, Victor Hugo, lived at number 6, Place des Vosges, from 1832-48. His house is now a museum.

P. M. Doolan said...

Every year I spend four or five days in Paris in the autumn. One of the nicest pleasures is drinking coffee at Cafe Ma Bourgogne on Place de Vosges. I recommend it.

Julianne Douglas said...

Thank you for the recommendation. I would love to try it!