Place de la Concorde
The Place de la Concorde is one of the major public squares in Paris. Measuring 8.64 hectares (21.3 acres) in area, it is the largest square in the French capital. It is located in the city's eighth arrondissement, at the eastern end of the Champs-Élysées.
The place was designed by Ange-Jacques Gabriel in 1755 as a moat-skirted octagon between the Champs-Élysées to the west and the Tuileries Garden to the east. Decorated with statues and fountains, the area was named Place Louis XV to honor the king at that time. The square showcased an equestrian statue of the king, which had been commissioned in 1748 by the city of Paris, sculpted mostly by Edmé Bouchardon, and completed by Jean-Baptiste Pigalle after the death of Bouchardon.
At the north end, two magnificent identical stone buildings were constructed. Separated by the rue Royale, these structures remain among the best examples of Louis Quinze style architecture. Initially, the eastern building served as the French Naval Ministry. Shortly after its construction, the western building became the opulent home of the Duc d'Aumont. It was later purchased by the Comte de Crillon, whose family resided there until 1907. The famous luxury Hôtel de Crillon, which currently occupies the building, took its name from its previous owners.
During the French Revolution the statue of Louis XV of France was torn down and the area renamed Place de la Révolution. The new revolutionary government erected the guillotine in the square, and it was here that King Louis XVI was executed on 21 January 1793.
Other important figures guillotined on the site, often in front of cheering crowds, were Queen Marie Antoinette, Princess Élisabeth of France, Charlotte Corday, Madame du Barry, Georges Danton, Camille Desmoulins, Antoine Lavoisier, Maximilien Robespierre, Louis de Saint-Just and Olympe de Gouges.
In 1795, under the Directory, the square was renamed Place de la Concorde as a gesture of reconciliation after the turmoil of the French Revolution. After the Bourbon Restoration of 1814, the name was changed back to Place Louis XV, and in 1826 the square was renamed Place Louis XVI. After the July Revolution of 1830 the name was returned to Place de la Concorde and has remained since.
The center of the Place is occupied by a giant Egyptian obelisk decorated with hieroglyphics exalting the reign of the pharaoh Ramesses II. It is one of two the Egyptian government gave to the French in the 19th century. The other one stayed in Egypt, too difficult and heavy to move to France with the technology at that time. In the 1990s, President François Mitterrand gave the second obelisk back to the Egyptians. The obelisk once marked the entrance to the Luxor Temple. The self-declared Khedive of Egypt, Muhammad Ali Pasha, offered the 3,300-year-old Luxor Obelisk to France in 1829. It arrived in Paris on 21 December 1833. Three years later, on 25 October 1836, King Louis Philippe had it placed in the center of Place de la Concorde.
The obelisk, a yellow granite column, rises 23 metres (75 ft) high, including the base, and weighs over 250 metric tons (280 short tons). Given the technical limitations of the day, transporting it was no easy feat — on the pedestal are drawn diagrams explaining the machinery that was used for the transportation. The obelisk is flanked on both sides by fountains constructed at the time of its erection on the Place. Missing its original cap, believed stolen in the 6th century BC, the government of France added a gold-leafed pyramid cap to the top of the obelisk in 1998.
The two fountains in the Place de la Concorde have been the most famous of the fountains built during the time of Louis-Philippe, and came to symbolize the fountains in Paris. They were designed by Jacques Ignace Hittorff, a student of the Neoclassical designer Charles Percier at the École des Beaux-Arts. The German-born Hittorff had served as the official Architect of Festivals and Ceremonies for the deposed King, and had spent two years studying the architecture and fountains of Italy.
Hittorff's two fountains were on the theme of rivers and seas, in part because of their proximity to the Ministry of Navy, and to the Seine. Their arrangement, on a north-south axis aligned with the Obelisk of Luxor and the Rue Royale, and the form of the fountains themselves, were influenced by the fountains of Rome, particularly Piazza Navona and the Piazza San Pietro, both of which had obelisks aligned with fountains.
Both fountains had the same form: a stone basin; six figures of tritons or naiads holding fish spouting water; six seated allegorical figures, their feet on the prows of ships, supporting the pedestal, of the circular vasque; four statues of different forms of genius in arts or crafts supporting the upper inverted upper vasque; whose water shot up and then cascaded down to the lower vasque and then the basin.
The north fountain was devoted to the Rivers, with allegorical figures representing the Rhone and the Rhine, the arts of the harvesting of flowers and fruits, harvesting and grape growing; and the geniuses of river navigation, industry, and agriculture.
The south fountain, closer to the Seine, represented the seas, with figures representing the Atlantic and the Mediterranean; harvesting coral; harvesting fish; collecting shellfish; collecting pearls; and the geniuses of astronomy, navigation and commerce.