Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Paris - Place de la Bastille and the July Column

The Colonne de Juillet (July Column) in the center of Place de la Bastille

There are a few landmarks in Paris that one should never forget to visit. While the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe are most often visited, the Place de la Bastille and the Colonne de Juillet (July Column) are generally omitted. But going back into the Paris history, one finds Place de la Bastille and the July Column to have very significant importance. 

I have already wrote about my visit to the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe in my earlier posts - and today I am writing about Place de la Bastille and the July Column before I wrap up my fist phase of Schengen Travelogue and go back to Germany.

I had heard of the place but never knew that it was located a few distance away from the Grand Hotel at the Voltaire Avenue. We were rather late in reaching Paris and it was already late at night and we were famished and the hotel restaurant was closed. So asking directions for nearby eateries, the hotel manager mentioned about the Place de la Bastille square. 

That was a big surprise and we hurriedly dashed towards the place and found the Place de la Bastille bustling with tourists and visitors with its mighty July Column lit adorably in the centre of the square. The July Column is made of steel and bronze standing 52 meters high and weighs 170 tons.

I made a mention of the Place de la Bastille and the July Column in my first post about Paris: Paris - Here we come. But this post is exclusive to the July Column for those who have little or no knowledge of this historic landmark, here is a little introduction to the place:

As per Wikipedia, The Bastille was built between 1370 and 1383 during the reign of King Charles V as part of the defenses of Paris, the structure was converted into a state prison in the 17th century. It began to acquire a poor reputation when it became the main prison for those taken under lettres de cachet issued by the King of France.

Adding more to its description, here is how Wikipedia continues to describe its history:
In terms of standards, there were many worse prisons in France, including the dreaded Bicêtre, also in Paris. However, in terms of popular literary accounts, the Bastille was a place of horror and oppression, a symbol of autocratic cruelty. The Bastille prison was stormed and was destroyed between 14 July 1789 and 14 July 1790 during the French Revolution.
On 16 June 1792, the area occupied by the Bastille was turned into a square celebrating liberty, and a column would be erected there. The first stone was laid by Palloy; however, construction never took place, and a fountain was built instead in 1793.
In 1808, as part of several urban improvement projects for Paris, Napoléon planned to have a monument in the shape of an elephant built here, the Elephant of the Bastille. It was designed to be 24 m (78 ft) in height, and to be cast from the bronze of cannons taken from the Spanish. Access to the top was to be achieved by a stairway set in one of the legs. However, only a full-scale plaster model was built. Victor Hugo immortalized the monument in the novel Les Misérables where it is used as a shelter by Gavroche. The monument was demolished in 1846.
In 1833, Louis-Philippe decided to build the July Column as originally planned in 1792. It was inaugurated in 1840.

Today, the square is home to the Opéra Bastille. The large ditch (fossé) behind the fort has been transformed into a marina for pleasure boats, the Bassin de l’Arsenal, to the south, and a covered canal, the Canal Saint Martin, extending north from the marina beneath the vehicular roundabout that borders the location of the fort.

We were to pass by the Place de la Bastille and the July Column again when visiting the famous Paris Museum Louvre and had a closer look of the July Column and the inscriptions on it as can be seen in the photos below.

The inscriptions, on the base, are known as Trois Glorieuses — the "three glorious" days of 27–29 July 1830 that saw the fall of King Charles X of France and the commencement of the "July Monarchy" of Louis-Philippe, King of the French. 

On top of the July Column, stands a colossal gilded figure, Auguste Dumont's Génie de la Liberté (the "Spirit of Freedom"). Perched on one foot in the manner of Giambologna's Mercury, the star-crowned nude brandishes the torch of civilization and the remains of his broken chains.

A clearer photo of  Génie de la Liberté [Photo: Wikipedia]

On one side of the base (as seen above) is written "The Law of December 3, 1830" and "The Law of March 9, 1833". These two laws state that a monument will be erected in the Place de la Bastille commemorating the events of July. Besides on the column itself, names of the 504 martyrs are inscribed. In 1848, the 196 victims of the 1848 February Revolution were buried along with those who died in the 1830 uprising, in the National Library garden.

July the 14th is observed as the Republic Day (Bastille Day) in France and an impressive military parade takes place the  on the Champs Elysees.

For those who want to go up to the top of the column, there are 238 steps which allowed access to the top of the column. This spiral stairway is, unfortunately, no longer available to the public [Source].

With this post, I come to the end of my visit to Paris and my next post will be saying good bye to Paris - the Lovers' city and going back to Kiel, Germany through Viersen where a friend awaits us with his sumptuous and warm hospitality.

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