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  • Writer's pictureWill von Behr, MA

A Brief History of the Place des Vosges in Paris

What is the Place des Vosges?

Place des Vosges is the oldest planned square in Paris, built in the early 17th century.

Place des Vosges

Place des Vosges History

Nestled in the heart of Paris’s chic Marais quarter, this square holds the distinction of being the oldest planned square in the city. During the 17th and 18th centuries, it was considered one of the most fashionable places to live in Paris.

Originally known as the Place Royale, the square is built on the site of the former Hôtel des Tournelles, a 14th-century collection of buildings (now demolished) that was owned by the French monarchy, and which took its name from the many tournelles or ‘little towers’ present on the structures.

It was nearby that King Henry II met his death during a jousting tournament in the 16th century. His grieving widow, Queen Catherine de’ Medici ordered the buildings to be destroyed and from then on always dressed in black (despite the fact that French queens traditionally wore white when mourning).

In the early 17th century, this charming square was inaugurated by King Louis XIII. At its centre proudly stands an equestrian statue of king – this particular statue was erected in 1829 to replace an earlier version destroyed during the French Revolution. With the exception of Anne of Austria (Louis’ wife), no royals ever lived on the square. Plenty of famous Parisians, however, have called it home: they include the poet and novelist Victor Hugo; Cardinal Richelieu, the 17th-century cleric who served as Chief Minister to the king; and Post-Impressionist painter Georges Dufrénoy.

Place des Vosges is the forerunner of the residential squares found today all over major European cities, where they have become classic. As you can see, the square is surrounded on all sides by impressive almost-identical red-brick houses, and in front of them runs a series of vaulted arcades.

These played host to nobles and aristocrats, who flocked to the arcades to converse, dine and enjoy the fresh air. Poorly attired visitors were not welcome, and the square only became accessible to ordinary Parisians after the revolution. At that point, the square was renamed Place des Vosges as a tribute to the Vosges départment (one of about a hundred administrative units of France, located in the northeast of the country), which was the first French départment to pay taxes to the emerging republic.

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