Asked in Paris
Paris

What is the place de la Concorde?

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01/06/2012

This great square in the centre of Paris was originally designed by Gabriel to be a present from the people of Paris to King Louis XV, at that time known as Louis the Well-Beloved. He created a 21-acre octagon surrounded by a dry moat, with a statue of the King in the centre. At intervals around the moat were statues representing the chief towns of France, and the centre of the square was reached by four bridges. Amusingly, the squatters of Paris soon discovered that the pedestals of the statues were hollow, and they moved in, hanging out washing and growing vegetables in the moat. In 1770, however, the crowd in the square panicked during a firework display held to celebrate the wedding of the King's son. 133 people were crushed to death in the moat, which had to be filled in.

During the Reign of Terror the Square's name was changed from Place Louis XV to Place de la Révolution, and on Oct. 1792 the guillotine was set there. 1,119 people were beheaded there, including Louis XVI on Jan. 21, 1793. After that, the square was given its present name (Concord means Peace and Harmony), and the bridge across the river was built with stones taken from the demolished Bastille. In the reign of Louis-Philippe the square was completed by an architect named Hittorff, who added the fountains and brought from the ruined palace of Marly the statues at the entrances of the Tuileries gardens ('Winged Horses' by Coustou) and the Champs-Élysées ('Horse-tamers' by Coysevox). The Obelisk in the centre of the square was a gift to the people of France from Mohammed Ali, Pasha of Egypt. It is 3,300 years old and weighs 2,200 tons. Around the base of the obelisk, which came from the Temple of Luxor, are carvings representing the machines used to bring it to Paris and set it up (Cleopatra's needle, you may remember, was both broken and lost at sea on its way to London, so the French engineers had something to crow about).

The two vast buildings to the North of the square are part of Gabriel's original plan. The Western one, now the Hôtel Crillon, was originally palaces for several noblemen; the other, now the Navy Ministry, was the royal furniture store. The Kings, you see, had about fifty palaces and châteaux; rather than keep them all furnished all the time, they kept the furniture in a central store and sent it out as needed.