Visit the Place de la Concorde, the largest square in Paris

The Place de la Concorde is a famous square located in the 8th district of Paris. Known to be the largest square in Paris, it is also one of the five royal squares of the capital. This esplanade, which has become a major tourist attraction in France, has also changed names several times throughout history. Located at the foot of the Champs Elysées, it adjoins the Tuileries Gardens and its imposing surface area covers more than 7 hectares. Built at the request of King Louis XV in a neoclassical style, the Place de la Concorde erects in its center an Egyptian obelisk from Luxor, more than 3300 years old. In this article, we will look at the history of this emblematic square of Paris, its evolution, while stopping on the architectural elements which compose it.

The origins of the Place de la Concorde

In the 18th century, the place hosted an esplanade half surrounded by a ditch, with at each end of the ground, two large open sewers. In 1748, an equestrian statue of King Louis XV was planned on the esplanade to celebrate his return from Metz, and to create a royal square. No less than 19 architects were asked to determine the best location for the statue. Ange-Jacques Gabriel, the king’s architect, proposed to retain a simple earthen esplanade located at the end of the Tuileries garden, which would be called “esplanade du pont tournant”, in reference to a wooden bridge located nearby. Other royal squares will appear in the capital, in areas still virgin of urbanization. In 1753, a competition was organized to develop the Place Louis XV, supervised by the king’s first architect, Ange-Jacques Gabriel. Supported by Madame de Pompadour, the latter supervised all the work, the development project of which was validated in 1755. Finally, the equestrian statue of Louis XV was inaugurated on June 20, 1763 and placed in the center of the esplanade, in the axis of the Tuileries garden and the Champs Elysées. The northern part of the square was completed in 1772. Other royal squares will be created in the capital:

  • Place Vendôme (1st district)
  • Place des Victoires (1st and 2nd arrondissement)
  • The place Dauphine (1st district)
  • Place des Vosges (3rd and 4th arrondissement)
The obelisk of the Concorde was offered by the viceroy of Egypt in 1831
The obelisk of the Concorde was offered by the viceroy of Egypt in 1831

Its evolution during the French Revolution

During the French Revolution, the old Place de la Concorde became a mandatory place for any convoy circulating in the capital, and also a high place of gathering. On October 6, 1789, Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette were repatriated from Versailles to Paris by the people, crossing the Place Louis XV, the future place of their execution. On August 11, 1792, the equestrian statue of Louis XV was knocked down to be sent to the cast iron. On this occasion, the Place Louis XV was renamed “Place de la Révolution”. A statue of liberty, with the effigy of the red bonnets, was erected in 1793 in place of that of Louis XV, before being removed in June 1800. The Place de la Révolution was the place where 1119 people were guillotined, including Louis XVI, Danton, Marie-Antoinette, Charlotte Corday, Robespierre and Philippe d’Orléans. In 1795, the horses of Marly, today visible in the Louvre Museum, were installed at the entrance to the Champs-Elysées. In the same year, the Convention (former French parliament) renamed the “Place de la Révolution” to “Place de la Concorde”.

The Place de la Concorde in the 19th century

Louis XVIII wished to erect a monument to the memory of his brother Louis XVI in the center of the square. The work on a statue of the king framed by a chapel and a weeping willow was launched by Charles X on May 3, 1826. On this occasion, the square was also renamed “Place Louis XVI” but the planned statue was never erected and the work was interrupted during the July Revolution of 1830. Once again, the esplanade changes its name to become “Place de la Concorde”. In 1831, the Viceroy of Egypt offered France two obelisks from the temple of Luxor, but alas, only one reached the capital in December 1833. Louis-Philippe, the last king of France, decided to erect the monolith in the center of the square so as not to recall any political events. Between 1836 and 1846, the architect Jaques-Ignace Hittorff proceeded with new developments on the Place de la Concorde. Two monumental fountains celebrating the river and sea navigations make their appearance on each side of the obelisk. The architect also added lampposts and rostral columns all around the Parisian esplanade. In 1854, the ditches adjacent to the square were filled in to adapt the site to traffic.

The hotels around the Parisian square

The Place de la Concorde is closed to the north by two large identical stone buildings separated by the Rue Royale. The facades, designed by the architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel, are inspired by the Louvre Museum. The building to the east is the Hotel de la Marine. Initially assigned to furniture storage, it was used by the Ministry of the Navy in 1799. The building located to the west was supposed to house the mint, but because it was too far from the business district, the land was divided into four lots and sold to private individuals. The closest hotel to the rue Royale is the Hotel Coislin, located at number 4. The Plessis-Bellière hotel and the Cartier hotel are respectively located at n°6 and n°8 of the Place de la Concorde. The most emblematic building remains the Hotel D’Aumont, which became the prestigious Hotel de Crillon in 1907 and whose grand staircase has been preserved. To the northeast of the square is also the Hotel Saint-Florentin, currently owned by the United States. The American Embassy is located on the northwest side of the square, in a neo-classical building built between 1931 and 1933.

The statue of Rouen located northwest of the Place de la Concorde
The statue of Rouen located northwest of the Place de la Concorde

The obelisk of Luxor

3300 years old, the famous Parisian monolith was offered by Egypt as a thank you for the translation work done by Champollion on the hieroglyphs. Placed in the center of the Place de la Concorde at the request of King Louis-Philippe, it is 22.86 meters high and weighs 227 tons. At the top of it rises a pyramidion of bronze and gold leaves of more than 3.5 meters. Dedicated to the memory of the Pharaoh Ramses II, it rests on a 9-meter base and its facade is decorated with hieroglyphs. It is located in the historical axis of Paris which extends from the Arc de Triomphe to the Arch of Defense, through the Tuileries garden and the Avenue des Champs-Elysées.

Statues and fountains of the Place de la Concorde

Each corner of the famous octagonal square hosts a statue representing a French city.

  • The statues of Brest and Rouen: they are located at the north-western corner, near the Crillon hotel. Sculpted by Jean-Pierre Cortot, the one in Rouen symbolizes the place where Louis XVI was guillotined.
  • The statues of Lille and Strasbourg: located at the northeast corner of the square, the statue of Strasbourg is inspired by Juliette Drouet, mistress of Victor Hugo and the sculptor.
  • The statues of Lyon and Marseille: sculpted by Louis Petitot, they are located in the southeast corner, on the side of the Orangery Museum.
  • The statues of Bordeaux and Nantes: sculpted by Louis-Denis Caillouette, they are located at the southwest corner of the esplanade.

Two monumental fountains are located on each side of the obelisk. The fountain of the seas was placed in the south, on the Seine side, and the fountain of the rivers in the north, on the rue Royale side. Inaugurated on May 1, 1840 by the prefect Rambuteau, they are made of cast iron and measure nearly 10 meters high each.

If you visit the capital, don’t miss a stop at the Place de la Concorde, the largest square in Paris, and also the 7th largest in Europe. Practical information, bus access, metro lines…for more information, visit www.parisinfo.com.

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