Where are the sites and monuments from the French Revolution?
Some remains of the Bastille, the state prison which was famously stormed thus sparking the French Revolution, can be seen in a small park known as Square Henri Galli in Paris.
A small plaque next to what seems like an innocuous pile of stones marks this out as the remains of one of the most notorious sites in history.
For the original location of this prison, see the entry for The Bastille.
Place de la Concorde in Paris was the site where King Louis XVI was executed on 21 January 1793.
During the French Revolution, Place de la Concorde was named Place de la Revolution. Prior to this, it had been known as Place Louis XV and had contained a statue of the monarch. However, when the revolution took hold, this monument was taken down and replaced with the guillotine.
Place de la Concorde became the focus of the executions of France’s elite during the Reign of Terror, a period of exceptional violence during the French Revolution. Over 1,300 people were executed at Place de la Concorde, amongst them Louis XVI’s wife Marie Antoinette and even leading revolutionary figures such as Danton and Robespierre.
Today, Place de la Concorde is the home of the Luxor Obelisk. This monument was gifted to the French by the viceroy of Egypt in 1833 and it once formed part of the ancient Luxor Temple.
La Conciergerie in Paris, France is located on an important site which once formed the seat of the city’s Roman leaders during their occupation of Gaul. La Conciergerie itself originally formed part of thirteenth century Palais de Justice, the royal palace built by King Philip IV. It served this role until the 1350’s, when the French royals moved to the Louvre.
As it ceased being used as a royal residence, La Conciergerie became the site where judicial functions were carried out, a purpose which parts of the palace still fulfil today.
From 1391, La Conciergerie’s judicial function took on a different character as it was transformed into a prison. Thus it remained for centuries, playing its sinister role during the French Revolution as the home of the ominous Revolutionary Tribunal which sent thousands of prisoners to the guillotine.
In the course of the Revolution, La Conciergerie held over a thousand prisoners at any given time. Some of the most famous inmates at La Conciergerie included Francois Ravaillac, the assassin of King Henri IV, imprisoned there in 1610, revolutionaries Georges Danton and Maximilien Robespierre, and, most prominently, Queen Marie Antoinette. Each was then executed.
Visitors to La Conciergerie can enjoy both its impressive medieval architecture, such as its large Hall of the Men at Arms and its history, both royal and as an instrument of punishment. Its original torture chambers can still be viewed.
The Palais de Justice in Île de la Cité in Paris is a vast and majestic gothic structure, the site of which was originally the home of governors of Ancient Rome.
Palais de Justice then became the royal residence of the French monarchy such as Louis IX and remained as such until Charles V moved the royal palaces to Marais in 1358 following the Jacquerie revolt.
As the current seat of the French judicial system, the Palais de Justice serves a function which it has fulfilled in various guises since medieval times. This began in earnest in April 1793, when the civil chamber or “Premier Chambre Civile” of the Palais de Justice became the home of the Revolutionary Tribunal. This was the fearsome court of the French Revolution from which the Reign of Terror was systematically carried out.
Also part of the Palais de Justice is the famous prison known as La Conciergerie and it is next to Sainte Chapelle, which was built by Louis IX.
The Palace of Versailles was originally the hunting lodge of France’s King Louis XIII, but was transformed into a magnificent residence by his son and successor, Louis XIV.
The ostentatious monarch built the Grand Apartment of the King and Queen which included the magnificent Hall of Mirrors before moving both his court and the government of France to Versailles in 1682. And so it remained until the French Revolution in 1789.
In the 19th Century King Louis-Philippe turned it into the Museum of the History of France. The gardens of the Palace of Versailles, designed by André Le Nôtre at the instruction of Louis XIV, are equally spectacular and took forty years to complete.
There are numerous places to visit at the Palace of Versailles and a range of tour options. Audio headsets are available as are guided tours. When visiting the Palace of Versailles, you can also see Marie Antoinette’s estate and The Grande Trianon.
6. The Bastille
The Bastille was a fourteenth century fortress turned prison in Paris which would become central in igniting the French Revolution. On 14 July 1789, a large group descended on the Bastille demanding that its prisoners – by now only seven were held there – be released. Their main aim was to have access to weapons and gunpowder that were held in the Bastille.
After some negotiations, the crowd became restless and stormed the prison, an incident known as the “storming of the Bastille”. Whilst the storming of the Bastille had been preceded by general turmoil in Paris, this chaotic event is widely considered to have been the catalyst of the French Revolution. It was followed by the abolition of feudalism and the signing of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, a central document of the revolution.
The Bastille was later torn down by the revolutionary government. It was located in what is now known as Place de la Bastille, as shown on the map. Place de la Bastille is now a busy junction with a plaque about the prison. It is centred on a tall statue called Colonne de Juillet – the July Column – which commemorates the events leading up to the revolution.
Some remains of the Bastille building can now be seen at Square Henri Galli, a small park nearby.
Monument aux Girondins (The Girondins Monument) is a dramatic fountain statue in Bordeaux which commemorates the Girondists.
The Girondists were originally part of France’s Legislative Assembly, becoming one of the groups which supported the French Revolution as it began. In fact, they were one of the legislature’s most militant sections.
However, in October 1793, the Girondists were executed under the orders of one of the leaders of the Revolution, Maximilien Robespierre after they began opposing the movement.
Monument aux Girondins was built in the early twentieth century as a memorial to the Girondists, now considered to be political martyrs. Depicting the Statue of Liberty standing atop a large pillar and flanked by two pools containing spectacular statues, Monument aux Girondins is a striking memorial to the Reign of Terror.
The Pantheon in Paris (Le Pantheon), was built as a result of King Louis XV’s determination to create an edifice to the glory of St-Genèvieve, the patron saint of Paris.
“The Pantheon” means “Every God” and construction began in 1758 with the intention that the building be a church. However, it was completed just before the French Revolution in 1789 and the revolutionary government converted The Pantheon into a mausoleum for the interment of great Frenchmen.
The Pantheon’s crypt is now the burial place of many French icons and bears the inscription ‘Aux Grands Hommes La Patrie Reconnaissante’, meaning "To the great men, the grateful homeland".
Those buried there include Rousseau, Émile Zola, Victor Hugo, Voltaire, Jean Moulin, Marie Skłodowska-Curie, and the architect of the Pantheon Jacques-Germain Soufflot. In fact, Soufflot died before the Pantheon was completed, meaning that his vision of a semi-gothic building with elements of basic principals was somewhat compromised.
Guided tours of the Pantheon are available and last approximately 45 minutes.
The Basilica of St Denis (Basilique Saint-Denis) in Paris, France is a cathedral basilica named after France’s patron saint. In fact, the place where Basilica of St Denis stands is believed to the site where Saint Denis, also known as Saint Dionysius, was buried after his death in around 275 AD, making the then abbey church a place of pilgrimage.
Whilst originally founded in the 7th century, the current Basilica of St Denis was built in a gothic style in the 12th century by the Regent of France, Abbot Suger.
From the 7th century onwards, and officially from the 10th century, the Basilica of St Denis acquired a new and important role as the burial place of the kings and queens of France. It retained this role for hundreds of years and all but three of France’s monarchs were buried there. However, during the French Revolution, many of the tombs were opened and the remains removed.
In 1966 the Basilica of St Denis became a cathedral.
Today, the Basilica of St Denis is open to the public, allowing views beyond its stunning façade into its vaulted interior. Inside, visitors can view its incredible necropolis.
Guided tours and audio guides are available in English, French, Spanish and Italian, lasting between an hour and a quarter and an hour and a half.
10. Fort Saint Jean
Fort Saint Jean was one of two fortresses built by King Louis XIV in Marseille in the seventeenth century. Construction began in the 1660’s under the guise of wanting to protect Marseille from outside attack. In fact, the purpose of Fort Saint Jean was to subdue a rebellion by the citizens against royal rule, a role also fulfilled be Fort Saint Nicholas on the other end of the harbour.
The site on which Fort Saint Jean was erected was previously home to a fourteenth century complex of buildings built by the Knights Hospitallers of Jerusalem during the crusades. It included a palace, chapel and a hospital. A later addition to the site was the René I Tower, built in the mid-fifteenth century and dedicated to the then king of Provence. Some of these buildings were incorporated into Fort Saint Jean.
Fort Saint Jean was garrisoned until the French Revolution when it became a prison housing, amongst others, the Duke of Orléans, Louis Philippe II and his two sons. Louis Philippe II had originally been a proponent of the revolution, even taking to being called “Philippe Égalité”, but was not spared in the Reign of Terror, eventually being executed by guillotine.
World War II
In World War II, Fort Saint Jean served as a munitions storage facility during the Nazi occupation of Marseille. This would spell the destruction of much of Fort Saint Jean as, in 1944, some of the ammunition stored within it exploded. It is home to the Museum of Civilizations in Europe and the Mediterranean, although at the time of writing, this may be undergoing renovation.