Place de la Bastille
The place we’re visiting today, is a “place”…
Place de la Bastille (Bastille Square) was the location of the notorious Bastille stronghold, which was stormed on July 14, 1789, triggering the start of the French Revolution.
After the defeat of the French at Poitiers in 1356 during the 100 year war with England, there was need for a stronghold to protect Paris from invasion.
Construction of this stronghold started in 1370 and was completed in 1382. Known as the Bastille, the massive building had four meter wide walls and eight 22m (72ft) high towers.
The stronghold was later converted into a prison by Richelieu. Most of the prisoners were enemies of the king, sent to prison by a simple order under the king’s seal. Some of the most famous inmates were Voltaire , Fouquet and Sade. The Bastille had a terrible reputation, but in reality there were few prisoners and the treatment was better than in most prisons. Nonetheless, the Bastille became a symbol of the arbitrariness of the monarchy.
Two days after the crowds had captured the Bastille stronghold, orders were given to demolish the building. A marking in the Boulevard Henri IV shows where the former building was located. Some stones of the foundation are visible in the Bastille subway station.
The square of the Bastille was created later, in 1803. It included a fountain in the shape of an elephant, which is referred to by Victor Hugo in his novel ‘Les Misérables’. The 24 meter high fountain was removed in 1847.
The only monument still standing on the square is the Colonne de Juillet, a column commemorating another revolution in 1830 during which king Charles X was replaced by king Louis-Philippe. The 52 meter high column (171 ft) honors the 504 victims during the 3 days of the revolution. Another 196 victims of yet another revolution were added to the crypt in 1848. The column is topped by the ‘Spirit of Liberty’ statue.
Colonne de Juillet
Colonne de Juillet is a monumental column in Paris commemorating the Revolution of 1830. It stands in the center of the Place de la Bastille and celebrates the 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. It was built between 1835 and 1840.
The Colonne de Juillet is composed of twenty-one cast bronze drums, weighing over 74,000 kilograms (163,000 lb); it is 47 metres (154 ft) high, containing an interior spiral staircase, and rests on a base of white marble ornamented with bronze bas-reliefs, of which the lion by Antoine-Louis Barye is the most noted. The roosters at the corners are also by Barye. The column is engraved in gold with the names of those who died during the July 1830 revolution.
Over the Corinthian capital, at the top of the pillar, is a gallery 4.9 metres (16 ft) wide, surmounted with a gilded globe, on which 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 civilisation and the remains of his broken chains.
Formerly, the figure also appeared on French ten-franc coins. Gustave Flaubert, in Sentimental Education, compares the statue to a large golden star shining in the east.
The imposing Bastille Opera building was opened on July 14, 1989 during the bicentennial celebrations of the French revolution. It was part of the ‘grand projects’ initiated by the former French president François Mitterrand.
The massive building was meant to be a modern and democratic opera building, as opposed to the aristocratic Palais Garnier.
The Bastille Opera is by far the largest opera building of the two. Its auditorium seats 2700 people.
The design by Carlos Ott, chosen from 750 entries in an international competition, contrasts starkly with its environment. A metro exit as well as shops are integrated in the building, reinforcing the idea of a ‘people’s opera’.
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