La Place de la Concorde, with
the Luxor Obelisk.
La Place de la Concorde is a large square lying just to the west of Les
Tuileries. It was created in 1755 and has an octagonal shape that
originally (for some strange reason) was surrounded by moats. Then
known as the Place Louis XV, it was the site of an equestrian statue of
During the French Revolution the name of the square was changed to La
Place de la Revolution. During the Reign of Terror a guillotine was
placed in the square and it became the original site of state executions.
The guillotine was later moved down closer to Les Tuileries. It was said
that the square eventually became soaked in so much blood that cattle
refused to pass over it.
A few years later, during the period of The Directorate, the name of
the square was changed again to Place de la Concorde — perhaps in the
hope that sanity had at last been regained and that things had settled
down. There were of few more name changes over the years, but eventually
it simply was known as the Place de la Concorde.
During the Second Republic and the reign of Louis-Philippe, La Place
acquired two Italianate style fountains designed by Jacques-Ignace
Hittorff. They date from 1838.
Facing the square to the north are the French Naval Ministry, and in a
matching building the Hotel de Crillon — where Marie Antoinette played
cards and the Nazis made their headquarters in World War II. Just down
the street and also to the north is the famous Church de la Madeleine.
To the west is the Champs-Elysees and (eventually) the Arc de Triomphe.
To the south lies the Ponte de la Concord and the river Seine. Thus La
Place could offer the newbie tourist a good directional base from which
to explore the city. Although I certainly wouldn't be staying at the
Hotel de Crillon, which is one of those "if you have to ask how much
you can't afford it" type of places.
Lobby of the Hotel Crillon.
Shortly before his military expedition to Egypt in 1798, Napoleon's
mistress Josephine is reputed to have told him "If you go to Thebes,
do send me a little obelisk." Which I think has to rank among the most
naive statements in history. Nevertheless in 1829 France did acquire
two obelisks from Karnak as a gift of the Ottoman ruler. One of the
obelisks was transported to France and in 1836 was placed in La Place
de la Concord. Only one of the two granted obelisks ever made it to
France given the huge technical undertaking involved. The second one
remained at Karnak and was ceded back to Egypt in the 1990s. As for
Josephine, she did not live to see her "little obelisk" reach France
The Karnak obelisk is from the reign of Rameses II (Dynasty XIX,
1279-1213 according to the new Egyptian "low" chronology). It is 75
feet tall and weights 280 tons. The triangular cap on the obelisk was
was lost across the millenia, and so the French replaced it with a
gold-plated capstone of similar style. The original base with its
depiction of baboons (a reference to the Book of the Dead) was left in
Egypt, and was replaced by the French with a new base depicting the
logistics of erecting the giant stone.
And thus the obelisk stands today, roughly 3200 years later, in La
Place de la Concorde.
Well my feet are tired (or I guess I should say my fingertips are
tired), and with this I conclude my virtual freebie vacation of Paris
and the 18th century. I certainly did learn a few new things. And
though I will never see Paris, I know that it would be a city that I
The second, twin obelisk at Karnak (Luxor).
"Open are the double doors of the horizon,
Unlocked are its bolts."