Guide Tour of the Place de la Concorde, Paris, France

The Place de la Concorde is one of the major public squares in Paris, which covers 8.64 hectares, is the largest square in the French capital. Place de la Concorde has played a major part in the history of France. Today it is famous for the Luxor Obelisk, a 3,300 year old Egyptian obelisk), the surrounding prestigious hotels, and the two monumental fountains, Fontaine des Mers and Fontaine des Fleuves. A temporary stand is built in the square each year from which dignitaries review the military parade on Bastille Day.

It is located in the city’s eighth arrondissement, at the eastern end of the Champs-Élysées. An essential sight to see in Paris, with the obelisk, the fountains, the Marly horses and the Hôtel de Crillon. Place de la Concorde is actually an octagon with fantastic vistas in every direction, that connects Champs-Elysées to the Jardin des Tuileries and Eglise de la Madeleine to the Palais Bourbon across the river. With the Champs-Elysées to the west, the Tuileries Garden to the east, the Rue Royale and La Madeleine church to the north, and the River Seine to the south.

This square was designed between 1757 and 1779 and named Place Louis XV. In the center there was an equestrian statue of the King Louis XV, made to celebrate his better health after having suffered a long illness. In 1792 the statue was torn down and melted and the square was renamed Revolution square. During the French Revolution, this square was the chosen location for the public beheadings by guillotine of over 1,200 people. Some of the most famous figures guillotined were Queen Marie Antoinette, King Louis XVI and Maximilien Robespierre.

When this bloodthirsty period ended in 1795, the square was baptized Place de la Concorde. The name “Place de la Concorde” would have been chosen by the Directory to mark the reconciliation of the French after the excesses of the Terror of the French Revolution period. Its name has changed many times, it was called “place Louis XV”, then “place de la Révolution” after August 10, 1792, “place de la Concorde” under the Directory, the Consulate and the Empire, again “place Louis XV” then “place Louis XVI” under the Restoration, “place de la Charte ” in 1830, to finally resume under the July Monarchythe name “Place de la Concorde”.

Between 1836 and 1846 the architect Jacques-Ignace Hittorf redesigned the square to become what it is today. A giant 3,000-years-old Egyptian obelisk from Luxor, offered by the Khedive of Egypt, was placed in the center of the square. Aligned with the obelisk there are two river and sea-themed fountains influenced by the fountains of Rome. The north side of the square is closed with the buildings of the French Naval Ministry and the Crillon Hotel, one of the oldest and most elegant hotels in Paris. From the obelisk, the views of Paris are breath-taking. On one side, you see the Tuileries Garden with the Louvre Museum in the background, and on the other side, you see the Champs-Élysées and the Arc de Triomphe.

This monumental complex is, from the point of view of urban development, the most important creation of the Age of Enlightenment in the capital. It expresses a privileged moment in the evolution of French taste: that which saw, towards the middle of the 18th century, the decline of the rocaille style and the birth of a new classicism including Ange-Jacques Gabriel, its architect, and Edmé Bouchardon, The monuments that adorned or should have adorned its center: equestrian statue of Louis XV, Statue of Liberty, statue of Louis XVI, obelisk of Luxor. The sculptor of the equestrian statue of Louis XV erected in the center of the square and destroyed during the Revolution, are among the pioneers.

Today it is a majestic square overlooking the Seine and the Tuileries Garden. At its center stands the 3,200-year-old Obelisk of Luxor. 23 meters high, it forms the axis of a gigantic sundial. It is framed by the Fountain of the Seas and the Fountain of the Rivers which light up to offer a magical spectacle after dark. The square is bordered by two buildings with identical colonnaded facades which house the luxurious Crillon and a jewel of Parisian heritage the Hôtel de la Marine. Former Crown furniture storage then Ministry of the Navy, it is now open to the general public for an immersive visit of its sumptuous apartments and ceremonial lounges.

For most of the history of Paris, the land that Place de la Concorde sits on was a swamp, until Louis XV commanded his royal architect, Ange-Jacques Gabriel to find the perfect setting for an equestrian statue of the king himself.

The place was originally designed to be the site of an equestrian statue of King Louis XV, commissioned in 1748 by the merchants of Paris, to celebrate the recovery of King Louis XV from a serious illness. The site chosen for the statue was the large esplanade or space between the revolving gate the Tuileries Gardens and the Cour-la-Reine, a popular lane for horseback riding at the edge of the city. At the time the Concorde bridge and the Rue de Rivoli did not exist, and the Rue Royale was a muddy lane that descended down to a marsh beside the Seine.

The architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel made a plan for the site, and the square was finished by 1772. It was in the form of an octagon, bordered by a sort of moat twenty meters wide, crossed by stone bridges, and surrounded by a stone balustrade. At the eight corners Gabriel placed stone stairways to descend into the place, which was divided into flowerbeds. In the center of the gardens was the pedestal on which the statue stood. The statue, by Bouchardon, depicted the King on horseback as the victor of the Battle of Fontenoy, dressed as a Roman general, with a laurel wreath on his head. On the four corners of the pedestal, designed by Jean Chalgrin, are bronze statues by Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, depicting the virtues of great monarchs; Force, Justice, Prudence, and Peace.

The statue was dedicated on June 20, 1763. On the north side of the square, between 1760 and 1775, Gabriel planned and builttwo palatial buildings with identical facades. The classical facades were inspired by those created by Charles Perrault, the royal architect, for the facade of the Louvre. They were originally intended to be occupied by embassies, but in the end the east building became a depot for the Royal furnishings, then the headquarters of the French Navy, the Hôtel de la Marine. The west building was divided into individual properties for the nobility.

Beginning in 1789, the Place was a central stage for the events of the French Revolution. On 13 July 1789, a mob came to the Hotel de la Marine and seized a store of weapons, including two old cannon, gifts from the King of Siam, which fired the first shots during the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789. On 11 August 1792, the statue of Louis XV was pulled down and taken to a foundry, where it was melted down. A few months later, a new statue, “Liberty”, by the sculptor Lemon, took its place; it was figure wearing a red liberty cap and holding a lance. The Place Louis XV became Place de la Revolution.

The first executions by guillotine in the square, those of the two thieves who had stolen the royal crown diamonds from the Hotel de la Marine, took place there in October, 1792. On 21 January, 1793, the guillotine was brought out again for the execution of King Louis XVI. As the Reign of Terror commenced, it was set up again on 11 May, 1793, midway between the Statue of Liberty and the turning bridge at the entrance to the Tuileries Gardens, and remained there for thirteen months.

Of the 2,498 persons executed by the guillotine in Paris during the Revolution, 1,119 were executed on the Place de la Concorde, 73 on Place Bastille and 1,306 on Place de la Nation. Beside Louis XVI, other executed there included Marie-Antoinette, Charlotte Corday, Madame du Barry, and Antoine Lavoisier, and in the later days of the Terror, after 27 July, 1794, the revolutionaries Georges Danton, Maximilien Robespierre and Louis de Saint-Just. The last executions, those of the Prairial rlot participants, were carried out there in May 1795.

In 1795, under the Directory, the square was renamed Place de la Concorde as a gesture of reconciliation after the turmoil of the revolution. In 1806, Napoleon Bonaparte began to construct the Rue de Rivoli along the edge of the square. After the Bourbon Restoration of 1814, the name was changed back to Place Louis XV, and in 1826 the square was renamed Place Louis XVI. After the July Revolution of 1830 the name was returned to Place de la Concorde.

Under King Louis-Philippe, and his prefect of the Seine, Rambuteau, the square was remade. In 1832, Jacques Ignace Hittorff was named chief architect of the project. In 1831, the viceroy of Egypt, Muhammad Ali, gave France one of the obelisks of Luxor Temple in Thebes as a gift and token of gratitude for Champollion’s work on translating hieroglyphics. The obelisk was installed in the middle of Place de la Concorde on 25 October 1836 under the orders of Louis-Philippe, King of the French.. It was hoisted into place, before a huge crowd, on 25 October 1836.

Hittorff commissioned celebrated sculptors, including James Pradier and Jean-Pierre Cortot to make eight statues representing the major cities of France, which were placed in 1838 on columns which had earlier been put in place around the square by Gabriel. a ring of twenty columns with lanterns were put in place at the same time.

Between 1836 and 1840, Hittorff erected two monumental fountains, the Fontaine Maritime on the side of the Seine, and the Fontaine Fluviale on the side of the Rue Royale. The design, with two fountains each nine meters high, was modelled after that of the fountains of Saint-Peters Square in Rome. In 1853, under Napoleon III, the deep moats around the square were filled in.

The Place was the entry point of two major international expositions: the Paris Universal Exposition of 1900, which left behind the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais; and the 1925 International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts, which gave its name to Art Deco. It was also the site of great national celebrations, including the victory celebrations of the end of the First World War and the Liberation of Paris in the Second World War. It experienced violent confrontations. A demonstration against parliamentary corruption in 1934 turned violent, with eleven deaths and two hundred injured. It also hosted triumphant celebrations of sports events such as France winning the FIFA Soccer World Cup in 1998.

Architecture Layout
The square was designed by Ange-Jacques Gabriel in 1755 as an octagon bordered by the Champs-Élysées and the Tuileries Garden. The fountains, added by Hittorff, are inspired by those in St. Peter ‘s Basilica in Rome. The main particularity of the Place de la Concorde is that it is limited by “emptiness” on three sides (unlike most squares which are surrounded by buildings on all sides): the Champs-Élysées, the Jardin des Tuileries, and the Seine.

During the reign of Louis-Philippe, the square was redesigned by Jacques Hittorff: two gigantic fountains, the Fountain of the Seas and the Fountain of the Rivers, were installed, a statue representing a French city was placed on each of the eight corners of the octagonal square, as well as the Luxor obelisk offered by Egypt to King Charles X, the oldest monument in Paris, which can be seen from the Hotel Brighton. The two horse sculptures of Marly were also erected at this time on either side of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. They were later replaced by copies so that they could be exhibited in the Louvre.

North Side
The north side of the square, along the Rue de Rivoli, is occupied by two palatial buildings, whose matching facades were designed by Ange-Jacques Gabriel. They are separated by the Rue Royale, which enters the square from the north and was also designed by Gabriel. He planned the harmonious facades of the buildings along Rue Royale, including the facade and interior of his own residence at Number eight.

At the north end, two large identical stone buildings complete the perspective. Divided by Rue Royale, these structures are among the best examples of 18th – century architecture. The Neo-classical facades of the two major buildings on the Place de la Concorde are nearly identical. Their design was inspired by the east front of the Louvre, begun in 1667 by Louis Le Vau, architect of Louis XIV, Charles Le Brun, and Charles Perrault. The front is decorated with sculpted medallions and guerlands, another feature borrowed from the Louvre east front. The long front of colonnades is balanced at either end two sections with triangular frontons and Corinthian columnns.

Only the facades were designed by Gabriel and erected between 1766 and 1775. They are inspired by the colonnade of the Louvre built by Claude Perrault by the principle of a colonnade raised on a strongly marked base (here by vigorous bosses), the large entablature, the corner pavilions, and also by decorative elements such as oval medallions adorned with garlands. The pediments are decorated with allegories of agriculture, commerce, magnificence and public bliss by Michel-Ange Slodtz and Guillaume II Coustou.

The building on the east, the Hôtel de la Marine, was originally the royal Garde-Meuble, the depot for all the royal furnishings. Marie-Antoinette also had a small apartment there. In 1792, during the Revolution, it became the headquarters of the French Navy. The Navy departed in 2015, and the building is now a national monument and museum. The ceremonial rooms of the Navy and the apartments of the original intendants before the Revolution have been restored. Since 2021 the building is also home to the Al Thani Collection, a collection of ancient art from early civilisations brought together by It is owned by Sheik Hamad bin Abdullah Khalifa Al Thani, first cousin of the Emir of Qatar.

East Side
On the east the Place is bordered by the two terraces of the Tuileries Garden, the park of the royal palace. The palace was burned by the Paris Commune in 1871, and few vestiges remain. The highly-ornate gilded gateway to the garden was designed by Ange-Jacques Gabriel, the architect to the Place, and leads to the grand promenade of the garden which extends east as far as the Louvre. The gateway is flanked by two monumental equestrian sculptures by Antoine Coysevox, “Fame Riding Pegasus” and “Mercury Riding Pegasus”, made for the Chateau of Marly of Louis XIV, and installed at the Tuileries in 1719. They are copies; the originals are now in the Louvre.

The early west gateway of Paris, the Port de la Conference, was located at the south end of the Place, next to the Seine. It was built by Henry III of France, and as the city grew was demolished in 1730. A revolving bridge originally gave entry to the gardens; it was located where the ornamental is today.

The terraces of the Garden overlooking the Place de la Concorde are the home of two museums. At the north end, near the Rue de Rivoli, is the National Gallery of the Jeu de Paume. It was built under Emperor Louis Napoleon as the imperial tennis court in 1861 and was enlarged in 1878. During the Second World War it was used by the Germans as a depot for storing looted art. From 1947 until 1986 it displayed the Impressionist paintings of the Louvre. In 1997, it was entirely rebuilt, and now displays temporary exhibitions of contemporary art.

Closer to the Seine is the Orangerie Museum, which was built in 1852 by architect Firmin Bourgeois as a winter shelter for the Tuilerie citrus trees, also under Napoleon III. It was later converted into an art exhibition hall, and since 1927 it has been the home of one of the most famous groups of works of Impressionism, the eight paintings of the “Water Lilies” series by Claude Monet. It also displays the Walter Guillaume collection of impressionist and paintings and works from the school of Paris.

The terrace overlooking the Place also displays a number of important works of sculpture. These include, since 1998, four works by Auguste Rodin; “The Kiss” (1881-1888); a bronze copy of the marble original, cast in 1934; “Eve” (1881); The “Grand Shadow” (1881); and “Meditation, with arms” (1881-1905). It also displays more modern works, including “Le Belle Costumé” (1973) by Jean Dubuffet, and “Le Grand Commandement Blanc” by Alain Kirili (1986). Two marble statues of lions are also displayed on the terrace, dating from 18th century, and made by Giuseppe Franchi.

Luxor Obelisk
The centrepiece of the place is an ancient Egyptian obelisk decorated with hieroglyphics exalting the reign of the pharaoh Ramesses II. The obelisk, a yellow granite column, rises 23 metres high, including the base, and weighs over 250 tonnes. The obelisk is located on the line of the historic axis of Paris which goes from the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel to the Arche de la Défense through the Tuileries Garden and the Avenue des Champs-Élysées.

It is one of two which the Egyptian government gave to the French in the 19th century. The obelisk once marked the entrance to the Luxor Temple. The Khedive of Egypt, or royal constitutional monarch, Muhammad Ali Pasha, offered the 3,300-year-old Luxor Obelisk as a diplomatic gift to France in 1829. It arrived in Paris on 21 December 1833. Three years later, it was hoisted into place, on top of the pedestal which originally supported the statue of Louis XV, destroyed during the Revolution.

The raising of the column was a major feat of engineering, depicted by illustrations on the base of the monument. King Louis Philippe dedicated the obelisk on 25 October 1836.Given the technical limitations of the day, transporting it was no easy feat – on the pedestal are drawn diagrams explaining the machinery that was used for the transportation. The government of France added a gold-leafed pyramidal cap to the top of the obelisk in 1998, replacing the missing original, believed stolen in the 6th century BC.

Since June 1999, the obelisk has served as a gnomon for a sundial, occupying the northern half of the square. The shadow of the top of the monolith, carried between converging lines, materialized on the ground by strips and metal inlays in the coating of place 24, indicates the solar hour appearing in Roman numerals at the end of the lines. The two curves of the solstices and the straight line of the equinoxes are materialized by bronze nails sealed in the roadway.

When he had completed the installation of the Luxor Obelisk, in 1836, Jacques-Ignace Hittorff, chief architect of the square, moved ahead with two new fountains to complement the obelisk. Hittorff had been a student of the Neoclassical designer Charles Percier at the École des Beaux-Arts. The had spent had spent two years studying the architecture and fountains of Rome, particularly the Piazza Navona and Piazza San Pietro, each of which had obelisks aligned with fountains.

Hittorff’s fountains were each nine meters high, matching the height of the earlier columns and statues around the Place representing great French cities. The Maritime Fountain was on the south, between the obelisk and Seine, and illustrated the seas bordering France, while the Fluvial Fountains or river fountain, on the north, between the Obelisk and the Rue Rue Royale, illustrated the great rivers of France. It is located in the same place where the guillotine which executed Louis XVI had been placed.

Both fountains had the same form: a stone basin; six figures of tritons or naiads holding fish spouting water; six seated allegorical figures, their feet on the prows of ships, supporting the pedestal, of the circular vasque; four statues of different forms of genius in arts or crafts supporting the upper inverted upper vasque; whose water shot up and then cascaded down to the lower vasque and then the basin.

The north fountain was devoted to the Rivers, with allegorical figures representing the Rhone and the Rhine, the arts of the harvesting of flowers and fruits, harvesting and grape growing; and the geniuses of river navigation, industry, and agriculture.

The south fountain, closer to the Seine, represented the seas, with figures representing the Atlantic and the Mediterranean; harvesting coral; harvesting fish; collecting shellfish; collecting pearls; and the geniuses of astronomy, navigation, and commerce.

2024 Paris Summer Olympics
In January 2021, Anne Hidalgo, the Mayor of Paris, announced that the city would undertake an ambitious €250 million redesign of the Place de la Concorde and the Champs-Élysées. Work on the Place de la Concorde will be the first to be undertaken in advance of the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.

The redesign is intended to increase pedestrian space, reduce car traffic, and add more trees for improved air quality along the Champs-Élysées. Traffic will be directed around the outside edges of the Place. The number of traffic lanes will be greatly reduced. Four large areas of trees and greenery will be created in the corners of the square around the obelisk and monuments and open space in the center. A walkway will connect over 200 acres of green space between the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs-Élysées, the Place de la Concorde, and the Tuileries Gardens.