The Place de la Bastille

By Augustus J. C. Hare


The south end of the Rue des Tournelles falls into the Place de la Bastille, containing Le Colonne de Juillet, surmounted by a statue of Liberty, and erected 1831-1840. This marks the site of the famous castle- prison of the Bastille, which for four centuries and a half terrified Paris, and which has left a name to the quarter it frowned upon. Hugues Ambriot, Mayor of Paris, built it under Charles V. to defend the suburb which contained the royal palace of St. Paul. Unpopular from the excess of his devotion to his royal master, Aubriot was the first prisoner in his own prison.

Perhaps the most celebrated of the long list of after captives were the Connetable de St. Pol and Jacques d'Armagnac, Due de Nemours, taken thence for execution to the Place de Greve under Louis XI., Charles de Gontaut, Due de Biron, executed within the walls of the fortress under Henri IV., and the "Man with the Iron Mask," brought hither mysteriously, September 18, 1698, and who died in the Bastille, November 19, 1703.

A thousand engravings show us the Bastille as it was--as a "fort-bastide" --built on the line of the city walls just to the south of the Porte St. Antoine, surrounded by its own moat. It consisted of eight round towers, each bearing a characteristic name, connected by massive walls, ten feet thick, pierced with narrow slits by which the cells were lighted. In the early times it had entrances on three sides, but after 1580 only one, with a drawbridge over the moat on the side toward the river, which led to outer courts and a second drawbridge, and wound by a defended passage to an outer entrance opposite the Rue des Tournelles.

Close beside the Bastille, to the north, rose the Porte St. Antoine, approached over the city fosse by its own bridge, at the outer end of which was a triumphal arch built on the return of Henri II. from Poland in 1573. Both gate and arch were restored for the triumphal entry of Louis XIV. in 1667; but the gate (before which Etienne Marcel was killed, July, 1358), was pulled down in 1674.

The Bastille was taken by the people, July 14, 1789, and the National Assembly decreed its demolition…. The massive circular pedestal upon which the Colonne de Juillet now rests was intended by Napoleon I. to support a gigantic fountain in the form of an elephant, instead of the column which, after the destruction of the Bastille, the "tiers etat" of Paris had asked to erect "a Louis XVI., restaurateur de la liberte publique." It is characteristic of the Parisians that on the very same spot the throne of Louis Philippe was publicly burned, February 24, 1848. The model for the intended elephant existed here till the middle of the reign of Louis Philippe, and is depicted by Victor Hugo as the lodging of "Le petit Gavroche."

[10] From "Walks in Paris." By arrangement with the publisher, David McKay. Copyright, 1880.