Place des Vosges is one of my « must » stops in Paris for a variety of reasons.
Why, you ask?
- First because of its majestic architecture
- Second for its history
- Third for the impromptu concerts
- Fourth for its art galleries
- …and fifth, for its luxurious lawns at nap time. Obligatory after eating fabulous falafel (see my previous post “Rue des Rosiers – Out and About Paris”).
Place des Vosges is located in the Marais district (4th arrondissement) not far from Bastille. You can easily hop on the nearest metro and get off at either Bastille or Saint-Paul stations (lines 1, 5 and 8), or if you took my earlier suggestion, it’s just a few blocks from Rue des Rosiers.
Place des Vosges is the oldest “planned” square and is over 400 years old. Amazingly, the square has remained unchanged since its construction.
The elegant architecture, designed by Louis Métezeau, consists of a square with arches and pillars, laid in perfect symmetry. It is made of brick with white stone accents and steep slate roofs. This was in strong contrast to the individualistic blonde stone buildings being built everywhere else in the city at that time. A similar square “Place Ducale” was built by Clément Métezeau (his brother and also an architect) in the Champagne region. “The Pavillon du Roi” and “The Pavillon de la Reine” are built taller and more imposing than the other buildings surrounding the square. In the middle could be found a grassy area; a popular location for duels at that time.
You can feel the history as you stroll the arcades and gardens.
The square was inaugurated in 1615 for the wedding of King Louis XIII to Anne of Austria. A grand carousel was erected in their honor. The square immediately became the center of countless festivities, and the city’s most fashionable neighborhood. It soon became a prototype for squares throughout Europe.
Although “La Place des Vosges” was originally commissioned by King Henry IV in 1605 and was at that time named “Place Royale”, no royalty every lived there. Instead, the buildings were inhabited by political officials, intellectuals, artists, and aristocrats. Among them at #21 was Cardinal Richelieu – a character in the Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas and the prime minister of France, at #1 bis was born in 1626 Mme. De Sévigné – well known hostess and letter writer, and at #6 (now a museum) Victor Hugo who wrote “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Les Misérables”.
The royal provenance comes both from the original commission and the fact that this construction replaced an earlier royal building. The “Hotel des Tournelles” (little towers) was built in 1388 and was occupied by the royal family on and off until 1559. The Hotel des Tournelles was destroyed by Catherine de Medicis (wife of King Henry II) following his death in a jousting tournament held there. It was destroyed by the queen mostly because of it being old-fashioned, rather than from deep sorrow (the king showed much favor to his chief mistress Diane de Poitiers). She moved to more luxurious quarters, the Louvre.
“Place Royale” was renamed after the revolution to “Place des Vosges” in recognition of the Vosges Department (Eastern France) whose citizens were the first to pay taxes in the country.
The acoustics at the Place des Vosges are simply amazing. Come on a Sunday afternoon and you are sure to hear an impromptu classical concert or two. I’ve been the happy observer of many – from dramatic opera singers, to long-haired T-shirt clad violinist, to multiple pieced orchestras. The first time I listened to a concert, I kept looking for the microphones. There aren’t any! There’s no need with the excellent acoustics provide by the arches. There’s nothing more enchanting then listening to music wafting through the arcades… a delightful experience – and free !
The arcades house many contemporary high-end art galleries, and make for an agreeable afternoon stroll of window shopping. There are also antique stores, book stores, cafés, and even an excellent tea shop that’s been in business since 1692.
The perfect place for your afternoon nap! Not only is the people watching excellent, but you are actually allowed to lounge on the grass, unlike many other parks in Paris. The park is elegantly proportioned, peaceful, and relaxing (at least mornings before the school children and tourists arrive).
This is a special place if you take the time. Stop, rest, and allow the majestic trees to lull you while you contemplate all the history that has transpired here. Here you will find not only tourists, but also locals enjoying a spot of sun and good conversation with friends.
Once refreshed, continue under the arcades through a small discreet door in the corner, where you can access the “Hotel de Sully” and its fabulous gardens.
-Girl Gone Gallic