The Arc du Carrousel
Although Paris is undeniably beautiful it can come as quite a revelation to discover that there is hardly a street, boulevard or building which has not played a part in some great historical event, usually bloody in nature - an odd fact which is unique throughout the cities of Europe. Stranger still is that the most picturesque places in the city have also been the setting for the greatest upheavals and bloodiest massacres in the history of Paris and France itself; a perfect example is the breathtaking vista from the Arc du Carrousel, overlooking the Tuileries Gardens which stretches upwards to the Arc de Triomphe in the far distance - it was on this terrace which leads down into the gardens that the bloodiest massacre in the history of the French Revolution took place.
Visitors entering the Place du Carrousel from the Place des Pyramides where the gilded statue of Joan of Arc holds sway, are faced with a choice of walking through the labyrinth of rooms in the Louvre or the seductive charms of the Tuileries Gardens - on a sunny day the choice is made easier. The Arc du Carrousel can hardly be missed with its vari-coloured marble columns, lavish bas-reliefs depicting Napoleon's victories and statues of Napoleonic soldiers; based on the Arch of Constantine in Rome, the arch was begun in 1806 and on completion was crowned with a quadriga of horses on the top. Napoleon had originally taken the quadriga from the top of the Brandeburg Gate in Berlin for his triumphal Arc du Carrousel but finding this too small he returned it to its pedestal and took the quadriga from St Marks Basilica in Venice instead. Napoleon's blatant looting of the art treasures of Europe was not done without complaint not least from the custodians of St Mark's Basilica where the statues had overlooked St Mark's Square for over 600 years. However, while Napoleon had no right to steal the quadriga from the Basilica, the Venetians conveniently overlooked the fact that they themselves had only acquired the famous horses by stealing them as part of an act of vandalism and bloodletting which resounds to this day. In April, 1204, A.D. a Crusader army on its way to the Holy Land committed one of the worst atrocities in Crusader history when they entered the city of Constantinople where in an orgy of rape and slaughter, which retains the power to horrify to this day, through streets slippery with blood, they carried off the treasure of hundreds of years from the churches, treasuries and houses. Among the spoils were the sculptures of the bronze horses which were the centrepiece of the Hippodrome, and they were chosen to adorn St Mark's Basilica where they stood until the arrival of Napoleon.
In 1815, following the downfall of Napoleon, the Italian sculptor Canova was chosen to travel to Paris with instructions to take back the treasures taken from Italy - the quadriga was one of the first to be returned and was subsequently resited on the Basilica. But the Arc du Carrousel was incomplete without its quadriga and in the fullness of time the French sculpted their own horses which can be seen there today.
Above is the statue of Joan of Arc in Place des Pyramides.
Below the new quadriga.
The Destruction of the Tuileries
Pictures of the Arch before 1871 invariably show the Tuileries Palace in the background and the Arch itself was formerly enclosed within a vast courtyard of the Louvre. The Tuileries Palace was a massive building which reached from the Pavillon de Marsan to the Pavillon de Flore sections of the Louvre - it was burnt down in May,1871, on the orders of the Commune in a spiteful act of revenge which destroyed a building which had stood since 1564 and was replete with history; the Tuileries was not the only totemic building devastated by the Commune and the torching of Paris in 1871 caused more destruction to the city than the Franco/Prussian War and the First and Second World Wars combined.
In October 1789, the Tuileries became the residence of Louis XV1, Marie Antoinette, the Royal Family and the Royal Household, when they were ignominiously taken from the Palace of Versailles to "live among their people."
Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel 1841 with the Tuileries in the background.
This panoramic print of the Louvre in 1850 shows the gardens in the foreground with the Tuileries palace overlooking the fountains of the round ponds and forming a side of the Louvre complex. The two features in the far courtyard are where the glass pyramid now stands. The Arc du Carrousel can be seen to the rear of the Tuileries Palace and dwarfed by the buildings gives some indication of the size of the huge size of the Palace. Notre Dame can be seen top right and the Rue de Rivoli is on the left of the picture.
The Gathering Storm
The Royal Family lived in a state of virtual siege within the confines of the Tuileries - birds in a gilded cage. They had attempted to escape in June, 1791, in the ill-fated Flight to Varennes but due to a number of blunders, one of Marie Antoinette becoming lost for 2 hours outside the Palace, not helped by the dilatory manner of the King , they had been trapped at Varennes and returned to the Tuileries under guard more than ever. The Royal family remained catspaws of the L'Assemblée Constituante for the following year, living in fear of the whims of the Revolutionaries and humiliated at every turn, until on the 10th August, 1792, their position became perilous in the extreme. Georges Danton and Maximilien Robespierre had whipped the mob into a frenzy with their venomous oratory against the Royal Family and joined by the pugnacious Marseillais who had taken the trouble to march all the way from Marseille their numbers swelled into thousands. The Tuileries had been invaded by sans-culottes on previous occasions but they had left content to have subjected the Royal family to humilating expressions of support for the Revolution and the donning of Phrygian caps. This time it was different, the whole thing was undoubtedly orchestrated, the crowds were baying for blood and presented a fearful sight armed with muskets, pikes, scythes, sabres, iron bars and anything they could get their hands on. The Gendarmes and National Guardsmen who were meant to protect the Royal family had all slipped away in the night and the only thing standing between the Royal family and a barbaric death at the hands of a sadistic, out of control horde were 750 Swiss Guardsmen.
The King at Bay
The mob had begun to gather at dawn on the fateful day of the 10th of August and it was evident that they would not be placated on this occasion. If ever leadership was required it was now and after all the humiliations he and his family had suffered the King had in his hands the opportunity to stand firm and state "no more." To her credit, Marie Antoinette pleaded with the King to stay and fight. Louis was a physically powerful man but in every other aspect of his being he was vacillating, supine and weak and at the very time that he should have stood four square with the Swiss Guard, Louis left a scribbled note advising them to lay down their arms and fled with the Royal Family leaving behind not only the Swiss Guard but helpless members of his household; the sad irony of it all was that the King and the Royal family ran just around the corner to a building on the Rue de Rivoli (now demolished) the Salle du Manège, where they were sheltered by the Legislative Assembly, the very people who had helped orchestrate the rioting. Louis XV1 decision not to make a stand was uselss in the end as he was guillotined just 5 months later on 21st January, 1793.
The Massacre of the Swiss Guard
Too late to form any coherent defence, the Swiss Guard were left to defend the Palace as best they could in the face of an enemy which had already breached the staircase and courtyard even as the KIng fled. Little by little the Guardsmen fought a retreating action within the Palace while others found themselves in isolated groups defending themselves against overwhelming odds in the gardens. The Guard stood firm until midday until fatigue and a lack of ammunition began to take their toll and they were finally swamped by a baying mob whose ferocity was not satisfied with the deaths of the Guardsmen but required more. With the bodies of Guardsmen littering the Tuileries gardens and the Round Ponds, the mob reverted to a bestiality and savagery rarely seen in civilized society; in an orgy of butchery they mutilated the bodies of the Guardsmen, severing genitals and stufffing them into mouths, decapitating bodies and kicking the heads like footballs, feeding body parts to dogs and every other bloody sport they could dream up. Inside the Palace itself, the Guardsmen were despoiled in the same manner along with the Palace staff and courtiers who were not spared. When the dreadful frenzy had abated, 600 Swiss Guard had been killed and 160 taken prisoner - soon to die in the Revolutionary prisons during the September Massacres of the following month.
The day after the massacre the Tuileries garden was littered with the bodies of the Swiss Guard while drunken sans-culottes slept beside them sated with the slaughter. Ominously, eleven days after the attack on the Palace, a guillotine was set up a short distance away from the Arc du Carrousel where it remained until May, 1793, when it was removed to be replaced by a monument to Jean-Paul Marat stabbed in his bath the same month by Charlotte Corday. Strangely, the memorial was in the form of a pyramid, with a portrait of L'Ami du peuple, the bath in which he was slain, his writing desk and lamp. The month of May, 1793, seemed to be a busy month for the Revolutionaries who in the name of La Convention installed themselves in the Tuileries Palace with the laughably named Le Comité de Salut ( The Committe of Public Safety ) already installed at the Pavillon de Flore.
A 23 year old Napoleon Bonaparte watched the carnage in the Tuileries. He took note of how street fighting should be conducted which stood him in good stead in the years to come.
On the 8th June, 1794, Robespierre, L'Incorruptible, decided on a celebration to L'Etre Suprême ( The Supreme Being ) a bizarre twist on conventional religion of Robespierre's own imagination, which he invented and orchestrated. As the High Priest of what he called déisme democratique ( democratic godliness ) he preached to
a bemused audience, more in thrall to the lavish decorations than Robespierre's new religion. On the garden side of the Tuileries Palace, where two years previously the bodies of the Swiss Guard had lain, the area was turned into a vast theatrical ampitheatre where the self-styled L'Incorruptible overlooked the ceremonials from a decorative balcony built onto the building. The decorations were arranged by the artist Jacques - Louis David who made the large round pond the centrepiece of the display, placing planks of wood over the pond and placing a huge pyramid of wood and plaster in the centre, representing Atheism. Surrounding the pyramid were mannekins also of wood and plaster representing Ambition, Vanity, Discord and Deceit, all surmounted by a huge banner stating oddly Hope of the Stranger. Stranger still was the figure of Robespierre dressed in a priestly habit, carrying a bunch of flowers in one hand and a torch in the other which he applied to the mannekins thus extinguishing what they represented; a hidden mannekin then appeared out of the smoke and flames representing Wisdom.
The crowd watch the burning ceremony. The pyramid can be seen in the distance and on the right hand side is the Tuileries Palace.
The Tuileries ceremony was merely a beginning to the proceedings as the crowd then walked in procession to the Champ de Mars where Robespierre once more presided over a bizarre religious ritual of his own making.
The Tuileries Today
Catherine de Medici was the prime mover in the building of the gardens when she purchased the site which was home to tileworkers in 1574. André le Nôtre laid out the gardens between 1664 - 1671, and despite the many upheavals, ceremonies and historical events which have taken place throughout its history it is remarkable that they are virtually the same now as they were when le Nôtre designed them.
Visitors to the garden today would be hard-pressed to find any trace of the turbulent days of the Revolution - but there are one or two vestiges of David's earthworks for Robespierre's garden party still remaining and at the Place de la Concorde gates the ramps on each side can still be seen, built to accommodate the crowds watching the executions. The round ponds where the Swiss Guard made their last stand are still there, now surrounded by tourists and midinettes reading books, eating lunch or merely watching the carp leap out of the water to catch flying insects - with the only danger now from mosquitos whose bites cause an unbearable itch for half-an-hour or so.
The outdoor cafés are a welcome relief from the heat in the summer with the ubiquitous French sparrows hanging around for crumbs both on the tables or off. Visitors are surprised that the sparrows come to your hand - the trick is to roll the bread into tiny balls which they seem to enjoy.
Although the Tuileries gardens have always maintained a number of statues there are more now than ever with over 100 works of art on display ranging from the classical marbles to Maillol's nude ladies in various poses and onto a number of modern art compositions.
The far end of the gardens leads onto what was the Place de la Revolution when the guillotine was in full use but that's a story for another day - the Place is now Place de la Concorde.