The Place des Vosges, the oldest square in Paris, is one of the most beautiful squares in the world.
A Symmetrical Design
The history of the Place des Vosges goes back to 1604 when King Henry IV built a Royal pavilion at the southern end of the square. The building was designed by Baptiste du Cerceau.
The king ordered all 35 other buildings bordering the square to follow the same design. The result, an early example of urban planning, is a symmetrical square surrounded by buildings with red brick and white stone facades, steep slate roofs and dorm windows, all constructed over arcades.
The Royal pavilion at the center of the southern side, the so-called King’s Pavilion, was built on top of a gateway. At the northern side, mirroring the King’s Pavilion, is the Queen’s Pavilion.
Hôtel de Tournelles
Before the seventeenth century, another prominent building occupied the northern end of the square: the ‘Hôtel de Tournelles’. This grand building was constructed in 1388 and served as a residence for the Royal family until 1559, when King Henry II was severely wounded during a tournament held at the site. He died ten days later in the Hôtel de Tournelles. His wife, Catherine de Medicis, had the building demolished and moved to the Louvre.
The square was officially inaugurated in 1612 as the ‘Place Royale’ (Royal Square). At that time merely a lawn, it was a favorite place for duels.
In 1639 Richelieu had an equestrian statue of King Louis XIII erected at the center of the square. It was destroyed during the French Revolution, but a new statue of the king was installed in 1825.
The Taxpaying Department
In 1800 Napoleon changed the name of the square from ‘Place Royale’ to ‘Place des Vosges’ to show his gratitude towards the Vosges department, the first department in France to pay taxes. It was again renamed Place Royale in 1815, only to be changed yet again into ‘Place des Vosges’ in 1870.
Maison de Victor Hugo
Many famous Frenchmen lived here at this square, among them Richelieu and Victor Hugo. Cardinal Richelieu, who became prime minister of France in 1624 lived at no. 21 from 1615 to 1627. Victor Hugo, author of ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ lived on the second floor of house no. 6, the ‘Hôtel de Rohan-Guéménée’, from 1832 to 1848. The house, now called ‘Maison de Victor Hugo’ is turned into a museum. You can visit the rooms where Victor Hugo wrote most of ‘Les Misérables’. On display are souvenirs, drawings and books, all in chronological order, from his childhood to his exile between 1852 and 1870.
Location and Park
The Place des Vosges is now a peaceful place, with a nice central park located in the historical Marais district, in the 3rd arrondissement, not far from the Place de la Bastille. Just like the buildings that line the square, the park itself is symmetrically arranged around the statue of Louis XIII, which is enveloped by trees. All around are four symmetrical gardens, each with their own fountain, and there are also two sandboxes for small children to play in. The gardens are surrounded by arcades with shops and cafés.