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Place des Vosges in Paris: History and Complete Cultural Guide

Updated: Feb 22



Place des Vosges, Paris

At the heart of Le Marais, a historic and highly characteristic district of Paris, is Place des Vosges, once called Place Royal for its direct connection to the monarchs of France.


Indeed, visiting this beautiful spot is like jumping back to the 17th century and its rational architectural style. Considered the oldest (best preserved) square in Paris, the red, blue and white Place des Vosges offers you one of the most authentic views of the capital during the Ancién Regime, but it's also the perfect spot to rest in a tranquil scenery or to enjoy a good Parisian culinary experience!


 

In this article:


Place des Vosges: An Overview
Place des Vosges: What To See & To Do
Place des Vosges: What To Know

 


Place des Vosges: An Overview



WHAT IS PLACE DES VOSGES


Place des Vosges is a square located right in between the 3rd and the 4th arrondissements (French for districts or municipalities) of Paris, an area that corresponds to the historic district called Marais. If you are here, you are in one of the liveliest and most charming places in the French capital!


Place des Vosges is also an unmissable spot to have a closer look at the history of France and of Paris, thanks to it being born in the early 17th century as a Place Royal, a square destined to host the statue of a sovereign.


Its role would change over time, but its importance would only evolve: Place des Vosges today is a symbol of the past majesty of the kings of France and the physical embodiment of the royal architectural style (sometimes called rational absolutism), which the place conveys with its red, blue and white façades and imposing perfect-square form.


Going there in our times also means a great chance for a nice picnic, stroll, or a moment of rest and for touring the high number of art galleries scattered all around, while enjoying an iconic French-style chocolat chaud or a high-class dining experience!



A view of the Queen's Pavilion, Place des Vosges
A view of the Queen's Pavilion | Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons


HISTORY OF PLACE DES VOSGES


Even though Place des Vosges is today considered the oldest square in Paris for having preserved its original 17th-century form almost intact, it is so because most of the medieval buildings and areas of the city have gone through heavy renovations over time!


In fact, Place des Vosges was designed as part of a larger program - initiated by King Henry IV of France (1553-1610) - that sought to replace the ancient medieval structures of the capital with more modern ones and to expand the focal point of the city from Ile-de-la-Cité (home to Notre-Dame and the Sainte-Chapelle!) to other zones.


The area was selected to become a Place Royal, a square destined to host a solemn statue of the ruling king and to be therefore forever associated with royal power: every Place Royal was supposed to be able to host the royals for brief stays and to become a residence for the nobility, which mansions would surround the King's and Queen's Pavilions (the majestic palace of Versailles, where the kings would gather all their courtiers to control them was still to rise to that role, so sovereigns used other methods to keep an eye on the aristocrats, who were still living in the city!).


The location was not chosen randomly: the surroundings of Place des Vosges initially hosted the Hôtel des Tournelles, one of the royal residences until the 16th century. Its name coming from its many towers, its courtyard regularly hosted tournaments and cavalcades, among them one which proved fatal for King Henry II (1519-1559), who was wounded there and never recovered. This unfortunate event would eventually lead to the abandonment of the Hôtel and later demolition in 1563.


The area, briefly turned into a factory, kept its link to majesty somehow and in the very early years of the 17th century was chosen to become a Place Royal (and its original name was indeed Place Royal, not Place des Vosges). Constructions began in 1605 from the most important building, the King's Pavilion.


Place Royal was ready in 1612, but things had changed in those few years in between: King Henry IV, who commissioned the square, had died two years before, in 1610, and was substituted by his son, Louis XIII (1601-1643). This meant that this latter was the sovereign who officially inaugurated the square and to whom the Place Royal was matter-of-factly dedicated - this is why, as we will see, his statue today lies in the very middle of Place des Vosges.

Henry de Bourbon (1553-1610) was King of France as Henry IV from 1589 until his death in 1610. He is remembered as one of the best monarchs of France, but the path that led him to the throne was long and filled with difficulties: born a Protestant in a kingdom that later chose to be Catholic, he had to fight against many rivals to succeed and eventually convert to Catholicism to survive as sovereign, but he was nevertheless killed by a religious fanatic. In Paris, he contributed to the creation of a brand new version of the capital, thanks to a program that involved areas such as the Marais and included Place des Vosges.

A statue, however, did not immediately come. For a few years after its inauguration, the sandy and flat square continued to host tournaments, until their violence and the turmoil they caused led the famed Cardinal de Richelieu (1585-1642) to opt for a bronze replica of the sovereign to intimidate the duelants - a first version of Louis XIII on his horse was placed here in 1639.


Over time, Place Royal became an increasingly fashionable destination, a meeting place for the high nobility of Paris (some of them resided there) and not open to everyone: during the 17th- and 18th- centuries, poorly dressed people were not allowed inside the then-walled-up gardens and their iron gates. But this shall not surprise you, this kind of etiquette was common in Ancién Regime Europe and such rules can be found everywhere, something similar to our dress codes for parties and events!


Owners and residents of the many mansions in Place Royal continued to change over the decades, but 1789 would represent a turning point for the square: the Revolution brought a republic and hatred against anything royal. As you may imagine, Royal Squares were among the favorite targets. Louis XIII's statue was removed and melted down (the one you see now is a marble copy) and the square itself renamed - it would change many names in few years, before finally keeping des Vosges from the Vosges department, an area of France that demonstrated solid loyalty to the revolutionary cause. From 1799 this name became official.


After the Revolution, despite the monarchy's brief return to power, Place des Vosges had to reinvent itself, Royal Squares then no longer needed. During the 19th and 20th centuries, the square was increasingly populated by artists, singers, writers and prominent political or social figures - among them Georges Dufrénoy, Jack Lang, Juste Olivier, and Victor Hugo!


While some reported a rather decadent atmosphere, citing the heavy presence of Jews (a fact that, as we sadly know, was not at all seen positively in the late 19th- and early 20th- centuries) and clochards, Place des Vosges acquired more and more popularity in recent decades and, besides being an art galleries center, is now a renowned tourist destination and a location chosen by many luxurious cafés, restaurants and hotels.



WHY VISIT PLACE DES VOSGES


You would probably think that the beauty, location, attractions and historical importance of Place des Vosges would be sufficient good reasons to visit it (and I think that too!) but I wish to spend a couple more words on this, as Paris is a city so full of wonders that overlooking some of them is far too easy!


Place des Vosges is where you can have a clear glance at what Paris should have looked like in its heydays, without almost any sign of later epochs - its 17th-century architectural style has been sometimes restored maybe, but never substituted or altered, so that what you see is very close to what Louis XIII and his successors have seen. This is a true rarity for the French capital, which was heavily redesigned in the 19th and 20th centuries and had its streets and districts often rethought urbanistic-wise to make the city more spacious and grandiose.


Also, while the many mansions (Hôtels) embracing the square are often private residences and can't be appreciated from the inside, their façades are all fully visible and so are the interiors of some, among which the Maison de Victor Hugo. Scroll down to learn more!


One last point here is that the gardens are very nicely kept and good for picnics or for children's playing time. As much as this might not seem a huge deal, in a city like Paris, so full of tourists and with lots of beautiful but very expensive cafés and bars where to have a break, Place des Vosges is a spot to keep in mind if walking around the French capital with nice weather or during spring, summer and fall.



The vaulted galleries of Place des Vosges
The vaulted galleries of Place des Vosges | Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons


 



Place des Vosges: What To See and To Do


There is much to do in Place des Vosges, and the options range from historical sights, museums, art galleries and restaurants.


To start, here I created an interactive map where you can check all sites and locations I am going to mention moving forward, so that you may have a good overview. Check the full list of attractions by clicking on the button on the top left corner:





THE SQUARE, THE STATUE, THE FOUNTAINS


The Square

The very first thing to notice when in Place des Vosges is its structure: the place is an almost perfect square (140m/460ft on each side), has an equestrian statue at its center and four identical fountains surrounding the statue at its four corners. Around this group are gardens and green areas with benches and sandy ground.


This central area with the statue (usually called Place Louis XIII) is itself surrounded by a series of two-story red brick residential buildings with blue roofs and white details, which together with Place Louis XIII form Place des Vosges. These pavilions, connected by high-ceilinged vaulted galleries to prevent its wealthy occupants from being exposed to bad weather, are 30 in number, and if you look closer you will notice that all are of the same height, except for two (facing each other) that are higher - these are the King's (the highest) and the Queen's Pavilion, meant to host the two royals during their brief stays.


The architecture is clearly not casual but carefully designed. This is the result of a larger program pursued by King Henry IV and continued by his successors that aimed to rebuild Paris and give it a neater appearance, this time following a precise order and so distancing itself from the Middle Ages when improvisation was the norm - this is something that you can see happening in several European cities at around this same time.


Today, on Place des Vosges, which is considered one of the very first squares in Paris to have been designed following the rules of a royal edict, no intervention is allowed, especially on the façades. To make any changes, you need the approval of the Bâtiments of France's architects (registered architects who can deliberate on protected national heritage buildings like these).


Of course, this does not mean that nothing has ever been redone or retouched here - the interiors have been heavily restored over time - but that since recent times only urgent interventions can be approved and that even these cannot alter the original 17th-century structure.


The marble portrait of King Louis XIII, Place des Vosges
The marble portrait of King Louis XIII | Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons

The Statue

As we said, the equestrian statue in the middle of Place des Vosges portrays King Louis XIII (1601-1643) and is made of marble.

Louis XIII (1601-1643), known also as Louis the Just, was King of France from 1610 to 1643. Since his father was assassinated when he was only 9, his mother acted as a regent for him for years, until he eventually got rid of her and ruled in cooperation with his chief minister, Cardinal de Richelieu. Despite the not-always-clement fame of this latter, Louis XIII's reign is remembered as a rather positive era for France, with many changes ongoing. However, Louis had to struggle both internally and internationally, on social, military and religious grounds.

What you see is not the original one, as the first (bronze) was commissioned in 1634 by Cardinal de Richelieu and completed by 1639, then melted down by the Revolutionaries as an immediate consequence of the 1789 events.


The current one was made by Jean-Pierre Cortot and placed here in 1825, standing on a high pedestal. It is a copy of the original, which story is worth a mention: the bronze horse of the first statue was not a work of the 17th century but was made in 1567 to be matched with a depiction of King Henry II. Its rider was never created at the time but since Henry II died of the wounds he suffered during a tournament, the horse was made with its left front foot lifted, as it was custom for sovereigns who died of battles-provoked wounds. Louis XIII was later paired with this horse in 1634-39, but he actually died of natural causes, which would have required both legs to rest on the ground.


Louis XIII is depicted as a Roman emperor, with a breastplate under his coat, a sword on his left, his right arm opened in a gesture of majesty and a laurel wreath on his head, symbolizing power and triumph.



The Fountains

When looking at the statue, turn around and you will notice four identical fountains at the four corners of it - they were too installed in 1825 and again sculpted by Jean-Pierre Cortot.


Made of stone, they are named according to the cardinal points in relation to their place around the statue.



Place des Vosges
A comprehensive view of Place des Vosges and its lines of mansions


THE HÔTELS


The word Hôtel is one you can easily encounter while in Paris and in France. In French, it means a large building that can be a mansion - as for this square - or even a city hall (as Hôtel de Ville is). Without the ô we would mistake it for our hotels, places where we stay during a vacation, and that would be reductive in this case.


The hôtels that surround Place Louis XIII with its statue and thus form Place des Vosges are 30. They are often not accessible but all are classified as historical monuments and therefore preserved.


Let's take a quick look at them - for when nothing is specified just know that, generally speaking, all hôtels met the same destiny after being built in the early 17th century: they were initially acquired by some members of the high nobility of Paris, then sold and passed over to several wealthy owners over the decades. Today, except for a few ones I will mention, they are private mansions that may host cafés, galleries and restaurants on the ground floor.

  • House Number 1 - Pavillon du Roi (King's Pavilion): today a private mansion, it occupies the central portion of buildings on the south (on Rue de Birague, coming from the larger Rue Saint-Antoine, which ends on Place de la Bastille), with the king's statue looking straight at it. It's the main construction of the entire series. Built first thing in 1605-08 to be a model for the further buildings, its name and height betray its role: it was made to host the monarchs, although no king ever lived here. It is higher than any other pavilion to underscore the supremacy of the sovereign.

  • House Number 1bis - Hôtel Coulanges: adjoining the King's Pavilion, it was first inhabited by some nobles close to the monarchs, then by a few notable figures such as painter Georges Dufrénoy and dancer Isadora Duncan. It was eventually bought in 1963 by the wealthy Béatrice Cottin. She found it in such disrepair that a 40-year restoration was not enough to bring it back to full light. It has been recently reevaluated.

  • House Number 3 - Hôtel de Montmortin

  • House Number 5 - Hôtel de la Salle

  • House Number 7 - Hôtel de Sully: built between 1624-30 in its current form, this place is now the seat of the Centre des Monuments Nationaux, the French organization responsible for national heritage sites. Throughtoutfully restored in 1973, its role is a sign of its architectural and historical importance. Today visitors go there especially for its courtyard and exterior.

  • House Number 9 - Hôtel de Chaulnes: it initially belonged to the king's advisor, and it was here that King Louis XIII spent a very short time during the official inauguration of the square in 1612. Today, the first floor hosts the headquarters of the French Academy of Architecture.

  • House Number 11 - Hôtel Pierrard: on its façade it hosts one of the oldest graffiti in Paris, saying "NICOLAS 1764".

  • House Number 13 - Hôtel Dyel des Hameaux

  • House Number 15 - Hôtel Marchand

  • House Number 17 - Hôtel de Chabannes

  • House Number 19 - Hôtel de Montbrun: since 2019 this building hosts a hotel, but in the 1800s it was donated to a healthcare association that briefly kept it, as it is remembered by a plaque that you may notice on the mansion.

  • House Number 21 - Hôtel du Cardinal de Richelieu: we have mentioned the name of this over-famous figure before, as he commissioned the equestrian statue of Place des Vosges in 1634. And the cardinal is also said to have lived at number 21, although it is more likely that his kin was hosted here, while there is no proof he actually stayed.

  • House Number 23 - Hôtel de Bassompierre

  • House Number 25 - Hôtel de l'Escalopier

  • House Number 2 - Hôtel Genou de Guiberville

  • House Number 2bis - Hôtel du 2bis

  • House Number 4 - Hôtel du 4

  • House Number 6 & 6bis - Hôtel de Rohan-Guémené: it bears the name of one of the most influential families of the French Ancién Regime, the Rohan. They owned it for a century, then sold it in 1782 when they went bankrupt. It is one of the largest and best preserved of all mansions in Place des Vosges, and it's famous for having hosted writer Victor Hugo (on the 2nd floor) from 1832 to 1848. Today, it is here that you can find the Maison Victor Hugo, a museum dedicated to the life and work of the writer - we talk about it down below. At 6bis are part of the premises of the Lycée Professionnel Théophile Gautier (high school).

  • House Number 8 - Hôtel de Fourcy

  • House Number 10 - Hôtel de Châtillon

  • House Number 12 - Hôtel Lafont

  • House Number 14 - Hôtel de Ribault: seized during the Revolution, it later became the town hall for the ancient 8th arrondissement and to serve this purpose it was deeply renovated. Today, and since 1963, it hosts a synagogue founded by Charles Liché, which presence has fostered the Jewish community in the area.

  • House Number 16 - Hôtel d'Asfeldt

  • House Number 18 - Hôtel de Clermont-Tonnerre

  • House Number 20 - Hôtel d'Angennes de Rambouillet

  • House Number 22 - Hôtel Laffemas

  • House Number 24 - Hôtel de Vitry

  • House Number 26 - Hôtel de Tresmes

  • House Number 28 - Pavillon de la Reine (Queen's Pavilion): today a 5-star luxury hotel, it faces the King's Pavilion and has the equestrian statue with its back turned on it. The Queen's Pavilion was built in 1605-08 and is the second-highest mansion in Place des Vosges and connects it to Rue de Béarn. If you look at the top of the central arcade on the façade, you will notice a sun inscribed in a medallion: this is one of the symbols of the Medici family, to which Marie, second wife of King Henry IV, belonged. She was the ruling queen when the pavilion was built, although she never lived here. The only one to ever briefly live here was Anne of Austria, wife of King Louis XIII. Number 28 also hosts the Hôtel d'Espinoy.



MAISON VICTOR HUGO


Victor Hugo (1802-1885) is among the most popular French writers and is considered one of the greatest of all time in the Western world. A very prolific author who lived a long life and was deeply involved in the cultural, literary and political scenario of his time, when he eventually died in 1885 he was already renowned and respected to such extent as to be buried in the Panthéon, in Paris, after being granted a solemn state funeral.

And in Paris is where Victor Hugo spent a substantial portion of his earthy vicissitudes and where he set some of his most appreciated works, above all Les Misérables (1862).


Hugo was already working on his masterpiece when he rented an apartment in Place des Vosges, at number 6, second floor of the Hôtel de Rohan-Guémené. He would spend 16 years there, from 1832 to 1848, leaving it shortly before going to exile as a result of his controversial political views.


After his death, the apartment where he lived was donated to the community in 1903 by Paul Meurice, Hugo's close friend, who wished the place to become a museum dedicated to the life and work of the writer.


His wish became reality, and today we can enjoy a free visit through the flat-turned-museum where Victor Hugo lived and produced works such as Marie Tudor, Ruy Blas, Les Burgraves, The Songs of the Half Light, Les Voix intérieures, Les Rayons et les Ombres, and Lucrezia Borgia.


The museum consists of some 7 rooms narrating the various stages of Hugo's life through the objects that he created, collected and that were his daily life. Not many know that, in fact, he was not solely dedicated to writing and politics but was an artist and a creative who drew, sculpted, painted and engaged in several arts.


Beyond the canonical visitor path, throughout the decades the museum has also collected an immense patrimony of prints, photographs, objects, paintings, and drawings and has even created an entire library. Today, this all represents an invaluable treasure for our collective cultural memory and is the source for the temporary exhibitions organized by the museum.


The Maison is definitely worth a visit - it won't take you more than one hour, but make sure not to miss it.


A few pictures of the museum Maison Victor Hugo



ART GALLERIES


As we mentioned before, over the years Place des Vosges has turned into a veritable art gallery center, with some 20+ active galleries and counting! Mentioning them all would be long and weary, so here I selected a few for the quality of their exhibitions, artists involved and missions - in case you wish to check them, including those not listed here, all you need to do is to start strolling around the square, under its vaulted galleries.


ARTSYMBOL (house number 21 & 24): contemporary art


Modus Gallery (house number 23): contemporary art


Galerie Artmundi (house number 26): contemporary art


Galerie Marciano (house number 26): contemporary art


Mark Hachem Gallery (at Queen's Pavilion, entrance on Rue de Tournelles): modern and contemporary art


Mendes Wood DM (house number 25): Brazilian and international art


Atelier d'Artistes (house number 9): family- and artist-owned contemporary gallery


Marciano Contemporary (house number 2 and 4): contemporary art


Espace Sylvia Rielle (house number 10): contemporary art



Romantic view on Place des Vosges and its fountains
Romantic view on Place des Vosges and its fountains | Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons


RESTAURANTS, CAFES, AND HOTELS


Only a few mansions that compose the ordered lines of buildings embracing Place des Vosges are open to the public but if you walk across the square you will see many cafés and restaurants, and spot the entrances to some luxurious 5-star hotels.


Being the square a popular tourist destination and a good embodiment of the French spirit visitors crave to find, recently, some of these posh spots went viral on social media, growing the crowds of people hoping to find the perfect Parisian experience.


Viral or not, here I pinpointed a couple of places which offer might interest you, either for their historical or culinary significance (if you have any suggestions or different opinions, please feel free to let me know!):


La Place Royale (€€): French cuisine at affordable prices (for Paris).

L'Ambroisie (€€€€): French haute cuisine, charming atmosphere. If you choose this place, be prepared to be served an important bill.

Café Mulot: I've heard good and less good opinions on this place, but its location may compensate for some minor flaws - find it right at number 6, within Maison de Victor Hugo. Prices are reasonable.

Carrette: very popular on social media, this place offers the Parisian chocolat chaud with whipped cream experience. Prices are quite high but it may be worth it if you avoid going when too crowdy.

Le Pavillon de la Reine (5-star): wondering how it may feel to spend the night in what was a residence of the queens of France? The Queen's Pavilion today is a lavish 5-star hotel, so this may be your chance. The experience will cost you some money and the pavilion gives modern vibes in its style and decors, but the location is invaluable.


Bistrot des Vosges (€€): Hearty French cuisine at a very good price (for Paris). The name may misguide you: it is not exactly located in Place des Vosges, but close to it.



 


Place des Vosges: What To Know



HOW TO REACH PLACE DES VOSGES



Place des Vosges is located between the 3rd and the 4th arrondissement, in the historic district called Marais.


Given its central location, in the proximity of some popular destinations such as Place de la Bastille, Hôtel de Ville and Rue de Rivoli (the street connecting Place de la Bastille to the Louvre, Place de la Concorde and the Champs-Élysées), and with the river Seine nearby, Place des Vosges is easy to reach and well served by public transport.


By bus: opt for lines 20, 29, 65, 69 or 96. Your stop can be called Place des Vosges, Birague or Saint-Paul.


By metro: if you are going there by metro, you have a few options: Line 1, 8 or 5 (stop Bastille), Line 8 (stop Chemin Vert), Line 1 (stop Saint-Paul). Choose the first one if you plan to visit Place de la Bastille, stop Saint-Paul will bring you to Rue de Rivoli, and Chemin Vert will let you explore the Marais. All options will take you 5 minutes to reach the square.


On foot: as we saw, Place des Vosges lies close to some very important sights in the French capital. From Place de la Bastille is a 7-minute walk (500m/1640ft), from Hôtel de Ville is 15 minutes (1,3km/0,8mi). If walking, I would definitely suggest checking Place des Vosges while exploring the cozy streets of the Marais!



WHAT'S NEXT: EXPLORING THE MARAIS


To wrap up this guide to Place des Vosges, I wish to once again recommend you take some time (one day or at least a long summer afternoon) to explore the district where the square is located, the Marais.


The Marais would require an entire post for itself alone (and I promise I will write one sometime soon), but let's briefly imagine a tour through its fascinating streets!


Once you are ready to leave Place des Vosges, go to the side where the Queen's Pavilion is (north side) and exit the square on Rue Francs Bourgeois, then continue straight until you encounter Rue de Sévigné This is your first stop, take some time to stroll around and get lost in the cobbled side streets you see - it's the closest you can get to a semi-medieval atmosphere in Paris!


While exploring this area you may come across: Square Georges-Cain, the Hôtel de Châtillon, for a beautiful view of its historical exterior, the Cognarcq-Jay Museum, with its stunning (and free entry) family collection of art, antiques and decors, and the well-known Musée National Picasso with its incredible collections of artworks, objects and papers that belonged to the Spanish artist, who spent several years in Paris.


When you are done visiting and sightseeing, you can head south until you meet the large Rue de Rivoli to end your tour in front of the Hôtel de Ville and its park, which mark the extreme borders of the Marais.


Before reaching your end destination, pay a visit to the Shoah Memorial - to keep your memory fresh and alive. In the same area (south of Place des Vosges) you can also check the Village Saint-Paul, where you can enjoy a more modern yet historical view of Paris.



Any plans to visit the iconic district of Ilé-de-la-Cité? Check the complete guide to the Sainte-Chapelle, one of the wonders of Gothic architecture in Paris.



Place des Vosges



 


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2件のコメント


ゲスト
2月11日

Thank you for this exhaustive history of a historic square. I was researching a building I photographed there and it led me to the topic of the Queen's Pavilion, not to be mistaken for the King's Pavilion. Enjoyable reading.

いいね!
Martina
2月13日
返信先

Glad you liked it and thank you for reading it! Our perspective can change so much once we know what we are looking at! :)

いいね!
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