Austerlitz column - Colonne de la Grande Armée
XIV, conscious that Paris was lacking public building, decided
the imposing plan of the square, in 1685. The King could not
do less than his ancestor Henri IV at Place Dauphine,
nor than his father Louis XIII at Place Royale (Place des Vosges).
Jules Hardouin-Mansart was put in charge of designing this gigantic
project. The mansion of the Duke of Vendôme was bought
hence the name of the square. It was razed to the ground
and Mansart erected the facades with their arcades, in an elegant
and magnificent harmony. But soon, the King had other financial
concerns in mind war and above all the construction of
huge construction site was therefore sold to the city of Paris,
which turned out to be unable to run such a large-scale real
estate affair. The fiasco was total. However, the glory of the
King was to remain intact, and the statue by Girardon, equestrian
and colossal was unveiled with great pomp in front of empty facades.
city of Paris, in a praiseworthy attempt, had sold some locations
to financiers, attracted by these extravagant residences. But
for twenty years, the square was half asleep.
The regency of the Duke of Orleans replaced the Great King's
reign and the Government left Versailles for Paris; this is when
John Law and his paper money appear. He buys back more than half
the square. The speculation that he creates brings along to Place
Vendôme, financiers delighted to buy such beautiful residences
for so cheap a price. Behind Mansart's facades, everyone erects
his own mansion, following the height and depth imposed by the
norms. Place Vendôme, in its splendour, was born again
and its prestige has not come to an end yet.
August 16, 1792, the equestrian statue of louis XIV was destroyed,
and the square was given the name of "Pikes' square".
However, out of habit the square is still called Place Vendôme,
even then. The name is officially used on the accession of Napoléon
The Austerlitz victory ending the wonderful two-month-campaign,
which had been paid as a two-year-service to all soldiers. The
Emperor wanted to justly reward the Great Army, erecting, with
the bronze of the 1200 cannons taken from the Austrians and the
Russians, a column dedicated to the glory of our soldiers. According
to one of the numerous projects that had not been retained, the
cannons were not melted, but soldered end to end in an ingenious
way, the whole forming an odd pyramid-shape crowned by an imperial
eagle. To these fancy projects, the Emperor, still enamoured
of Antiquity, prefered a nobler drawing, inspired by the Trajane
This monument, started on August 25, 1806, was finished on August
5, 1810, under Denon, Lepère, and Gondouin's leadership
(architects). The total height of the column is 44 meters. From
its base, built on the site of the pedestal of the statue of
Louis XIV, it is made of freestone covered with slab bronze.
They are separated by a cordon on which is inscribed the action
represented on the painting above. On the four facades of the
pedestal, arms of war and military uniforms are reproduced. At
each angles these ornaments are supported by a bronze eagle nearly
weighting 250 kilograms.
tower of the column represents the brilliant feats of arms of
the 1805 campaign, from the departure from Boulogne camp to the
Austerlitz battle. On the inside of the monument there is a spiral
staircase wiyh an entry on one of the facades of the pedestal,
in front of the Tuileries garden. This spiral staircase leads
to a gallery.
On the column there was a statue of Napoléon by Chaudet,
member of the "Institut de France ". The Emperor was
wearing the sceptre and the diadem. In 1814, the Russians wanted
to knock down the monument; in spite of their efforts, the bronze
stayed still, and only the statue of the Emperor was pulled down.
Melted shortly after, it was used for the statue of Henri IV,
restored on the Pont-Neuf platform.
total weight of the bronzes of the column of Place Vendôme,
according to the information given by Lepère, one of the
architects, is 251,367 Kilograms, and it costed 1,975,417 Francs.
On his return, Louis XVIII had a colossal lis flower erected
on top of the column. These back and forth movements were not
over; under the July Monarchy, Marie Seurre replaced the Emperor
on his pedestal, by the familiar figure of the little corporal
wearing the frock coat and the famous hat. Then, Napoléon
III ordered Dumont a nobler statue of his uncle, then sporting
the Roman Emperor armor. In 1871, painter Courbet, who had been
called by the Commune to preside over the Commission for the
safegard of the Museum treasuries, did not hesitate, despite
his title, to order the demolition of the monument. It was knocked
down on a dungheap : the painter had vowed a personal enmity
against this bronze machine, against which he said, "one
always bumps at night , on the way home from the cafe ".
In 1875, the monument was stood up again, and the imperial statue
restored. Courbet was then condemned to a 323 000 and 68 centimes
fine, corresponding to the price of the reconstruction.
the glory of this "bronze pillar done by Napoléon"
(Victor Hugo), the illegible bas reliefs, and the discrepancy
with the proportions of the place were criticized. The square,
intimate as much as harmonious, had been imagined as a sort of
enclosed lounge , where balls were sometimes organized. The genious
of Louis XIV's town planners was such, that it only took, under
the First Empire, the opening of Castiglione and de la Paix streets,
to integrate the square into the urban life of the capital."
me at Place Vendôme.