Last Updated on 2nd February 2020 by Sophie Nadeau
Situated in the 6th arrondissement of Paris, steps away from the banks of the Seine and overlooking a myriad of typically Parisian restaurants, bistros, and bars, Fontaine Saint-Michel is a beautiful and ornate fountain which you simply can’t miss during your visit to the French capital. Here’s a brief history as well as how to visit for yourself…
19th-century Feature Fontaine Saint-Michel in the 6th arrondissement
Standing at the intersection where boulevard Saint-Michel meets rue Danton, it’s hard to miss the carved and ornate Parisian fountain. After all, Fontaine Saint-Michel stands at a height of 26 metres and is 15 metres wide and is perhaps one of the ‘poster monuments’ of the grand overhaul of Parisian architecture undertaken by Haussmann during the 19th-century.
Designed by Gabriel Davioud during the reign of Napoleon III, the French feature depicts archangel Michael vanquishing the Devil. Within this, there are themes of good vs. evil and the like. However, what is particularly unique about this fountain (in perhaps all of Paris) is that it occupies an entire façade at the end of a block of Haussmann buildings.
In total, nine sculptors contributed to the creation of the Saint Michael fountain. Perhaps most notably, the central feature of Michael vanquishing the Devil was sculpted by Francisque Duret, a 19th-century artist whose other works of note include a bust in Avignon, a work in the Musée des Beaux-Arts of Lyon, and even a work of art in the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts.
Perhaps, rather controversially, the original idea was that the monumental fountain feature Napoleon I, much like many other acclaimed sites in the city today. However, this idea was soon abandoned and instead the Archangel theme was decided upon in order to commemorate a chapel dedicated to Saint Michael which had once stood in situ.
As is with the case with (what seems like) every new addition and update to the city (see also: the Louvre central pyramid and the Colonnes de Buren, which were also both widely criticised upon their installation in the city), the reception to the Fountain of Saint Michael was generally critical to start with.
Critics disliked that the statue was set against a wall, they disliked that eclectic style (Corinthian columns paired with the polychromatic nature of the materials used), and they disliked composition. Despite what people may have thought at the time, the fountain is here to stay and marked the end of a period of Renaissance style fountains in Paris, which all began with the Medici Fountain in the nearby Jardin du Luxembourg.
Things to see and do close to Fontaine Saint-Michel
Shakespeare and Company
Hands down the most famous English language bookshop in Paris, Shakespeare and Company was first founded by Sylvia Beach and once hosted some of the most famous literary greats of the 1920s, including Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein.
Opened in 1919, the Original Shakespeare and Co. was closed down during the Nazi Occupation of Paris. In the 1950s, the bookshop was reopened and has welcomed both local and international visitors alike ever since. Today, the café even operates a literary bookshop just steps away from the rows of tomes in the inviting bookshop.
Follow in the footsteps of the Romans
If there’s one thing that the Latin quarter and its surrounds are known for, it’s the fact that this is where historic Lutetia (i.e. what the Romans called Paris) was born. Nearby to the Saint Michael fountain you’ll soon discover Musée de Cluny which houses the remains of the Roman thermal baths. Elsewhere in the Latin Quarter, the remains of the Roman amphitheatre are to be found in the form of Arènes de Lutèce.
If you’re looking for the best choux pastry buns in the city, then you simply must head to Odette. Situated against the backdrop of one of the prettiest café fronts that the City of Love has to offer, Odette is pretty much picture perfect and sells some of the most delicious pastries!