Nestled in the very heart of le Marais, close to the Seine and surrounded by cute boutiques, Place des Vosges is one of those ‘must-see‘ Paris attractions. With its wide open central space and red brick façade, Place des Vosges is a bit of an anomaly in the Parisian district of le Marais where medieval architecture reigns supreme.
Originally constructed as the first Public planned Square in the city, today, the park is the perfect place to enjoy a picnic with friends in the summertime, or sip on a warm Chocolat Chaud ‘en terrace’ in the winter.
From Marshy Swamp to Palatial Luxury
For an area of the city that started off in life as a swampy no-go area, le Marais has come a long way. Today, it is one of the chicest and most exclusive areas the city has to offer. In actual fact, the very name ‘le Marais’ means ‘the marsh’. Until the middle ages, Paris was largely constructed and based on the Left bank of the Seine and concentrated around Île de la Cité (home to the iconic Notre Dame cathedral).
It wasn’t until the city started running out of space that a group of monks moved to the Northern part of the Seine. They dredged the once marshy area and constructed their Temple there. Soon, le Marais was the place to be. Nobility flocked to the area, keen to escape the dirty and crowded nature of central Paris. After all, in those days there was no central sewage system and rats were rife.
In the following few Centuries, more and more mansions were constructed, and the royal family themselves constructed their palace there. The site where Place des Vosges now sits was once the site of ‘Hôtel de Tournelles’. And no, this wasn’t a ‘hotel’ which you could stay at, but rather a grand mansion house. The site and grand palace there remained the seat of royalty until Henri II was wounded and tragically died in an equine tournament.
His widow, Catherine de Medici was so distraught that she relocated her staff and royal court to the Louvre (this was how the Louvre palace- now the site of the largest museum in the world- came to be built). She had the Hôtel de Tournelles demolished. The once gothic, grand and imposing palace was completely destroyed; oh how I would have loved to have seen it!
Hôtel des Tournelles, via Wikipedia
Beginnings of Place des Vosges
In 1612, the square of Place des Vosges (a perfect square in terms of dimensions) was officially opened to the public as a way of celebrating the engagement of Louis XIII and Anne of Austria. Strolling through the park today, you can almost imagine the excitement of such a beautiful space opening all those years ago. Little has changed in the past few centuries and the surrounding area is awash with history.
Must See Attractions in Place des Vosges
Place des Vosges is not only a great place to hang out, peruse the shops and drink some delicious drinks, but it is also prime real estate. As such, the square has been inhabited by a countless number of acclaimed writers, artists, and politicians over the past few centuries.
No. 6: House of Victor Hugo. Here you can see where the Hunchback of Notre Dame writer lived and worked until his exile by Napoleon. The house is now a small house museum, free to visit and definitely worth a quick peek inside. Here, you’ll find a large array of paintings and plenty of extravagant furniture.
No. 21: Residence of Cardinal Richelieu. Yes, this is the one and only Cardinal Richelieu from the Three Musketeers. Much like Nicolas Flamel, he too was a real person. Oh, and he lived in Paris, of course. The bronze statue which sits at the center of the square today was placed there at the request of Richelieu himself.
Further reading: The Architecture of Paris, Victor Hugo: A Biography by Graham Robb