Place de la Bastille vs. Place de la Concorde
Clashing of the squares
Despite the unwavering unity that the Haussmannian layout ensures to the French Capital, not all places are alike. As two titans opposing each other, the gigantic public squares of Concorde and Bastille both are the perfect examples of that. There are no other locations in Paris that are as different as these two.
Both “Place de la Concorde” and “Place de la Bastille” offer interests and history to their visitors. But what travelers may not know is that there is much more to this fight than just architectural and historical details. So, which one should you rush and see? Well, take a seat and enjoy the clash of the squares…
Bastille vs Concorde: Round 1
Architecture, Feel & Layout
When you stand on these two public squares, the feeling you get is completely different.
Place de la Concorde…
is a very open square, allowing your gaze to go all the way to the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. Almost nothing is an obstacle to your view and the square itself feels like a transition between the relaxing Jardins des Tuileries and the hectic Champs-Elysées.
With an area of 86 400 square meters, the Place de la Concorde is, by far, the largest square in Paris. Its layout is a rectangle, opened to the River, and lined with the massive classic-style palaces of Hôtel Crillon and Hôtel de la Marine, to the North.
In its center, the Egyptian obelisk brought back from Louxor as a present from Egyptian viceroy Muhammad Ali, is surrounded by two fountainss celebrating river and sea navigations.
The square is circled with streetlamps, columns and 8 statues representing the French main cities.
To the West, the square opens to world-renowned Avenue des Champs-Elysées. The overall effect is a feeling of magnificence and grandeur.
Place de la Bastille…
…gives a much more enclosed and bustling feel. Of roughly circular shape, and covering “only” 32 000 square meters, this public square is only open to the South towards the Arsenal harbor. At the “Bastille”, the gaze is constantly limited.
The living heart of the popular neighborhoods, Place de la Bastille shows a less coherent, less planned, messier side. The huge and modern façade of the Bastille Opera House is in sharp contrast with the cobblestone pavement and Haussmannian buildings.
In its center, the July Column is an elegant reminder that Place de la Bastille is the core of the French Revolutionary mindset.
Which one to pick?
Pick Place de la Concorde if you are in Paris to get a glimpse of French luxury, royal grandeur and massive, grandiose architecture.
Pick Place de la Bastille if you wish to dive more into the French culture and history, and if you want to experience a common Frenchman’s life epicenter.
Bastille vs Concorde: Round 2
If both squares are strongly engraved in Paris history, their pasts are very much opposed.
Place de la Concorde is the embodiment of the rise and fall of French monarchy. Created in 1772, on the swampy outer-edge of Paris, the square is first called “Place Louis XV” as a celebration of the King of whom a statue is erected.
It will remain as such until 1792 – three years after the outbreak of the French Revolution – when the statue is taken down and the square renamed “Place de la Revolution”.
The temporarily established regime of “Terror” will make use of the dreaded blade of the guillotine, installed on the Place de la Revolution for about half the executions that take place during this period of time. Most notably, King Louis XVI and his wife Marie-Antoinette are executed there in 1793.
After the Revolution, the name “Place de la Concorde” is chosen to represent the unification of the People and help erase the painful memories of the Terror.
Place de la Bastille, on the contrary, was not as carefully planned and designed. The fortress of the Bastille – fully named “Bastille Saint-Antoine” – was originally built in 1383 to protect the Eastern gate of King Charles V defensive wall.
Turned into a state prison in the 18th century, the Bastille is stormed by the People on July 14, 1789. Although considered the start of the Revolution, this event is merely symbolic.
Indeed, the People were actually willing to get weapons and cannon powder which were kept inside the Bastille, and did not directly intend on freeing the few prisoners. The next day, the Bastille was already being dismantled.
The building of the current square was very progressive, depending on the local urban planning. For instance, Emperor Napoleon, in the early 19th century, wished to implement a fountain with a giant elephant statue in the center of the square. A plaster copy was implemented but the full project was never finished.
A lesser-known three-day Revolution, taking place in July 1830 as Monarchy was temporarily restored, lead to the rising of the current bronze column, called “July Column”, in memory of the victims of these days.
In 1989, the modern Bastille Opera House, one of the largest in the world, is inaugurated to celebrate the bicentennial of the French Revolution, taking part of the big Paris transformations initiated by President François Mitterrand.
Bastille vs Concorde: Round 3
The details that I love
As you are now aware by reading our blog articles, Paris is best discovered by taking the time to wander on the streets and pay attention to little details. Our two Titans are no exception. Here are two details you may have missed on these squares, and that we feel should weigh in.
When on Place de la Concorde, take Rue Royale to the North and stop, at the immediate exit of the square, in front of the door bearing the number 1. Next to the door, you should see a small piece of paper placarded on the wall, behind a protective glass.
The sign reads “Ordre de Mobilisation Générale” which translates to “Call for General Mobilization”.
This sign was posted here on August 2, 1914 and was ordering all men qualified for war to gather and go to the Eastern borders, thus, foreseeing the beginning of World War I.
The sign by Place de la Concorde is a copy, the original one being kept in the National Archives. 400 of these were placed across Paris on that Sunday morning of August 1914. Only two remain today.
Place de la Bastille offers a discreet detail. The Bastille fortress – which used to roughly stand on the Western edge of the current square – no longer exists, since it was dismantled during the French Revolution to build other public buildings. However, it did not go without leaving a trace!
When you stand in front of “Le Café Français”, between Boulevard Henry IV and Rue Saint-Antoine, look at the cobblestone pavement of the square. You may notice a strip made of slightly larger and browner stones.
At both corners of the square with Rue Saint-Antoine and Boulevard Henry IV, these stones also take the shape of a perfect circle. Although quite discrete, these lines mark the footprint of the original Bastille walls and towers.
The Google screenshot below clearly shows these lines, as seen from above.
Similar lines are drawn across the Metro station below, and if you go to the platform of Line 5 (northbound) you will see a tiny portion of the Bastille counterscarp wall.
If you wish to see the last remains of the fortress, you may also walk to Square Henry Galli, nearby, where the base of one of the towers has been transported to.
Which one to pick?
Although both of these details are worth seeing, we recommend you pick Place de la Bastille.
Indeed, current Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo launched a series of great transformations for 7 major Paris squares, including Place de la Bastille. The plans, shared publicly, do not clearly show whether the “footprint” cobblestone pavement will remain, but it most likely won’t.
Therefore, you should not wait too long before taking a chance to catch a glimpse of the last traces of the infamous fortress.
Bastille vs Concorde: Round 4
If there is a subject on which EVERYTHING opposes these two squares, it is that of politics.
Traditionally, Place de la Concorde is perceived as the epicenter of the Right-Wing parties. When former Right-Wing President Nicolas Sarkozy was first elected, he chose to celebrate his victory at the “Concorde”, and so did Jacques Chirac, before him.
Located near neighborhoods where finance, luxury, and tradition are the local mottos, and impregnated with its royal and republican tormented history, Place de la Concorde is probably the location that best represents the Right-Wing…on the Right Bank of the Seine.
On the contrary, Place de la Bastille is popularly associated with the Left-Wing. Left-Wing former presidents’ victories (F. Mitterrand & F. Hollande) where both celebrated there, as a popular manifestation that things were about to change, according to the People’s will.
The square is also often the starting or ending point of union-organized demonstrations. Reinforced by its revolutionary past, the Bastille, although dismantled, has never been such a strong bastion…for the Left Wing.
Interestingly enough, when current President, Emmanuel Macron, was elected, his victory was not celebrated at the Concorde – considered to be too-much-to-the-Right – nor at the Bastille – considered to be too-much-to-the-Left.
Since he considered his policy to be in-between, he chose to celebrate his victory in the main yard of the Louvre Museum, which is located roughly halfway between both squares! To get a better idea of the difference between the Left and Right banks, why not take a walking tour?
The squares as gateways
Last, but not least, let us consider what squares are originally designed for: public squares are passageways. The Concorde and Bastille squares are some of Paris’ busiest places, and are used as gateways to major neighborhoods. However, we can, once again, see major differences on their purpose.
Place de la Concorde is the massive gateway to a world where luxury is king. Designed to impress, the square is used to reach the most high-class areas of the French Capital.
Next to the Concorde are the presidential Palace of Elysée, the renowned Champs-Elysées, the Louvre Museum, the refined Vendôme square, and the core of Paris Fashion on rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. If you are looking to skip the queues to these places on a day out, find tickets here!
Across the River Seine, as a reminder of the tumultuous and republican past of the square, the National Assembly building dominates with its greek-temple-like façade.
Place de la Bastille is the gateway to the Paris where Parisians actually go out by the hundreds. Walk up North to the small winding streets of Rue de la Roquette and Rue de Lappe to enjoy a nightlife filled with bars and clubs.
Choose to lose your way in the Upper-Marais (West of Boulevard Richard Lenoir, towards the very classy Place des Vosges) for a trendier and classier day or evening.
Bastille vs Concorde: Which one to pick?
I believe both squares complement each other and represent what Paris is. We recommend you see both of them, but if your time constraint is not flexible, we suggest you choose the one that best fit your personality!
How to get there?
PLACE DE LA CONCORDE is ideally located on Metro lines 1, 8 and 12. You can easily fit it in your schedule if you are visiting the Champs-Elysées, or the Louvre Museum. The Orsay Museum is 10 minutes away, across the River Seine.
PLACE DE LA BASTILLE is slightly more decentered from major monuments but can be reached with Metro lines 1, 5 and 8. You can easily fit it after a tour in the Marais, or the Islands. If you are taking a train at Gare de Lyon or if you end up on Place de la République, Place de la Bastille is only a 10-minute walk away !
So, tell us in the comments below…are you Team Bastille or Team Concorde?