The Place de l’Hôtel de Ville in Paris

The Place de l’Hôtel de Ville hasn’t always been this lively and joyful place in the heart of Paris. Indeed, it’s on this very square that many public executions took place along the centuries. You won’t see the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville in the same light, now!

Paris City Hall (we were talking about right there) is set on the aptly-named Place de l’Hôtel de Ville. Pedestrian since 1982, this beautiful and large Parisian square is now the favorite place for many entertainments for local inhabitants and tourists. Turned into an ice-skating rink in the winter, as a broadcasting place for major sporting events such as the Fifa World Cup or as a concert venue in the summer for the Fnac Live Festival, it never sleeps and knows how to gather the crowds.

But if we go several centuries back, no soccer nor ice-skating rink at this place in Paris but a desert and sandy ground, in other words, a strand. In 1141, Louis VII the Young sells the ground to merchants who transport their goods on the Seine and quickly lots of small docks, gathered under the name of “Port de Grève” are brought to the world by the river, replacing the Port Saint-Landry on the Île-de-la-Cité that became too small. Hay, wheat, salt, charcoal, wine, wood are unloaded here all day long.

Because of how close the Port de Grève is and all the goods transiting, a public market is created: the Place de Grève, a work place for many Parisians who don’t have a permanent job. Indeed, back in the days, it was easy to find work for the day by going early on the Place de Grève. For the anecdote, known that the French turn of phrase “faire grève/se mettre en grève” [going on a strike], before meaning one stops working it was on the contrary meaning “standing on the Place de Grève while waiting for work”!

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Until 1648, the Saint John’s Fire was set every year on the Place de Grève. On this day, a very off and definitely shady ceremony was held. Indeed, a basket containing cats was put on the bundles of sticks and the branches ready to be burnt. The king set fire burning the cats alive egged on by the crowd gathered on the square.

Even darker, the Place de Grève long used for public executions. The first ones were held in 1310: Marguerite Porette and a priest are sent to the stake for heresy. In 1610, Ravaillac was quartered there for assassinating Henry IV. And in 1680, Catherine Deshayes, the famous poisoner of the poisoning case, is burnt alive for witchcraft. In the 18th century, executions are still on the Place de Grève. It’s there that the first guillotine execution took place in 1792! Rumor has it that the crowd was disappointed by how short the execution was. From 1832, executions stopped taking place on the Place de Grève but in rue du Faubourg Saint-Jacques.

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During the Second Empire, the square is extended by Baron Haussmann and adopts the look we know today. In 1803, it’s permanently called the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville. In 2103, the terms “Esplanade de la Libération” are appended to “Place de l’Hôtel de Ville” in tribute to resistance fighters, free French people, allies and all the insurgents who freed Paris during the night from August 24 to 25, 1944.

Now, you know everything about its story and you won’t see the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville with the same light!

Manon C.
Last updated on 30 July 2018

Practical information

Location

Place de l'Hôtel de Ville
75004 Paris 4

Prices
Free

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