Paris History: Rue de Rivoli

Image The Louvre and the Tuileries Garden take up the south side of this street, and on the other side runs an arcade more than a mile long. Napoleon I opened up the street from the Place de la Concorde, Charles X continued it, as did Louis-Philippe, and Napoleon III carried it on down into the Marais.

Image Opposite the middle of the Louvre, the Place du Palais-Royal leads to the palace of Cardinal de Richelieu, built in 1624 and willed to the royal family. Louis XIV lived there as a child, and during the minority of Louis XV the kingdom was ruled from there by the debauched but gifted regent. Late in the 18th century Louis-Philippe d'Orléans, who became Philippe-Egalite after the Revolution, undertook extensive building around the palace garden. It was a commercial operation, and the prince hoped to pay its debts from the property rents. "Well cousin," said Louis XVI, "so you're going to keep shop; well never get to see you except on Sunday."

Image Around the garden he built a beautiful oblong of colonnaded galleries, and at each end of the gallery farthest from his residence, a theatre. The larger playhouse has been the home of the Comédie Française, the state theatre company, since Napoleons reign. The princely apartments now shelter high state bodies such as the Conseil d'Etat.

Image The princes financial success was modest, but the social impact was sensational. From the 1780s to 1837 the Palais Royal was the local synonym for excitement. It was the centre of Parisian political and amorous intrigue and the site of the most celebrated gambling dens and popular cafés. Today the garden and its galleries are still beautiful but are wistfully deliquescent, a Pompeii where even the tourists are rare.

Just behind the garden is the Bibliothèque Nationale, the national library of deposit, with the expected enormous collections of books and prints, some 6,000,000 of each.

When Haussmann greatly enlarged the Place du Palais Royal in 1852, he did not molest the palace when he pushed through the Avenue de l'Opéra. At the top of the new street, where the Grands Boulevards crossed an enormous new place, the new Opera House was built, pulling pleasure seekers further away from the Palais garden. The Opéra (1825-98), the neo-Baroque masterwork of Charles Garnier, is a splendiferous monument to the Second Empire. By acreage it is the largest theatre in the world, but so much space is devoted to such embellishments as the Grand Staircase that in seating capacity it is not the largest theatre in Paris. Just behind the Opera House, the largest department store indulge in the same kind of uninhibited monumentality, the sort of thing they now avoid in their branches at suburban shopping centres springing up around the country.

On the rue de Rivoli the next place is the Place des Pyramides. The gilded equestrian statue of Joan of Arc stands not far from where she was wounded (at the Saint-Honoré Gate) in her unsuccessful attack on British-held Paris, September 8, 1429.

Farther along toward the Place de la Concorde the rue de Castiglione leads to the Place Vendôme, an elegant octagonal place, little changed from the 1698 designs of Jules Hardouin- Mansart. In the centre, the Trajanesque Vendôme Column, 44 metres high and spiralled in the bronze of 1,200 captures cannons, bears the effigy of Napoleon, who had it erected in 1810. It was pulled down during the Commune and put back up by the Third Republic. The place and the gas-lit rue de la Paix have lost none of their discreet distinction, nor have their shops. The rue de Rivoli shops, once equally chic, have in many cases acquired a disguised but unmistakably vulgar accent. The streets hotels maintain their traditional high quality. The German commander of Gross Paris, Dietrich von Choltitz, who disobeyed Hitler's order to burn the city, was captured in his headquarters at the Meurisse Hôtel August 25, 1944.

© 14 Oct 2002, Nicolas Pioch - Top - Up - Info
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