Garde Republicaine, a prestigious gendarmerie force
The Garde Republicaine is a Gendarmerie Nationale force made up of 2 Infantry Regiments and a Cavalry Regiment squadron.
It also includes the symphonic orchestra and the choir of the French army (which are excellent by the way!) as well as the brass band and the stables for about 140 horses.
An emblematic military body of the City of Paris, it was known as Garde Republicaine de Paris from 1870 to 1978.
The guards’ uniforms still bear Paris coat of arms as a reminder of this era.
The Caserne of the Garde Republicaine (barracks) is also known as Caserne des Célestins as it was built on the site of a former Celestines convent.
The barracks have even retained its plan as the buildings frame a vast rectangular courtyard.
Couvent des Celestins
The convent, founded in the 14th century, was the second most important royal necropolis after the Basilica of Saint-Denis. Indeed, many royals, men and women were buried there over the centuries.
Rebuilt in 1730, it was only in use until the dissolution of the Celestine order in 1778.
The monastic buildings remained vacant until 1791 (Revolution) housed a cavalry barracks in 1795, institutions for deaf-mutes and blind and the élite Gendarmerie in 1802.
A second barracks, Caserne du Petit Musc, was built in 1840 to house 1,400 guards in charge of security in Paris.
The two barracks were regrouped in the late 19th century to form the current Caserne de la Garde Republicaine. The last vestiges of the convent were demolished in the process.
The barracks have since then been a self-contained unit where the guards are accommodated with their families in the Quartier des Ménages (staff quarters).
The Republican Guards
However, before entering this prestigious military institution the future guards must comply to two major requirements.
First of all, they must have passed the gendarmerie non-commissioned officer competition, which is today open to women.
Secondly, they must be skilled riders and hold at least the French Galop 5 level.
Republican guards are entrusted with various missions, some far less known than others!
Honorary missions are less frequent, but of course more memorable because more prestigious.
This is when they wear their ceremonial service uniforms while accompanying the President of the Republic or foreign dignitaries or parading.
The colour of their pants then differs depending on the mission: blue if the president is absent, but white if he is present.
However, few people realize that the Republican guards’ main mission is the security of the city and the public, whether in the streets, gathering places, festivals etc… as well as official buildings.
And I guess that a handful of people aren’t aware of the guards’ unusual missions such as monitoring the precious grapes harvest in Champagne to protect them from thieves; or monitoring the oyster beds just before the start of the harvest in the last term of the year!
Garde Republicaine horses and their stables
Parisians are very proud of their Republican Guards.
But the big stars are the 140 or so horses, all issued from the Selle Français breed.
Each rider has his own horse and each squadron has his coat colour!
The brass band and the 1st squadron have Chestnut horses; the 2nd squadron bay horses and the 3rd squadron brown bay.
These horses are selected for their personality, attractive physique and robustness.
Once 3 years old, they are sent to Saint-Germain-en-Laye stud farm to be trained.
They join the Garde Republicaine a year later and are gradually accustomed to their new job.
Each horse has a private box and is shooed every 45 days. He also enjoys an exemplary veterinary follow-up (there’s even an operating room!)
They work until the age of 16, when they retire!
The rider can buy his retiring horse for a symbolic €1, otherwise the horse is sold to a private owner who must commit to give him a happy and well deserved retirement.
Finally, each rider is responsible for picking up his horse’s poo after training. And because all is recycled, the mushroom growers of Paris collect it twice a week and use it as fertilizer.
Horses train in the central courtyard manege, or indoor depending on the weather.
This covered manege boasts a stunning roof structure created by Gustave Eiffel.
It was exhibited on the Champ de Mars for the Universal Exhibition of 1889 and transferred to the Garde Republicaine in 1892.
It was later named after a general who died during WWI.
Garde Republicaine Museum – Salle des Traditions
La Garde Republicaine founded its museum in one of the stables.
Several display cases tell the prestigious institution’s story and the evolution of uniforms.
You can discover this fascinating place for free during the annual Heritage Days in September.
However, individual or group guided paying visits take place throughout the year.
That said it’s best to avoid a summer visit if you want to see these magnificent horses, as this is when most of them are away on holiday, happily grazing in a stud farm!
Finally, also keep in mind that the forge is closed on Saturdays.