Before the Hotel de Ville

The Hotel de Ville is located by the river Seine, in a bustling and populous area of the Rive Droite.

Hotel de Ville during the Paris Commune
Hotel de Ville during the Paris Commune

The river always played a major role in the development and wealth of the capital.

It indeed led to the appearance of the powerful Guild of the Watermen of Paris or Nautes Parisiens.

For centuries most goods and commodities were essentially transported by river.

Until the 12th century, the Port St-Landry on the Ile de la Cité was the only port serving Paris.

The exceptional demographic expansion of the beginning of the first millennium made it obsolete.

Paris was thriving and needed new infrastructures.

Port de Grève

In 1141, the Guild of the Watermen of Paris bought some land outside the city walls to build a new port.

A bustling district soon developed nearby the Port de Grève and thrived from the river trade and its derivatives.

Place de Grève

A row of wooden stakes divided the port in two sections.

Hotel de Ville ready for Bastille Day celebrations
Hotel de Ville ready for Bastille Day celebrations

The lower part was the bustling bank or grève, where various commodities and goods were offloaded.

The dockers assembled in the upper part, on Place de Grève, where they waited for work.

From 1310 to 1822, the Place de Grève was also the place where religious celebrations and public executions took place!

Enlarged fourfold in mid 19th century, it was also renamed Place de l’Hôtel-de-Ville.

It is the oldest square in Paris.

Nothing is left of the active port that supplied the city for centuries, as Haussmann redeveloped the district.

The Place de l’Hotel de Ville was entirely redesigned and today showcases the City Hall.

It is also one of the liveliest squares of Paris, as it is constantly used for public displays or attractions.

Guild of the Watermen of Paris – Nautes Parisiens

Paris remained dependent on the river trade for centuries.

Hotel de Ville- Renaissance architecture
Renaissance architecture

The Guild of the Watermen of Paris established their influence during the Gallo-Roman era.

They played a major political and economic role in the development of the city throughout the following centuries.

They indeed held the monopoly of the river trade.

Not only did they control the exchanges and collected tolls for the transport of goods on the Seine, but also on the nearby rivers Marne, Oise, and Yonne!

Their wealth and influence never ceased to increase.

Its influential members became well-respected merchants.

In 1190, King Philippe-Auguste encompassed Paris within a new rampart, which integrated the Place de Grève into Paris.

By 1246, Paris had become a large city that required a separate administration.

Hotel de Ville
Main facade

Louis IX therefore granted Paris residents with the right to elect their aldermen or Echevins among the members of the Guild of the Watermen.

Their leader became the Provost of the Merchants of Paris.

This new body became fully responsible for the administration of the city.

Their emblem, a silvery-white vessel sailing fiercely on the waves against a red background, became Paris’ emblem.

Their motto, which symbolizes Lutetia, the antic city on the Ile de la Cité, became Paris’ motto.

“Fluctuat nec mergitur”

“She is battered by the waves but does not sink”

Parloir aux Bourgeois

The aldermen met regularly in the Parloir aux Bourgeois.

Hotel de Ville - Riverside facade
Riverside facade

This first city hall stood next to the Châtelet fortress – the current Place du Châtelet.

In 1357, the Provost of the Merchants of Paris Etienne Marcel acquired a larger building in order to transfer the city administration.

The Maison aux Piliers stood on Place de Grève.

This two-storey building was supported by arches and pillars (piliers), hence its name.

Renaissance Hotel de Ville – Hôtel du Boccador

The Italian architect Dominique le Boccador rebuilt the city hall in the early 17th century.

The superb Italian Renaissance style Hôtel du Boccador was enlarged in 1803 and once more in 1840.

Hotel de Ville - Ice-ring in winter
Ice-ring in winter on square

Unfortunately the building and its precious archives burned during the riots of the Commune de Paris in 1871.

One of the arcades, which miraculously escaped destruction, was rebuilt stone by stone in the Parc Monceau.

The architects Ballu and Deperthes rebuilt the Hôtel du Boccador to the identical from 1874 to 1882.

The rectangular building (143m by 80m) encompasses three inner courtyards.

A 50m high tower marks the centre of the main facade and a rectangular pavilion flanks each corner.

An equestrian statue of Etienne Marcel by Antonin Idrac was unveiled on July 14, 1888 on the riverside.

Directions: 4th District
Metro: Hôtel-de-Ville on Lines 1, 11
Coordinates Hotel de Ville: Lat 48.856483 – Long 2.352414

Photo via Wikimedia Commons: During the Paris Commune  is in public domain

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