A square named after a medieval fortress

Place du Chatelet - Medieval Grand Chatelet fortress and jail
Medieval Grand Chatelet fortress and jail

The Place du Chatelet is a major Parisian crossroads on the left bank and delimits the 1st and 4th district.

It’s indeed in the extension of the Pont au Change, the bridge that leads to the Palace of Justice on the Ile de la Cité, and by the junction of Boulevard Sebastopol and Rue de Rivoli near the Tour Saint-Jacques.

Framed by two renowned theatres, it is also a major entertainment area.

The square, however, looked quite different during the Middle-Ages.

It was the site of a massive wooden defence tower erected during the 9th century, and was named after the stone fortress that replaced it In 1130.

Place du Chatelet - Fontaine du Chatelet
Fontaine du Chatelet

The Grand Châtelet protected the Grand Pont, the current Notre-Dame Bridge upstream.

It stood between the current Théâtre du Châtelet and the central reservation, and faced Rue Saint-Denis.

Its pendant, the Petit Châtelet stood on the left bank and protected the Petit Pont.

In 1190 King Philippe-Auguste enclosed Paris within a rampart that encompassed the Grand Châtelet.

As a result the fortress became redundant and was converted to house the courts of Provosts of Paris.

Fontaine du Palmier on Place du Chatelet

The engineer Bralle designed the fountain in 1808 to provide drinking water to the inhabitants of the district.

Place du Chatelet - Fountain and column
Column

However, this fountain was also built to commemorate Napoleon’s victories, which names were engraved in the column’s shaft.

This triumphal fountain is known as Fontaine du Palmier and Fontaine de la Victoire because of the sculpted palm leaves and statue of Victory that top the shaft.

This statue is a replica of the original sculpted by Boizot, which is now in the Carnavalet Museum.

Baron Haussmann enlarged the Place du Chatelet in the 1860’s and altered the fountain.

He indeed commissioned Davioud with the creation of the lower basin, and Jacquemart to sculpt the four sphinxes that frame it and commemorate Napoleon’s victories during the campaign of Egypt.

Jacquemart sculpted also the allegorical statues that adorn the base of the shaft and symbolise  Faith, Strength, Law and Vigilance.

The fountain is a listed Historical Monument.

Théâtre du Châtelet  and Théâtre de la Ville

Davioud built also the two theatres that frame the Place du Chatelet.

Place du Chatelet - Fontaine du Chatelet
Fontaine du Chatelet

The Théâtre du Châtelet, initially known as Théâtre Imperial du Châtelet, was inaugurated on August 19, 1862.

Elegant arcades support the two-storey Italian Renaissance facade, and statues representing Drama, Music, Dance and Comedy adorn the terrace.

The theatre proposes a wide choice of shows that range from ballet to concert and music-hall.

The Théâtre de la Ville, the former Théâtre Sarah Bernhardt, is essentially devoted to contemporary dance.

Directions: 1st and 4th district
Metro: Châtelet on Lines 1, 4, 7, 11 and on RER A, B, D
Coordinates: Lat 48.857556 – Long 2.347304

Photo via Wikimedia Commons: Grand Chatelet Fortress public domain

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