Sunday, November 11, 2012

Turgot Map of Paris 3

Becket, November 11, 2012

You could take any sheet of the Turgot map and look at it for hours.  I'll start with a sheet that includes one of the most remarkable places in Paris, Place de Vosges.  Labeled "Place Roiale" (of course, it changed its name shortly after the revolution,) it was barely more than a century old when Bretez drew the map.  Look at it, I'm pretty sure there is nothing like that in the whole map: a perfect square, 140 x 140 meters, with regular facades all around.  Let me try to explain what is so extraordinary about this.  At the time, everything else in the city took shape through accretion, an additive process; the Place Royale, by contrast, is the result of a subtractive operation, as if the square would have been carved with a giant knife from the older fabric and then resurfaced with a new layer of housing.  This is particularly apparent because the square aligns with the blocks to the north (left on this map) and then the other sides meet the surrounding fabric at odd angles.  With its regular rhythm, distinctive surfaces of red brick and sandstone, vaulted arcades and steep roofs of blue slate, the architecture of the square only strenghtens the distinction from its context.

The Place Royale became a favorite place of residence for the aristocracy right away.  Cardinal Richelieu moved there soon after the construction was completed.  He was the one that put the equestrian statue of Louis XIII in the center (no, the statue standing there now dates from the early 19th century; the original one, like so many other monuments in Paris, you can guess it, was taken down and melted at the time of the revolution.)  The list of notables that called Place de Vosges home at one time or another also includes Victor Hugo, Madame de Sevigné, Théophile Gautier and Alphonse Daudet.

(Sorry flaq, that was again something like 300 words, but I couldn't resist mentioning some of the people that lived there.)

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