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16.2.04

Rebuilding History

Palais des Tuileries, 1871, Charles Deering McCormick Library, Northwestern UniversityThe lost palace of Paris, the Palais des Tuileries, was built in the 16th century for Catherine de Médicis. It was located on the site of former tile kilns, hence its name, at the west end of the Louvre. The whole complex of buildings was the main residence of the French royal family until, in the 17th century, Louis XIV relocated the court to the new Château de Versailles. During the upheaval of the French revolution, Louis XVI was forced to move back into the Tuileries Palace, supposedly to make him understand the miserable poverty of most Parisians. In 1792, when things got much uglier for the monarchy, the king and queen were imprisoned and ultimately executed, and the revolutionary government took possession of the Tuileries. They renamed it the Palais National, and it became the meeting place for the National Convention; important documents like the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen were issued there. The building later became the imperial residence of Napoleon I and Napoleon III in the 19th century. (Go to the bottom of this list, from The Siege and Commune of Paris, 1870–1871, at Northwestern University, to see several photographs of the inside and outside of the Tuileries in the 19th century [including the image shown at left]; several more images are here.) What became of this famous palace? Why is the western end of the Louvre grounds only an open garden (Jardins des Tuileries) with a clear view to the Arc de Triomphe?

The Franco-Prussian War ended with the signing of a humiliating surrender by the French government of Adolphe Thiers. A radical, revolutionary rebellion eventually known as the Commune controlled Paris by seizing arms and cannons left in the streets by the National Guard. Paris, having barely survived the siege and bombing by the Prussians, was now under attack from its own government. On May 16, 1871, the Communards led a crowd (including the painter Gustave Courbet) in the destruction of the Vendôme Column (another picture here). In the following week, more such destruction ensued as fires were set throughout Paris by the pétroleuses, revolutionary women arsonists who threw kerosene bombs into buildings, especially those that were seen as symbols of the ancien régime, including the Tuileries Palace and the Palais-Royal. The old Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall), the seat of the Communard government, was bombed by French guns and destroyed. The Communards were eventually all captured and shot against a wall in what is now Père-Lachaise Cemetery (the Mur des Fédérés). After the fire, the shell of the Tuileries stood in ruins until they were finally demolished. Parts of the ruins were purchased by a Corsican family and used to build the Château of La Punta on the gulf of Ajaccio. (For more information, see Henri Lissagaray, History of the Paris Commune of 1871, published in 1876.)

The Vendôme Column was restored almost immediately, in 1873 to 1874. The Hôtel de Ville was also rebuilt according to the exact same plan in 1882, paid for by a special national tax. Now, as I learned in an article (Tuilerie: la reconstruction en marche, February 14) by Anne Muratori-Philip in Le Figaro, people may be getting serious about rebuilding the Palais des Tuileries:

Should the Tuileries Palace be reconstructed? This question was asked on December 18, 2002, during a special meeting of the Academy of the Second Empire in the great auditorium of the Louvre, and the idea has made some progress. Fourteen months later, a new meeting in the rooms of the Institut de France, led by the Princess Napoleon, has launched a projet which is not all a dream. "Today, the Tuileries Palace has been forgotten," lamented Alain Boumier, President of the Academy of the Second Empire while convening the meeting.
[...]
As for finances, the provisional budget is allegedly on the order of 300 million euros [$384.5 million], or one-fourth of the cost of the work on the Grand Louvre or the equivalent of the annual budget of La Villette. The financial burden will fall on sponsorship, in accordance with the law of August 1, 2003, and on national and international donations.
The plan would be to use the reconstructed Tuileries Palace as a space into which the Louvre could expand. A Web site is supposedly being set up for the rebuilding project, but at the time of this writing, it was not functioning.

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