Without a doubt the most famous of over twenty-some homonymous squares located throughout France, the Place de la République in Paris sits on the border of three different arrondissements—the 3rd, 10th, and 11th to be precise. However, the demarcation isn’t just administrative. The neighborhoods in these districts have distinct characters. The arteries leading from this square flow well beyond these areas into the rest of the city, too.
Fast-tracking it along Boulevard de Magenta will re-route you to two of the city’s major train stations, Gare du Nord and Gare de l’Est, and their more working class environs. Once there, you can also board the Eurostar to London or the Thalys to Brussels and Amsterdam at the former, or a high-speed TGV toward Alsace and beyond at the latter.
Swinging to the west along Boulevard Saint-Michel, you can straight-shot it across the city, past Strasbourg-Saint-Denis and its raucous night life; past the neon lights of the Grand Rex, the largest movie theater in Europe; past the green copper dome of the Palais Garnier opera house; and toward the Arc de Triomphe.
Heading down Rue de Turbigo will channel you to the technical beating heart of the city, the recently renovated canopy of the Châtelet-Les-Halles transportation hub-cum-shopping mall.
Ambling away from the square down Rue du Temple will lead you directly into the Marais—known for its plethora of boutiques, art galleries and historic gay and Jewish zones—and spit you out at the city hall (Hôtel de Ville) and the River Seine.
Moving east along Rue du Faubourg du Temple, you will climb up to Belleville and its eclectic assortment of Chinese supermarkets, couscous restaurants, and African bodegas.
Marching down the similarly named Boulevard du Temple will take you to the Place de la Bastille, where you the only vestige of the former prison dismantled by revolutionaries stone by stone can be found underground in the metro.
And at the center of all of this is, of course, the Place de la République.
Like Bastille, the Place de la République is itself a highly symbolic place with its statue of the embodied French Republic at its center. It is not random that Parisians choose to march from one of these two historic squares to the other.
Nonetheless, the Place de la République has developed beyond a traditional French square. It not just the point of physical transition and convergence but one of social, cultural, political, and even intellectual exchange.
Sitting in a bus in mid-March, as it crosses the square, a man can be overheard: “C’est vraiment un forum. ‘Place du Forum.’”
This is an investigation into the history of the Place de la République, its evolution over the years, and especially its development into a true forum following major architectural reconfigurations and in the wake of the terror attacks of 2015.