On a bench in the Jardin de Tuileries Gardens, Paris
Relaxing in the Tuileries Gardens. (Photo by Gabriella Alù)

The Tuileries Gardens in Paris, France

These meticulously planned gravel pathways, statue-lined promenades, perfectly placed fountains, regimentally planted gardens (each of the 125,000 plants placed by hand each year), and astoundingly awful crêpe stands extends right through the heart of Paris, along the banks of the Seine from the Louvre to place de la Concorde.

The gardens were redesigned in the 17th century by France's premiere landscape architect Le Nôtre and are scattered with sculptures by the likes of Rodin, Giacometti, Max Ernst, and André Mairaux.

Vive la Revolution!

They may look pretty, but the Tuileries played an important, bloody role in the French Revolution. On August 10, 1792, an army of more than 20,000 revolutionary commoners (and many National Guard who decided to switch sides) marched on the palace.

The rebels were briefly held at bay by the king's private army of Swiss Guards while Louis XVI fled, but soon thereafter they took the palace—whereupon they rioted and massacred more than 600 of the defending Swiss Guards.

Three days after the fighting, Louis XVI was arrested.

Within six weeks, the Legislative Assembly was dissolved, the French monarchy was abolished, and the revolution was won.

Place de la Concorde

On 21 January 1793, four months after the French revolution was won, Louis XVI lost his head to the guillotine on the square marking the western end of the Tuileries Gardens, now called place de la Concorde. (Louis XVI's infamous wife, Queen Marie Antoinette, met the same fate on the same spot nine months later.)

At the time, place de la Concorde was called place de la Révolution—which seemed a far more appropriate name than the original: place Louis XV. The statue of that monarch, Louis XVI's father, that once stood at the center of the plaza was torn down during the revolution.

In the 19th century, France erected in its place one of the two 3,270-year-old obelsiks from the Temple at Luxor, a 23-meter (75-foot) monolith from the reign of Rameses II carved with hieroglyphics. It was donated to the nation by the then-Ottoman government of Egypt in 1829. (The obelisk's twin never made it to France; it proved too tricky to move and so was left lying at Luxor. In the 1990s, Mitterand officially gave it back to the Egyptians.)

The museums of the Tuileries

Yes, the Tuileries are anchored at one end by what is arguably the most famous museum in the world, the Louvre, but there are two smaller, equally intriguing art galleries at the western end as well, just off place de la Concorde.

Monet's Waterlillies in the Orangerie Museum, ParisThe Jeu de Paume hosts temporary exhibits, while the wonderful Orangerie is one of Paris' best secret spots: Impressionists hang in the rooms upstairs while in the basement hides Monet's grandest project and most beautiful memorial: two specially-built oval rooms each set with 360° of continuous Waterlillies.

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A scene at a fountain in the Tuileries Gardens, Paris
A scene at a fountain in the Tuileries Gardens. (Photo by Julian Fong)

 

 

The Tuileries Gardens, Paris
The Tuileries Gardens. (Photo by Melodie Mesiano)