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The reign of King Henry IV represented one of the most prolific periods of building for Paris. After a bitter civil war that had suppressed the French economy and compromised the country’s unity, he sought to establish the nation’s glory. One of the ways to do that was to enhance his capital city so that it would reflect his sovereign power in its modernity, organization, and grandeur.

Henry attempted to imitate Pope Sixtus V’s models in Rome, but deviated to create something thoroughly original: the formation of the royal square.

Aerial view of the Place des Vosges (originally the Place Royale) which was finished in 1612.

Henry’s first attempt was the Place de Royale (renamed the Place des Vosges after the Revolution). The land was available for development because a half a century earlier Queen Catherine de Médicis razed the Hotel de Tournelles that was on the site after her husband Henry II took a joust to the eye and eventually succumbed to infection.

He began the Place de Royale in 1605, but as is so often the case, the monarch did not live to see the completion of his project.

The Place was a residential conception with 36 uniform houses, nine on each side. They frame a large public space set up for pedestrian traffic, commercial uses, and the beautification of gardens. The heart of the square was reserved for a monument to the greatest ruler who ever lived (read: the one in power when the square was finished).

Before the Place de Royale was completed, Henry had the Place Dauphine laid out. This “square” had three sides with two opposing entrances. The triangle form was necessitated by it’s placement at the downstream point of the Ile de la Cite.

Wood cut aerial image of the Place Dauphine

Place Vendome

Place Vendome, completed in 1689, created by the influential architect Jules Hardouin Mansart.

The circular "square" Place des Victoires (architect Jules Hardouin Mansart, 1682-87) has five boulevards feeding into it.

Due to the death of Henry IV, the Place de France would never be completed. It would have been butted up against the Paris wall and would have 8 streets radiating from it.

Sources: One Thousand Years of World Architecture, p 192; Wikipedia on Place des Vosges; Wikipedia on Henry II; French Wikipedia on the Place de France.

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