The Place des Vosges through the Seasons
One of the best-loved outdoor spaces where Parisians like to hang out at any time of year is the elegant Place des Vosges, in the heart of the famous Marais district. It’s also one of our favourite places, and has come to express for us the changing seasonal character of the city.
Place des Vosges was created in the early decades of the 17th century, when the old gothic style complex of the Hotel des Tournelles and its gardens was redeveloped as Place Royal.
The square was renamed after the Revolution to honour the Vosges region in eastern France which was the first to pay taxes to the new, revolutionary government.
Like so much of the Marais, by the mid 20th century the Place des Vosges had long fallen out of favour as a prime residential location, although it was classified as an historic monument as early as the 1950s.
Today, the Place des Vosges has returned as one of the most prestigious residential addresses in Paris. It’s also a popular haunt for visitors and Parisians alike.
The historic facades have been restored, the surrounding arcades are lined with art galleries and cafes, and there is a small house museum in one corner celebrating the life of Victor Hugo, author of Les Miserables. The rue Francs Bourgeois, which runs west from the Place des Vosges into the heart of the Marais retail area, is now lined with an array of trendy boutiques and the wonderful Musée Carnavalet, dedicated to the history of Paris–note though that this museum is currently closed for massive renovations.
Sunday afternoon is a perfect time to explore these streets–many of which are pedestrianised then–and relax awhile in one of the numerous cafes.
However, it is the central space of the Place des Vosges that changes with the seasons. In summer, the carefully tended lines of trees around the central lawn present a solid green canopy that provides a deep and welcome shade on sunny days.
Most people though, prefer to sun themselves on the grass, chatting with friends, while children play in the sandpits and fountains. An equestrian statue of Louis XIII, set in the middle of the Place, celebrates the history of France.
In the autumn, as the trees in Place des Vosges turn a wonderful golden colour, Parisians come out to capture the last weeks of warm sunshine.
Within a matter of weeks, the sculptured composition of the bare trees surrounding the central lawn stands in stark contrast to summer’s deep green canopy.
We were in Paris in January a couple of years ago when the city was hit by one of the heaviest snow storms for many years. It started late on a Friday night, and by Saturday morning the city was covered in a thick blanket of snow. Buses stopped running and many motorists chose to take the Metro. It was as though a veil of silence had descended over the city.
We headed to the Place des Vosges, only to find another aspect of its character. The paths and lawns had disappeared under a thick blanket of snow, leaving only the bare trees to filter views to the surrounding facades. The central space was now the scene of snow fights and young children being introduced to la niege.
Within a few months of course the seasonal cycle begins again, with the Place des Vosges soon welcoming back those who would lie on the grass and soak up the brilliant sunshine, or meet friends beneath the deep green canopies.