Bastille-Paris Monuments: Naked men vs elephants

Photo by Chris Card Fuller ©2007
Spend a little time in Paris and you’ll soon discover that some of the most famous monuments in this city no longer exist. Probably one of the most famous is the Bastille prison which was demolished soon after the French Revolution.

If you go to the Place de la Bastille Metro: Bastille today, what you’ll find in its place is the July Column which was erected in July of 1840 by Louis Philippe, the citizen king (the same guy who inaugurated the obelisk).

The first thing you need to know about the July Column is that it has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with the French Revolution or the storming of the Bastille. Rather, it commemorates a totally different revolution which occurred over three days in July of 1830. You’d think after the French revolution, it would be evident that the French had had enough of kings, but that didn’t stop another Bourbon king, Charles X from taking a stab at it. When he squashed the press, up went the barricades. About a 1000 people died, of which just over 500 are buried underneath the July Column – so what we have, folks, is really a marker for a 500 plus person group burial site. Add to that the 2000 more from 1848 revolutions, and that’s a lot of bones.

The crowning adornment for this monument is The Spirit of Liberty represented by Auguste Dumont’s naked man with wings.




Needless to say, the 2500 or more, men and women , buried underneath this monument didn’t get a chance to vote on this. But if they had, what would they have preferred – a naked man with wings – or an elephant?
Napoleon, at one point, wanted to erect a fountain topped by an elephant. This project was finally trashed (the actual model had been constructed) because the poor old elephant was considered to be yet another imperial emblem.

Not to make light of the great sacrifices of the ‘Trois Glorieuses’ and the courageous fight for freedom of the press, and freedom of expression which ignited these last three days of July in 1830, I only wish that the July Column inspired the same sort of glory.

Maybe an elephant wasn’t the right choice, but consider Dumont’s Genie de la Liberte alongside Winged Victory at Samathrace (Louvre) just for an example.

Les Trois Glorieuses deserve more – and they should get it!