Before I began planning our Paris itinerary, I had lofty plans for including a couple of day trips from Paris. I couldn’t decide between Giverny, Chartres or Versailles. But now that I’ve begun planning in earnest, I’ve realized that there was no way we could fit more than one day trip into our plans, especially since we have to include plans for my parents as well. The most obvious choice for a day trip was Versailles. Check out Mathias L’s post on Versailles for pictures to whet your appetite for the most visited château in France.
During my last French lesson, my tutor and I started doing some French history (in French). I never did French history in school and was getting rather confused with some of the information I was reading about the French Revolution. I always thought there was only one Revolution and in my mind I could not reconcile the sequence of events of the storming of the Bastille, the beheading of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, Robespierre’s Reign of Terror and the images in my mind of the events described by Victor Hugo in Les Misérables. Turns out, there have been multiple ‘revolutions’ in France. You can imagine reading about it in French from a French history textbook was even more bewildering. Well the French Revolution took place in the 18th century and Les Misérables takes place in the 19th century. The ‘revolution’ in Les Misérables was in fact the June Rebellion, which was linked to the July Revolution. Here’s another confusing fact – The Colonne de Juillet is a column that now stands at the center of the Place de la Bastille, which was built over the site of the old Bastille Prison. (Yes, it’s the very prison in the storming of the Bastille that led to the events of the French Revolution. This happened on 14th July 1789. Hence, the French national day Fête de la Fêdêration or Quatorze Juillet. Don’t ever call it Bastille Day in front of a French national though. Mixed in with national pride is also a deep sense of shame over the events of the French Revolution and the murdering of their king and queen.) The Colonne de Juillet was originally commissioned to commemorate the storming of the Bastille but it never got any further than its foundation stone. The remains of victims from the July Revolution (This is not the same as the French Revolution although it was to overthrow another monarch – King Charles X. Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette’s eldest child, Marie-Thêrèse survived the revolution and married the nephew of her father’s eldest surviving brother (who was childless), Louis-Antoine, who later became heir to the throne when the royal family was restored to the French monarchy after the abdication of Napoleon I. Charles X was Louis-Antoine’s father.) Anyway, the Colonne de Juillet ended up being a commemoration of the July Revolution, and not the original French Revolution, even though it is at the site of the old Bastille prison. Phew… now that was a convoluted tale.
Another confusing symbol related to the French Revolution is Eugène Delacroix’s famous La Liberté guidant le peuple (Liberty Guiding the People), now housed at Musée du Louvre, which is a painting of the July Revolution, and not the original French Revolution.
Reading from my tutor’s textbook, one character from the French Revolution has captured my interest though. Marie-Antoinette. I’m keen to learn more about her, especially since she features at Versailles with her Hameau de la Reine and Petit Trianon.