As you know, the title of one of my books will be “Where Did They Put the Guillotine?” It’s about buildings, places, sites and people significant to the French Revolution. I’ll take you on walking tours of Paris and show you these sites. One of the walking tours will be entitled: “The Rumble of the Tumbrel: Marie Antoinette’s Last Ride.”
So on our recent trip to Paris, we decided to walk the exact route that Marie Antoinette’s tumbrel (i.e., cart) took to the guillotine.
We began at the Conciergerie, the former medieval palace turned prison. Prisoners were brought here from other prisons scattered around Paris. This was their last stop before getting into the tumbrels that would take them to the guillotine. A typical stay was one or two nights. Marie Antoinette was an exception as she spent over two months in this prison. Once the bell rang (it is still there), the condemned prisoners would congregate in the “Corner of the Twelve” before being loaded into the carts (each cart could hold twelve people ergo the name of the segregated courtyard).
We walked from the Cour du Mai (where the carts departed from) down along the Quai de la Megisserie, turning right onto rue de la Monnaie and then left onto rue Saint Honoré. This would take us to rue Royale and after turning left, we would be at the Place de la Concorde (known as the Place de la Revolution during that time). It was here that the scaffold and “national razor” were set-up. Depending on the size of the crowds along the route, it would take between one and two-hours for the carts to make the one-way trip. Those of you familiar with Paris might ask why the carts didn’t turn left on rue de Rivoli as that seems a more direct route. The rue de Rivoli did not exist during the Revolution. It was built during the reign of Napoleon III and was part of Baron Haussmann’s “little” project.
Along the way we stopped to see the Duplay residence (this is where Robespierre, his brother and sister resided for much of the Revolution). We also saw the site of the Café de la Regence where Jacques-Louis David stood on the balcony and sketched Marie Antoinette as she rode to the guillotine. A pharmacy has existed at 115 rue Saint Honoré since before the Revolution. It was here that Comte Axel de Fersen would buy his invisible ink to write his secret correspondence to Marie Antoinette.
We ended on the Place de la Concorde. We were successful in identifying the exact spots where the guillotine had been erected on January 21, 1993 and October 16, 1793 for the executions of the king and queen, respectively.
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Copyright © 2013 Stew Ross