googlead166c37c697d4d3.html Glenn Ashton Author Blog: Obelisk Movers – The Place of Blood & The Beautiful One

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Obelisk Movers – The Place of Blood & The Beautiful One

Jean-Baptise Apollinaire Lebas, obelisk mover
In 1833, forty years after the guillotine blade first tasted blood in the Place de la Concorde, engineer Jean-Baptise Apollinaire Lebas moved the obelisk which had once proudly stood before the Luxor temple in Egypt, to Paris.
The place chosen for the Beautiful One, with its 3,300 hieroglyphics – the very center of the Place de la Concorde – was "highly contested symbolic ground" (according to OBELISK – A History). The authors describe the location this way:
No spot in Paris had greater ability to serve as a symbolic lightning rod.
The 21 acre octagonal square has been at the center of momentous events in the history of France. The Place de la Concorde is the largest public place in Paris, and lies along the Seine River, separating the Tuileries Gardens from the beginning of the two hundred and thirty foot wide Champs Elysée, which before the 1600s was an unhealthy swamp.

The King's Last Walk

A bronze plaque in the square commemorates the 21st of January 1793 when Louis XVI was marched up the steps of the guillotine erected there during the French Revolution.
His executioners woke the King at five in the morning, and at eight he handed over his will. At nine, it was time for his last walk. 

Through the window came the sound of the drums, roll following roll following roll.
All the windows around the square were closed. All the shops were shut. Only the carriage with the King inside moved through the streets, past the thousands of troops lining them, taking two hours to reach this place. 
All around the guillotine were more soldiers, with cannons.
Louis XVI meets the guillotine in Place de la Concorde
He mounted the steps, and tried to speak to the crowd, held back by the soldiers, but a general ordered the drums to sound, and his voice was silenced.
The six executioners tied him to the plank, face down, and the blade swished down, ending the life of the thirty-eight year old king, the last of a line of kings who had ruled France for eight hundred years.

Samson and the King's hair

The chief executioner, a man named Samson, scooped up the king's head and dangled it at shoulder height, and the crowd roared. Some dipped their handkerchiefs into the blood of a king. Not all the details are clear. Some say it took only one slash of the blade to sever the king's head; others say it took two attempts. Some say the executioner Samson later sold locks of the hair of the slain king; Samson denied that he did so.
Before Queen Marie Antoinette was executed, they brought the head of her best friend before her, mounted on a pole.
Guillotine plaque near obelisk in Place de la Concorde
The Guillotine speaks again, and again ...

The guillotine was used against the leaders of the Revolution, as well. Danton climbed its steps, after a mock-trial was held by the Convention. Within months, the man who sent him to the blade, Robespierre, mounted those same steps, dirty linen holding up his broken jaw bone. Before the executioner - Samson, the same man who executed the King - dropped the blade, he tore off the bandage, and Robespierre cried out in pain. The crowd rejoiced at his death, for he was a much-hated man by then.

The smell of blood
During the Revolution the smell of blood was so strong in the square that it was said a herd of cattle refused to cross it. Some people wonder whether the ancient obelisk can still smell the blood spilled in the square it was placed in, forty years later.

The Flight of the Obelisk King

Louis-Philipe, the man on the throne when engineer Lebas erected the Beautiful One, did not
long enjoy his reign as king. During the July Revolution in 1830, Charles X was overthrown, and Louis-Philipe was offered the throne, becoming the King of the French.  His reign lacked pomp, and at first he was very popular, being called the Citizen King, but as the plight of the poor worsened, his popularity plummeted. Following revolts, he abdicated in 1848, disguising himself as a civilian and, after rushing through an underground tunnel to his four-wheeled cab located in the Place de la Concorde, fleeing to England, where he lived until his death in 1850.

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