A few months ago I saw Place de la République completely devoid of the tributes that had been laid and sprayed over it the past two years. And seeing that, I wonder if any sightseeing tourist will now ever truly see Paris.
I don’t claim to know Paris like a local, or even like an expat.
But I do believe that the tributes that were placed at Place de la République in the wake of major terrorist attacks on the city provided an insight into Paris that you won’t get at the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower.
Photos from Tuesday 13th January, 2015
On Wednesday 7th January 2015 the Charlie Hebdo shootings took place in Paris and hostages were taken in a local supermarket. It was the first major terrorist attack to take place in Western Europe since 2005, with 17 deaths and 22 injured.
In the wake of this, the first of the tributes began to mould the République Statue from an icon of France into a shrine to the victims of terror…
I arrived in Paris a few days after those first attacks and by that point the centre point of Place de la République resembled a graveyard.
Flowers were strewn across the tiles and ash from countless candles had turned the dark pavings a dusty grey.
While a few printed ‘Je Suis Charlie‘ banners had been flung at the base of the statue, the majority of the tributes had been scrawled directly onto the stone, or written with all too-personal handwriting on plastic sheeted paper.
“The wolves have entered Paris” says one of the posters below. But the majority called for readers to stand in solidarity and defend the three pillars of the French Republic: Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. Directly translated they mean: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.
My favourite of those messages of solidarity was also the simplest of them all: “Fuck le F N…” in reference to the Front National.
France’s equivalent of the British National Party, the Front National stands for anti-immigration and has a long history of xenophobia and anti-Semitism. In my mind the FN has an opinion of French nationalism that is a far cry from liberty, equality and fraternity.
Photos from Thursday 24th March, 2016
One year, two months and eleven days later, I returned to Place de la République. In that time, a lot had changed and the impromptu shrine of January 2015 had turned into a fully fledged public memorial.
In November 2015, another huge attack had rocked the city and this time the death toll reached 130, with over 350 others injured and hundreds more left in shock. Two days before I arrived, Brussels also lost 32 lives and witnessed the injuries of over 300 people, when they endured the worst terrorist attack in Belgium’s history.
As the tributes show, mourning had extended beyond victims of Paris…
The tradition of lighting candles and enshrining the memories of those that had lost their lives to terror had so far endured fourteen months out in the open.
You can see a bit more of my second visit to the Place de la République shrine in this travel vlog.
And as I shared my favourite banner with you from my first visit, here’s my favourite from my second: “Against Stupidity“…
Photos from Thursday 1st September, 2016
Six months later I was back in Paris for a mini-euro trip with Flixbus (click here to read the review).
But by this time rumours had spread that the Parisian government had conducted a massive cleanup of Place de la République. It was the first time I had ever seen the square devoid of the memorials…
The stark white marble of the statue and the shining black figures and plaques that encircled it was a shock. I was with a friend of mine, a born and bred Parisian, and as I peered past his shoulder to the empty République Statue I began to quiz him.
“Do you think it’s a shame the memorials have gone?” “Don’t you think it was an important icon of Paris?” “What if visitors think Paris doesn’t care anymore?”
He sort of shrugged his shoulders and didn’t say much about it.
I was frustrated at the loss of such an overwhelming collection of tributes and memorials. But did it really not matter anymore to Parisians? Those who had been most closely affected by the attacks?
I’ll never really know. What I do find touching is that most of the tributes removed from the statue were retained by the government. The most touching will be displayed at the Le Musée Carnavalet when it reopens in 2019.
And until then, Marianne is back standing tall in all her glory, encircled by the true tributes of Paris: Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. Plus a few lions for good measure.
What do you think… Should the tributes have remained out in the open? Or is it time for us to move on? Let me know your thoughts in the comments…