The queen in the tower

Last week, Norman posted his picture of a “melting bicycle” and it got me thinking about the place and time we saw it. Then a reader wrote in and asked about places to stop and sit in the Marais, and I included that particular location in the 3rd arrondissement because it was on my mind.

In fact, that day we were sitting in front the Café Crème on the rue Dupetit-Thouars, just where it intersects with the rue Dupuis. We’d just come from Goumanyat/Thiercelin, a wonderful spice shop on the rue Dupuis, and we’d stopped for a drink.

We sat in the shade and looked across the street. Immediately in front of us was the melting bicycle. To our right across the road was a Lycée Technologique, and in front of it was parked a Citroen with a child’s toy (Sophie la Girafe) in the back window.

To the left was an empty market building.

When we had finished our wine, we went across the street and took a closer look at the market. It had once been a market for clothing, but the booths were closed and the doors were chained up. Big posters announced that the place was to be renovated as a multi-functional community space (espace polyvalent – which sounds dully institutional compared to a market, but the pictures showed happy people doing happy things, as all architectural renderings do).

We noticed some wonderful paper graffiti showing stylized horses. If I had an original, I would frame it.

We took photographs through the gates of the empty market stalls – an evocative space that had once been lively and will be again, we hope.

It was only later when I took a closer look at Norman’s photos that I realized this was the Carreau du Temple, part of the vanished Temple complex, which exists now only in the name of a Metro station, a square, and a few streets.

The name comes from the Knights Templar, who built a church here in the 12th century. At that point, this area was outside the city walls, and the Knights created a little village of their own around the church.

The picture from the Turgot map of 1734 is a bit confusing, until you realize that north is to the left. The rue du Temple and the rue Charlot are still there, and so is the church of St. Elizabeth. There was a palace for the Prior about where the Square du Temple is now, and a forbidding tower with turrets stood approximately where the southernmost part of the market building is now.

The Temple tower! That grim fortress where Louis XIV and Marie-Antoinette were imprisoned! I was recently reading about them in The Fatal Friendship by Stanley Loomis. The book describes Marie-Antoinette’s friendship (and possible romantic liaison) with the Swedish count who orchestrated the royal family’s failed attempt to flee the Revolution in June 1791, which ended disastrously at Varennes.

The royal family was taken back to the Tuileries Palace after that attempt to escape, but in August 1792, when a mob attacked the Palace, they were moved to the Temple. At first, they did not realize which part of the precinct they were to stay in. As Loomis tells it:

When, as the light was beginning to fade, the French royal family arrived at the Temple that evening it never crossed their minds that their destination was to be the Tower, rather than the palace. They were served an elaborate meal – even in its worst temper, the Commune was never to stint on the food – in the Salle des Quatre Glaces [at the palace] … among those who presided over the fallen family’s supper table that night none could summon the courage to tell them that after the festivities they were to be taken to the Tower… [But] at one o’clock in the morning, under armed guard, they were conducted across the garden to the donjon that they were only to leave to go to their trials and death.

There were several more attempts to rescue them before the worst befell. But every plot seemed to run aground on someone’s blunder or indifference or greed (or the family’s steadfast refusal to be separated), and bit by bit, every hope was withdrawn.

Loomis is a particularly interesting guide through this story. You can tell that he didn’t think much of Marie-Antoinette in her glory days – self-absorbed, spendthrift airhead that she was during the years at Versailles. But as the Revolution took away her privileges and comforts one by one, and she endures with dignity, he clearly becomes more and more impressed in spite of himself.

Indeed, he has the same reaction that many of her contemporaries apparently did when they met her during this period. They were usually determined to hate her, and found themselves won over by her character and her calm demeanour under appalling conditions.

He concludes, “The Revolution destroyed her but it was the Revolution that lent to the life of this essentially uninteresting woman an interest that is spectacular…Through affliction the woman grew strong and out of physical destitution she carried that element of individual triumph that is inseparable from great tragedy.”

As for the Temple tower, it was demolished in 1808 on Napoleon’s orders – he didn’t want it to become a magnet for Royalist pilgrims. Part of the Temple precinct became a market for clothing and textiles in 1811. The final Temple buildings came down under Napoleon III and the cast-iron and glass building went up in 1865.

And now the market is to be turned into “une espace modelable et polyvalent.” You can see a little video about the building and the plans for it here. The grim old tower appears for barely a second, then gives way to pictures of the market buildings, including a good photograph by Robert Doisneau.

You can understand that nobody wants to remember the tower, the site of so much sorrow. Better to imagine happy people in colourful garb playing sports.

Text by Philippa Campsie; original photographs by Norman Ball.

About Parisian Fields

Parisian Fields is the blog of two Toronto writers who love Paris. When we can't be there, we can write about it. We're interested in everything from its history and architecture to its graffiti and street furniture. We welcome comments, suggestions, corrections, and musings from all readers.
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2 Responses to The queen in the tower

  1. Alison Mahoney says:

    Although you posted in 2011, I’m reading it in 2015. Thanks for the info and map on the Templar Tower. I’m reading about the Knights Templar and have been calling up images. Your blog is lovely. I was moved to look at the bicycles, too. Merci!

    • Dear Alison,
      It’s never too late to post a comment, and we’re delighted you enjoyed the blog. The Knights were an interesting group…years ago, I remember seeing a play about them. It was staged in an old and rather spooky Victorian church, which seemed appropriate, somehow.
      Philippa

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