Sunday 4 September 2011

What happened on the Quatre Septembre?

France is a country of many significant dates, but only one is commemorated in both a street name and a Metro station in Paris. On this September 4th, I ask this question - what happened on the quatre septembre?

This particular date is not as well-known as July 14th, November 11th or May 8th in the country's history, but it is still a fondly remembered date in some circles. Of course though, there is also a certain controversy attached to its remembrance and celebration.

This particular September 4th was in 1870, and it marked the moment that a group of individuals in Paris proclaimed the beginning of a new Republic (the third) following the capture of Napoleon III by the Prussians in Sedan.

This proclamation brought to an end France's second empire, but as it also coincided with the invasion of France by the Prussians, its constitutional laws weren't actually voted until 1875. The September 4th date is therefore a purely symbolic one.

So why is it a controversial date to remember today? Firstly the third Republic ended in failure 70 years later in 1940, when once again France was invaded by a German army. Today France is under a 5th Republic, but nobody celebrates the date this one was proclaimed (October 4th 1958). More importantly, the third Republic began with the overthrowing of the Commune in Paris in 1871, when around 20,000 people were killed in Paris by Government forces. Many people today believe therefore that the country should not celebrate a date which is linked to such violent repression of a popular uprising.

However, given the fact that this date is known mostly today as being the name of a city-centre Metro station, it is unlikely to disappear from Paris street maps anytime soon!


Gai Reid said...

Thank you for all the faboulous French "enlightenment" you post on Invisible Paris. My first visit to France 12 years ago, turned me into such a history geek (Australia has so little!) that I seek out amazing stories like this.
I am travelling to Paris tonight and will now look at Garnier in a new way.

Tim said...

16 rue du Quatre septembre : happy memories of what I consider to have been my first real, grown-up job!

You mention the metro station, but the names of metro stations do occasionally change. When was the last time one changed? I can think of Grands Boulevards AKA "anciennement Rue Montmartre" (where people would alight expecting to be in Montmartre...).

Have there been any since? Are any name changes on the cards?

Adam said...

Tim: I believe that there was another very exciting change of name at roughly the same time, from 'Rue des Boulets - Rue de Montreuil' to just 'Rue des Boulets', but I can't think of any others that have happened since.

As almost all Metro stations are named after the streets on which they are situated, logically it would be the street that would have to change name first. This does happen of course from time to time, but that's a different topic altogether!

Perhaps the most interesting example of this happening though with both a street and a Metro station though was in 1914 with a station called at the time 'Rue d'Allemagne'. Following the assassination of the politician Jean Jaurès and the breakout of war with Germany that followed just afterwards, it was decided that the country should no longer have the privilege of a street and Metro station named after it, and that honour went instead to the recently deceased Jaurès.

Anonymous said...

THANKS! I just got back and wondered "why September 4th?"

Kiki said...

We had a funny moment at that street too; we visited with some English friends the Louvre and had a bite to eat in a bistro opposite the street name.
When we came out our friend said: Something is definitely wrong here, shaking his head.
Because we were badly insulted by the rude French waiter in the restaurant, I thought he was still nursing his anger over the behaviour of this waiter. But then he cracked a smile and said: I know, it’s the 5th September today…. And our day was saved!
Arrived at home, we did look up the meaning; but your history lesson is such a cracker that I shall mail the link to our friends for their further enlightenment.
With regards to the horrible waiter, we never encountered anything like that before and never after; when I took the two the next day to one of our local ‘restos’ and they saw how very quickly, efficient, and even smiling ‘our’ staff worked and how very satisfactory our 3 course lunch for €11.- was, their faith in the French was definitely restored…. Uff!

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