Tuesday 13 April 2010

La Fontaine des Innocents

The Fontaine des Innocents, situated in the Place Joachim du Bellay near Les Halles, is in appearance a solid, ancient and well-rooted monument. In reality it is a structure that has changed form and position several times over the 500 years of its existence. These indestructable stones have been a privileged witness to the procession of history at the city’s heart, adapting to the needs and fashions of each period.

The structure can date its origins back to 1550 when it was created by the architect Pierre Lescot with sculptures by Jean Goujon. It was built in the form of a loggia, backing on to the Saints Innocents church (which today no longer exists). The ensemble was classical Greek in form, with three arcades. The fountain was a slow trickle of water distributed through mascarons at its base.

The original fountain, backing onto the now demolished Saints Innocents church.

The church and its fountain stood just outside the walls of the largest cemetery in Paris. For more than six centuries the Cimetière des Saint-Innocents was the city graveyard, the name coming from the belief that this was originally a cemetery for the ‘innocent souls’ of children only. When the cemetery was closed and all the remains removed in 1780, the church was also demolished, leaving the fountain as an isolated orphan.

The city authorities decided that a market should replace the cemetery, and that the fountain should be situated in the centre of the new Square des Innocents. Unusually this involved taking the fountain apart, then recreating it as four-sided rectangular monument. An additional face was added, with the sculptor Augustin Pajou given the task of recreating the style of Goujon. It was a rebirth, a renaissance of old stone.

The Fontaine des Innocents painted by the artist John James Chalon in 1823. The square base and two of the four lions are clearly visible.

In 1788, the fountain, now with a decorative coupole perched on top, was placed on a square block with a lion at each corner. It sat in the centre of a large basin and the waters flowed abundantly from the fountain. It sat handsomely alongside the market stalls, the centrepiece at the centre of Paris.

In 1858 though it was moved once more. A new square was built, today known as the Place Joachim du Bellay, and the fountain was transferred onto a pyramid base. This time it was placed in a circular basin, taking the form and the position that we know today.

150 years later, it still stands proudly here, but its role has changed. Gone is the market, and today its surroundings are the garish facades of modern commercial outlets and fast-food restaurants. The sounds have changed too, from barterings and negotiations to the of rattle of skateboards and improvised street protests.

The fountain though is still flowing, still raining down life in this district that has always been so alive since death was sent away.


Cergie said...

Je crois t'avoir déjà donné le lien vers le regard de la lanterne que j'ai visité lors d'une journée du patrimoine et qui est à Belleville. Je ne répète pas ce que j'y disais sinon que Belleville alimentait la fontaine des innocents.
Notre cousin possède un grand studio dans un immeuble dans lequel on pénètre depuis cette place, qu'il nous a prêté lorsque notre fils a passé ses écrits de concours. TRES animé et TRES bruyant. Je ne raffole pas de cet endroit, trop touristique, trop fréquenté et comme tu dis très commercial dans le mauvais sens du terme. Mais il faut reconnaitre que c'est central et que de là on va partout à pied.
La tante de mon mari est décédée chez son fils dans son sommeil, et j'imagine que des âmes errantes sont venues la chercher. Je crois profondément que le passé cohabite avec le présent quoiqu'on ait pu faire pour le déplacer.

Starman said...

One of my favorites.

Karen said...

I took a few photos of this when I was in Paris in October. Thanks for the history of it.

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