The Smart Side of Paris: The Macabre History of Place Maubert

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The Smart Side of Paris: The Macabre History of Place Maubert
Just across the river from Notre Dame, there is a delightful view of the cathedral from a little park named Square René Viviani. At the end of springtime, you can stand in the square and frame the cathedral in an unforgettable arch of roses.  Then, you can turn around and find the oldest tree in Paris, a lovely 423-year-old Robinia tree, named for Jean Robin, a botanist who planted it during the reign of Henri IV in 1601.   Attached to the rear of the square is the 13th century church, Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre, where you can listen to beautiful piano pieces played regularly. Or, if you are in the mood for books, Shakespeare and Company is about 20 feet away.  But for a little more history, you should exit the southeast corner of the square and walk about two blocks down rue Lagrange, where you will come to Place Maubert. It is a small, nondescript plaza that is little more than an intersection with a small fountain that hosts an open air market on Tuesday, Thursdays, and Saturdays.   But Place Maubert has not always been so peaceful. In the map below from 1550, you can see the first few letters of La Grange at the top center and Place Maubert (LAPLACEMAV_BERT) in the center.  The Place Maubert on the Truschet et Hoyau Map (1550). Wikimedia commons Looking closely, at the bottom of Place Maubert, you will see two human figures, one pointing, a post, and a hangman’s noose. Sadly, this was put to good use on those who were deemed to be blasphemers, heretics, and generally subversive types. Today, a fountain sits at the center of Place Maubert (see picture at top of article), having replaced the hangman’s noose; it also sits where a statue of its most famous victim died: Etienne Dolet.   Statue of Étienne Dolet, on the place Maubert. Agence Meurisse (1927) — Bibliothèque nationale de France. Public domain

Lead photo credit : Place Maubert. Photo: John Eigenauer

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John Eigenauer is an intellectual historian and professor of philosophy at Taft College in California. He holds a doctorate in Interdisciplinary Studies from Syracuse University. His work has been published in variety of publications including the International Journal of Educational Reform, The Historian, The Harvard Theological Review, History of Intellectual Culture, American Atheist Magazine and The Huntington Library Quarterly. He has spoken internationally on human rationality and offers workshops and seminars in the pedagogy of critical thinking. His book, 'Paris and the Birth of Public Knowledge,' is available online. John spends his summers in Paris and has fallen in love with Vincennes, often visiting the Chateau de Vincennes, where his hero, Denis Diderot was imprisoned for writing about forbidden topics.


  •  John Eigenauer
    2024-07-08 05:26:42
    John Eigenauer
    Thank you, Jeanette, for your kind words. I am glad that you enjoyed the story. John


  • Jeannette Booth
    2024-06-16 06:52:38
    Jeannette Booth
    I have an apartment a block from there and never heard this story. Just loved reading all about the history. Nowadays it has a great flee market three days a week. Thank you