Tour Jean Sans Peur: The Remarkable Medieval Tower in Paris

Tour Jean Sans Peur: The Remarkable Medieval Tower in Paris
Standing back from the street on the north side of Rue Etienne Marcel, in the busy 2nd arrondissement, rises an isolated grey stone tower: the Tour Jean Sans Peur, or Tower of John the Fearless. It is less well-known than the Musée de Cluny, Paris’s official museum of the Middle Ages, but is a gem in its own right. Now seemingly marooned in the nonstop bustle of this quarter between Les Halles and the Bourse, the tower was once part of a palace and estate belonging to the Counts of Artois and, later, the powerful Dukes of Burgundy. Inside, you are treated to a fascinating insight to life in the Middle Ages. La tour Jean Sans Peur. Photo credit: Arthur Weidmann/ Wikimedia Commons A hôtel particulier (mansion, or townhouse) was built around 1270 by Robert d’Artois. It butted up against Philippe Auguste’s Wall, at that time a very new fortification and you can still see a tower from the wall in the reception area. While the hôtel stood inside the city, most of the land belonging to it lay outside. Both the hôtel and land were later absorbed into Paris when Charles V built a new wall encircling the Right Bank. Henri Alexandre Saffrey, Rue aux Ours – Tour de Jean-sans-Peur (eau-forte, 1873). Public domain It was also around this time that the palace passed to the Dukes of Burgundy through marriage. Throughout the 1390s and early 1400s they fought a bitter civil war against an opposing branch of the royal family, the Armagnacs, to decide who should be king. In 1407 Jean de Bourgogne had the king’s brother assassinated but redeemed himself with a successful military campaign in Flanders, earning himself the nickname of Jean Sans Peur. To celebrate his success, he rebuilt the palace and added a tower. From now on it was known as the Hôtel de Bourgogne. Jean sans Peur, huile sur chêne, musée du Louvre, début du XVe siècle. (John II, Duke of Burgundy.) Public domain. The tower was the centerpiece. It housed an impressive spiral staircase which opened into a great hall and a narrower staircase leading to private chambers above. You could step out of the tower directly on to Philippe Auguste’s Wall and walk to Les Halles without being seen from the street. Quite handy since Jean attracted many enemies and he progressively fortified the tower against attack. After his death the palace passed to his son, Philip the Good, who didn’t live there but did hold sumptuous banquets in the garden. Magnificent tents made of silk and velour were erected and tapestries from his native city of Arras hung from the tower walls. His son, in turn, inherited the palace but spent very little time there and when he died without an heir, the palace was taken over by the king.

Lead photo credit : Detail of the Tour Jean-sans-Peur. Wikimedia Commons

More in Burgundy, duke of burgundy, jean de bourgogne, Les Halles, middle ages, Musée de Cluny, phillippe auguste, robert d'artois, Tour Jean Sans Peur

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Pat Hallam fell in love with Paris when she was an adolescent. After many years of visiting, in 2020 she finally moved from the UK to live here and pursue her passion for the city. A freelance writer and history lover, she can spend hours walking the streets of this wonderful city finding hidden courtyards, bizarre and unusual landmarks and uncovering the centuries of history that exist on every street corner (well, almost). You can find the results of her explorations on Instagram @littleparismoments.