Place St-Michel Fountain

One of the city's most well-known meeting places, the statue depicts the archangel Michael vanquishing the Devil.

TravelCurious Tip

In such a popular area, it’s easy to choose the wrong place to eat. Pop into the tiny butchery Maison David and watch the owner in action, then enjoy a coldcut and glass of wine

This fountain was built during the French Second Empire, and it is fittingly monumental. It was part of a broader reconstruction project overseen by Baron Haussmann, Napoleon III’s trusted urban planner. The statue depicts St Michel vanquishing Satan, and was a political gesture to quell the obviously sinful revolutionary fervour of the neighbourhood.

The final design bears a façade divided into four horizontal levels. Corinthian columns frame the central niche. It courted controversy in some pernickety circles of French society for its use of various coloured stones. Using a single colour was more the norm, but here they used red and green marble, blue and yellow stone, and bronze statuary, among others — it was outrageous.

Initially the designer had planned to install a feminine central figure symbolising peace, but Napoleon III wanted it to honour his great predecessor, Napoleon Bonaparte, with a statue. His political opponents choked on their tea at this suggestion and a compromise was made: it would depict St Michel wrestling with the devil.

This was also where, during the 1968 riots, students took up arms against the police. Or, if not arms, slabs of paving stone which they wedged out and tossed at the police. The police returned in kind with batons and tear gas. Students invaded the square a declared it an “independent state”. It did not stay so for long, but their actions triggered mass strikes across the country that eventually brought General de Gaulle’s government to its knees.

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