Place Vosges, in the heart of the Marais District, is one of the more pleasant places to spend an afternoon in Paris. Molly and I recently enjoyed a shady picnic lunch under its bosquet of linden trees and watched teenagers throw each other into the many fountains throughout the grassy park.
The original 17th century buildings still surround the park and are uniquely distinguished from elsewhere in Paris. The brick and stone facades provide an atmosphere that straddles the medieval and renaissance while the vaulted arcades that encircle the park are more quaint than the grand 19th century arcades along the Rue du Rivoli.
But the Place Vosges also represents a few key aspects of Parisian history. When it was built in 1605 by King Henri IV the Place Royal (it was changed to Vosges after the revolution) was the first publicly designed and implemented city project in Paris. It represents the beginning of what would be 400 years of public works and buildings built by the French government, followed soon after by Place Dauphine, Pont Neuf and the expansion of the Louvre.
But it also represents how much Paris has changed geographically. While the Place Vosges and the Marais District are now considered on the eastern edge of the city, in the early 17th century it was very much the center of Paris. At the time the heart of the city was still the Ile de Cite and the aristocrats and royals occupied the Marais district across the Seine on the right bank while the clergy and academics occupied the Latin Quarter on the Left Bank. But over the next three centuries, with the building booms of Louis XIV, Napoleon and Napoleon III, the city of Paris moved westward leaving the Marais District and Place Vosges, now on the east side of town, to be delightful relics of Renaissance France.