The grand square has lived through the fury of the French Revolution, survived the confusions of two world wars, seen rejoicing masses, collective mourning, and state ceremonies, and thus stands like nowhere else for the turbulent history of a whole nation: the Place de la Concorde. Few know however that it was a young German architect who transformed this square at the beginning of the nineteenth century into an urban jewel.
His name was Jakob Ignaz Hittorff. In spring 2017, the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum is dedicating a large special exhibition to him and how he reinvented a place steeped in history. With Paris Awakens! - Hittorff's Invention of the Place de la Concorde (7 April to 9 July 2017), the Cologne museum will waken the French capital's largest square with a kiss - after nigh on 200 years. Visitors will travel to the time when Paris was reinventing itself - not least through Hittorff's clever architectural plans - as a European metropolis, in fierce competition with Rome, London, Madrid and Vienna. This special exhibition, with over one hundred beautifully detailed original Hittorff designs, is also a warm homage to a Cologne artist who rose to fame in France.
The Wallraf-Richartz-Museum owns over 250 drawings that Jakob Ignaz Hittorff did from 1820 onward on commission from the City of Paris for the redevelopment of the Place de la Concorde. His concern was on the one hand to create strategic traffic links between the square and the overall fabric of the city, and on the other to furnish it with modern appointments including candelabras, fountains, pathways and the obelisk of Luxor. Looking at these drawings, the fascinating story behind the planning of this historical Parisian site becomes clearly visible and tangible. At the same the Wallraf exhibition renders the square, which nowadays is dominated by the never-ending din of cars, once again legible in all its historical dimensions.
At the dawn of the nineteenth century, modern Paris awoke in the night when its largest square, the Place de la Concorde, became one of the first public locations in Europe to be bathed in artificial light. The blaze of night-time gas lamps heralded the age of industrialisation in France and the square became the architectural signpost of a nation that was reinventing itself. With the spectacular erection of the obelisk from Luxor on 25 October 1835, Jakob Ignaz Hittorff's task of redesigning the square was complete. It goes without saying that the plinth for the 3200-years-old and 22-metre tall gift to France from the Egyptian viceroy was designed by the Cologne architect.