Champ de Mars

Champ de Mars (15)

The Champ de Mars or Field of Mars is in Paris’s District 7 and is known the world over for being the enormous green carpet on which stands the Eiffel Tower.

However, this large extension of land has quite a few more years’ history and even though today it is normal to see children playing ball, couples sunbathing and tourists queuing to go up the tower, its original use was radically different.

The Champs de Mars was planned as a parade ground of the École-Militaire or military school, from which it gets its name, Mars, the god of war. This piece of flat ground was founded at the behest of Louis XV in the 18th century and even the young Napoleon Bonaparte studied for 1 year in this school, specifically between 1784 and 1785.

This is where the celebrations were held to commemorate the first anniversary of the taking of the Bastille, at which Louis XVI swore the Constitution before the people. As an aside, we can tell you that Napoleon also called his officers here to swear loyalty to him in 1804, the day after he had been crowned Emperor of the French.

Later, as from 1833, the space you are now walking on was a hippodrome, until in 1854 these activities were moved to Longchamp.

This is where the universal exhibitions of 1867, 1878 and 1889 were held, the latter to show the world the Eiffel Tower.

For the famous Universal Exhibition of 1900, Eugène Hénard built a pavilion that surprised both Paris and the rest of the world. His “palace of electricity” illuminated the whole area with electric light. It had an iron and glass vestibule, showed the applications of electricity and supplied energy for all the other pavilions.

During the different exhibitions pavilions and structures had been accumulated, which ended up demolished or sold as separate sites, until in the 20th century the Director of Avenues and Plantations Joseph Bouvard reconverted this space into the immense garden that you see today.

If you stroll around these gardens towards the Military School, you will curiously pass by the “Mur pour la Paix” or Wall for Peace, a monument created in 2000 by the artist Clara Halter and the architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte. It is a metallic skeleton covered in wood, steel and glass and has the word “peace” written in 32 languages. It is said that it was inspired by the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and, in principle, had been planned for the entrance of UNESCO.

If you continue walking, you will reach the Military School, the work of Jacques Ange Gabriel, creator also of the Place de la Concorde. With this building, Louis XV initially wanted to surpass Les Invalides, an initiative of Louis XIV, however the project ended up as only a Military School.

The façade facing the Champ de Mars is impressive and is also reproduced towards the other side, towards the Honour Courtyard, although to visit the inside you have to get special permission. As well as the military academy, the building currently houses the Institute of Higher Studies of National Defence and War Economics.

Behind the Military School is the headquarters of UNESCO. You will know it because it is a very curious building in the form of the letter “Y”. work of the North American Breuer in 1958, where you will find a mural by Picasso, ceramics by Miró and sculptures by Henry Moore. Check the reduced visiting times.

As a final curiosity, go to number 29, Avenue Rapp, which joins the Pont de l’Alma with Champ de Mars, close by, as you will see the façade of a lovely art nouveau house, decorated by Jules Lavirotte in 1901 with floral motifs and animals intermixed with female figures. A pure delight.

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