Monument in Focus: Vendôme Column, Paris

I am always amazed at how some historical monuments are remembrances of not just single significant events but often of years and eras, sometimes unintentionally so! It’s as if the achievements, sacrifices, desires, faith and/or purpose of hundreds and sometimes millions of lives are contained within a single monument. How powerful is that!

One such monument is the Vendôme Column, located in Place Vendôme in Paris. I took the following pictures on my first and only visit to Paris, in 2011.


“The city of Paris has a great mast, made entirely of bronze, with sculpted Victories and Napoleon as its lookout”  – Balzac

The 42 metre tall column, it was decided the day after the Battle of Austerlitz, would be dedicated to Napoleon’s Grande Armée, though initially there were other plans for a column to be erected in this spot, which you can read about here.

The column, which has a stone core onto which over 400 bronze plaques are attached with pins, depicts the entire Austerlitz campaign, in spiralling bas-relief, and were these bronze plaques to be laid out next to each other they would measure a length of over 200 metres! What’s more, the plates used were made up of bronze melted from the confiscated canons of the defeated Russian and Austrian armies at Austerlitz.


A section of the column
Napoleon, dressed as Caesar and wearing a laurel wreath, stands victorious atop the monument

Besides what it depicts, the column itself has its own colourful history. In 1871, it was even brought down, on the order of Gustave Courbet, who was at the time the president of the Commune’s Art Commission. Even the statue at the top has changed a number of times! You can read more about those events here and here.

A close-up of the beautiful work

I wish I could have slowly walked around the entire column with a pair of binoculars in hand, to admire the intricate work on the entire structure, but that probably would have meant that I wouldn’t have done much else on my week’s trip to Paris, as I most likely would have had a serious case of dizziness and a horrid neck ache. I’m sure there must be a set of pictures or drawings online or in a book somewhere of the entire frieze. That would be a delight to examine!


Photographs: Gitanjali Singh Cherian

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