Thursday, January 7, 2010

Place Saint-Louis

The city walls torn down in the late 19th Century to be replaced by boulevards were not the first set of walls to disappear. As the Roman city of Divodurum Mediomatricorum, Metz had a set of walls that lasted a nearly a thousand years. But by the 12th century the city was growing, overflowing its walls, and needed both more space and more funds. So the city's leaders partially demolished the east-side walls and brought in bankers from Italy, who then built houses in an Italian style on the foundations of the old walls. The buildings' low roofs and screen walls, some topped with crenellations, evoked the architecture of fortresses in places like Siena and San Giminiano. Under the arcaded vaults on the ground floor, the bankers--by the 14th Century there were 60 of them--conducted their business. The square around which these buildings stood became known as the Place des Changes.

The square and the buildings still exist, although some the facades of some of the buildings were updated in the Renaissance. From the middle ages into the 20th Century, the square housed Metz's biggest markets for grain, fruits and vegetables. The arcades now house shops and restaurants, and some of the city's most chic shops are on streets just off the square.

The square was renamed in the early 17th Century when the curate of a nearby church installed a statue as part of a fountain the middle of the square. A history of the square notes that even then the fountain was hindrance to traffic. In any case, the statue was taken by everyone to be that of King Louis IX, Saint Louis, and the square was renamed the Place Saint-Louis in his honor. In fact, as was eventually recognized some 250 years later, the curate was off by a few Louis: the statue was not that of Louis IX but rather of Louis XIII. So in 1867 a new statue was commissioned, and this statue--the fountain being long gone--was installed.

For more about the Place Saint-Louis, see the Web sites (in French) of the neighborhood association and the City of Metz. Wikipedia's entry for the Place Saint-Louis has interesting photos showing the square before and after its updating in 2007, which banished the parking of cars in favor of pedestrian space.

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