“Les Misérables is a book for all people, in all nations. I cannot say if everyone will read it, but I wrote it for everyone.” ~ Victor Hugo, in an 1862 letter to his publisher, M. Daelli

In the heart of Paris, surrounded by the city’s lively streets, lies Place des Vosges – a stunningly symmetrical square built on the grounds of the old Hôtel des Tournelles. Commissioned by Henry IV, the first Bourbon king of France, in the early 1600s, Place des Vosges is regarded as the earliest example of a planned square in the city.

Place des Vosges invites visitors to unwind and soak in the atmosphere. Stroll beneath the shade of the linden trees, rest on one of the many benches, or watch children play in the sandy area. The square’s arcaded walkways and 17th-century buildings create a timeless ambiance.

Homes of the Nobility

The hôtels particuliers surrounding the square once housed royalty and aristocrats, each with its own fascinating past. The most prominent structures are the Pavillon du Roi and Pavillon de la Reine, built for the king and queen, respectively. The Pavillon du Roi‘s grand arch marked the main entry point to the square.

Notable Residents

  • #21: Often called the Hôtel du Cardinal de Richelieu, though the Cardinal never lived here. It briefly served as the home of his brother-in-law, Urbain de Maillé-Brézé, and was later acquired by the Cardinal’s great-nephew, the Duke of Richelieu.
  • #15: Some sources claim that Marguerite Louise d’Orléans, the Grand Duchess of Tuscany, passed away here in 1721, while others suggest she died at #15.

The Victor Hugo Museum

Perhaps the most famous of the 28 houses is #6, known as the Hôtel de Rohan Guéménée or Hôtel Arnauld. This impressive 17th-century townhouse was originally built for Isaac Arnauld, a royal councilor and finance steward.

Victor Hugo’s Family Home

The townhouse changed owners over time, becoming the residence of the powerful Rohan family, descendants of the Dukes of Brittany. From 1832 to 1848, it was the home of renowned poet and novelist Victor Hugo, his wife Adèle, and their four children. Best known for his works ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ and ‘Les Misérables’, Hugo was also a prominent political figure and activist. His public opposition to Louis Bonaparte led to his exile from France for a period.

A Museum Dedicated to Hugo

Since 1902, the house at 6, Place des Vosges has been a museum, the Maison de Victor Hugo, open to the public free of charge. The museum tour, which takes about an hour, explores Hugo’s life in three phases: Before Exile, Exile, and After Exile.

Exploring the Museum

The museum’s rooms, some recreated from Hugo’s other residences, are furnished with items donated by his grandchildren, Georges and Jeanne, and his close friend, Paul Meurice. The collection includes books, manuscripts, furniture, drawings, and various objects, such as a bust of Hugo by Auguste Rodin.

The Antechamber

The Antechamber features portraits and drawings that chronicle the Hugo family’s history.

The Red Room

The Red Room is adorned with red damask wall coverings.

The Chinese Room

Hugo designed the Chinese Room for the Guernsey home of his mistress, the actress Juliette Drouet.

The Medieval Dining Room

Also modeled after Juliette’s Guernsey residence, the Medieval Dining Room contains furniture that Hugo created using ‘found objects’.

Victor Hugo’s Bedroom

The final room on the tour, Victor’s Bedroom, is a recreation based on the memoirs of Georges Hugo. It represents Hugo’s bedroom in his home on Avenue d’Eylau (now Avenue Victor Hugo) in Paris, where he passed away.

The Iconic Writing Table

A highlight of the bedroom is the tall writing table, which Hugo designed by combining two separate wooden tables.

The Father of the French Republic

Victor Hugo, sometimes referred to as ‘The Father of the French Republic’, passed away on May 22, 1885. He is interred in the Panthéon in Paris.

Visiting Place des Vosges

Place des Vosges is situated in the Marais District, north of the River Seine. It’s about a 20-minute walk from Notre Dame Cathedral, or you can take the Métro to St-Paul, Chemin Vert, or Bastille stations.

Admission and Audio Guide

  • Admission to the permanent exhibit at the Victor Hugo Museum is free, but a ticket is still required and can be obtained at the reception desk. Temporary exhibits may have an additional fee.
  • An audio guide is available for €5.00.

More About Place des Vosges

  • The square was originally named Place Royale and was renamed Place des Vosges in 1800 to honor the Vosges department, the first to pay taxes under the new government.
  • In 1825, a statue of Louis XIII on horseback was installed in the center of the square’s garden.
  • Many notable figures have resided in the houses surrounding Place des Vosges, including Cardinal Richelieu, Madame de Sévigné, and Alphonse Daudet.
  • The Victor Hugo Museum houses over 350 works of art, such as drawings, paintings, and sculptures, as well as more than 500 objects related to the author’s life and work.

Tips for Your Visit

  • Place des Vosges is an ideal spot for a picnic. Bring a blanket and some snacks to enjoy in the garden.
  • The square is especially charming in spring when the linden trees bloom and the garden is filled with flowers.
  • Consider a guided tour of the Victor Hugo Museum to gain a deeper understanding of the author’s life and work.
  • Check the museum’s website for information on temporary exhibits and special events, which may require an additional fee.
  • Allow extra time to explore the Marais District, known for its excellent shopping, cafes, and restaurants, before or after your visit to the square and museum.

Place des Vosges and the Victor Hugo Museum are essential stops for anyone visiting Paris. The beautiful square and the fascinating museum offer insight into the city’s rich history and cultural heritage, as well as the life and work of one of France’s most beloved authors. Whether you’re a fan of Victor Hugo, an architecture enthusiast, or simply seeking a peaceful spot to relax, Place des Vosges has something to offer. Take a break from the bustling city and spend an afternoon discovering this charming and historic square – you won’t regret it.

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