Notre-Dame de Paris

By Victor Hugo ; Alban Krailsheimer | Go to book overview

II
THE PLACE DE GRÈVE

TODAY there remains only one quite imperceptible trace of the Place de Grève as it then existed. That is the charming turret which occupies the northern corner of the Place and which, already buried beneath the ignoble coats of distemper which clog the bold lines of its carvings, will perhaps soon have disappeared, submerged by the rising flood of new buildings so rapidly swallowing up all the old façades of Paris.

Those who, like ourselves, never pass by the Place de Grève without sparing a look of pity and sympathy for that poor turret, squeezed between two ramshackle Louis XIV buildings, can easily reconstruct in their mind's eye the whole collection of buildings to which it belonged and thus recreate in its entirety the old Gothic Place of the fifteenth century.

It formed, as it does today, an irregular trapezium, bounded on one side by the river quay, and on the other three by a series of tall, narrow, gloomy houses. In the daytime one could admire the variety of its buildings, all carved in stone or wood, and already offering complete samples of the different types of medieval domestic architecture, going back from the fifteenth through to the eleventh century, from the casement which was beginning to oust the ogive, back to the round Romanesque arch which the ogive had supplanted, and which still occupied, beneath the ogive, the first floor of that ancient house of the Tour-Roland, in the corner of the Place giving on to the Seine, on the rue de la Tannerie side. At night all that could be distinguished of this mass of buildings was the dark serrated outline of the roofs unfolding their chain of acute angles round the Place. For one of the basic differences between towns then and now is that today it is the façades which look on to squares and streets, while then it

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