Unfair Taxes

Who could guess that this building dates from the end of the 18th century? This rotunda was only the central pavilion of a vast complex that no longer exists today, made up of the Saint-Martin tollgate, located towards the current rue de Flandre, and the Pantin tollgate, which was located at the entrance of the current avenue Jean-Jaurès. These two tollgates were connected to the rotunda via long fences. Like the 52 others built as of 1785, they were used to control the transportation of merchandise entering Paris, in order to tax it more efficiently.



Ledoux rotunda, Place de la bataille de Stalingrad


Temple and its Neighborhood
Rue Meslay and Revolutionaries from around the World

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The futurist architecture of Ledoux’s tollgates: a political error?

Imagined by the famous architect Ledoux, some tollgates were frowned upon: extravagant, they contrasted with the very modest or dilapidated houses in the surrounding neighborhoods. For example, the Villette rotunda seemed alien to the neighborhood, like it had been placed randomly in the city: it represented the Enlightenment’s taste for the bourgeoisie, not that of the Parisian people. Consequently, these places of taxation became symbols of great inequalities and the remoteness of power. They were hated as much as the long wall that made Parisians feel like they were imprisoned in their own city.

View of Paris. The Faubourg Saint-Martin Tollgate
View of Paris. The Faubourg Saint-Martin Tollgate

Down with the tollgates!

Like the others, the Villette tollgate was attacked before the storming of the Bastille (July 14, 1789). The insurgents did not launch a revolution because they were against paying taxes, but because these taxes were on everyday consumer products like bread or wine, while the working classes could barely find the means to eat at all. For two years, up until May 1, 1791, revolutionaries wanted to keep the tollgates: they were even guarded by special “infantry” battalions, which were extremely unpopular. On May 1, 1791, the excise taxes were officially removed: it was possible to freely enter Paris. The tollgates no longer had any purpose. Most of them were removed gradually over time.

The Cavalry Corps from the Villette Tollgate Look for the Mayor of Chapelle in a Grocer’s Store near Town Hall
The Cavalry Corps from the Villette Tollgate Look for the Mayor of Chapelle in a Grocer’s Store near Town Hall
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