The current Place du Châtelet gets its name from the fortress that still stood here in 1789. The “Grand Châtelet” then housed a tribunal: that of the Provosts of Paris. Its prisons extended along the sidewalk of the current Théâtre de la Ville. Some of the cells were even located below the Seine’s water level. The morgue was also in this building: bodies found in the street or fished from the Seine were exhibited here. During the Revolution, the Grand Châtelet stopped functioning as a tribunal, but continued to receive prisoners. Accused of preparing a royalist plot, several dozen detainees were massacred here at the beginning of September 1792.
Decided under Louis XVI, the demolition of the Grand Châtelet was not implemented during the Revolution. It did not start until 1802 and was completed in 1810. This image depicts to what extent this demolition site was one of the largest city planning operations in Paris at the beginning of the 19th century: by demolishing the Grand Châtelet, the Empire of Napoléon Bonaparte hoped to establish a modern city and forget both the Ancien Régime and the Revolution. On the new square, traffic flowed much easier. A fountain decorated with a column mounted with the allegorical figure of Victory commemorated the emperor’s battles.