‘Paris, n’oublie pas on te nourrit’ or ‘Paris, don’t forget we feed you’. This was the message on the one of the tractors which had driven from Brittany to join the protest in Place de la Nation on Thursday. As a thousand tractors were parked on the roads around the Place, a delegation of farmers continued on foot to the National Assembly. Faced with rising costs, declining prices and competition from cheap imports many French farmers, particularly dairy and pig farmers, despair of keeping their businesses afloat. To make politicians listen to their grievances and take action, the place to be is Paris.
Place de la Nation is well suited to accommodating manifestations on a grand scale. The central garden, dominated by the massive, bronze sculptural group ‘Triumph of the Republic’, is encircled by two concentric roads. The green ring between the roads, planted with trees and roses, is divided into ten segments by the ten roads converging on the centre. It’s a grand green space with a lot of tarmac.
The Place has its origins in a field between the city limits and the village of Picpus, where a throne was installed in 1660 for the ceremonial entry into Paris of Louis XIV and his new wife Marie-Thérèse. In 1792 the Place du Trône was renamed the Place du Trône Renversé (or the place of the overturned throne). During the six weeks of the Terror, from June to July 1794, the guillotine was installed here and over 1,300 citizens were decapitated in arbitrary executions.
Place de la Nation took its present form and name in 1880, during the Third Republic redevelopment of Paris. The central monument was inaugurated in 1889 on the centenary of the Revolution. The figure of Republic rides a chariot pulled by two lions, guided by the Spirit of Liberty and accompanied by Labour, Justice and Abundance; fine principles for the focal point of any protest. I’m not sure about the lions, though.