Place de la Bastille
This column stands in the middle of a square named after the prison that once occupied its place. Used to house political and religious prisoners, it was destroyed between July 14 1789 and July 14 1790 in what came to be known as the Storming of the Bastille. Its destruction, as well as the Fête de la Fédération celebrated a year later, are the origins of the Fête Nationale (known as Bastille Day in the English-speaking world). In 1792, plans were set to build a column and turn the site into a square celebrating liberty, but these plans would not go into effect until 1833. And to think it almost looked very different – in the early 19th century, Napoleon had every intention to place a statue of an elephant, wrought from the bronze taken from Spanish cannons, at the center of a square. The project only got so far as building a plaster model, however, and was abandoned altogether after his defeat at Waterloo.
Place des Vosges
Originally known as the Place Royale and built in 1605, this is the oldest planned square in Paris. It is also, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful, and it was one of the places that stuck with me after my first visit to the city.
It served as a fashionable (and expensive!) place for the aristocracy to live in, though they did so in houses that all shared the same house fronts, which was unusual at the time.
The central square provided a place for them to socialize, and served as a meeting place for residents until the Revolution. I was there quite early and, as you can see, found it practically empty, but just imagine what it might have looked like covered with gossiping aristocracy, stuffy and overdressed. I… actually prefer it as it is today.
Renamed in 1799 when the département of the Vosges in north-eastern France became the first to pay taxes in support of the Revolutionary army, its name was restored in the 19th century, and changed back to its current name for the last time by the Second Republic in 1870.