The Lion of Belfort

The lion of place Denfert-Rochereau, Paris XIV.

Accepted by the Parisians since its installation in 1880, the lion of place Denfert-Rochereau is a smaller reproduction of Bartholdi's original lion of Belfort.

The Lion of Belfort in Place Denfert-Rochereau (Paris XIVème Arrondissement) in the Parisian Exhibition Saloon of 1878, Bartholdi exhibited his final plaster model, which measures one third of his Lion of Belfort. A piece that, since a couple of years opposed him to the city of Belfort. But this controversy does not seem to affect the local council of Paris which is very attracted by the lion and which will acquire/buy it for a total amount of 20000frs. The sculpture is then entrusted to the Monduit centre - executor of the "statue of liberty" - , in order to be create a replica of hammered copper and installed in 1880 in Denfert-Rochereau.

A place that Bartholdi didn't really expect, as a correspondence written to a friend in 1879 testifies : "Je voulais vous voir ce matin pour vous annoncer la bonne nouvelle. Le conseil municipal de Paris a décidé l'acquisition du Lion de Belfort ; il sera très probablement érigé aux Buttes-Chaumont. Je crois que cela pourra offrir des horizons nouveaux et nous essaierons de faire quelque chose avec la vente de photographies (...). La décision du conseil municipal n'est pas simplement une acquisition d'oeuvre d'art intéressante ; c'est un hommage au patriotisme alsacien ; c'est indirectement un hommage au patriotisme de la population de Paris pendant le siège. C'est un souvenir du passé mis sous les yeux de la population, en vue de l'avenir... Il peut être bon d'entamer un peu l'olifant sur cette belle matière, pour moi sculpteur dans l'intérêt de l'oeuvre, pour nous Français pour y attacher le véritable sentiment patriotique que cela doit entretenir sous les yeux du public. A vous de souffler dans l'olifant là ou vous pouvez. La décision a été votée à l'unanimité du Conseil... Zing... Boum... peut-être fera-t-on un fête patriotique, et cela embêtera les bons Allemands et leurs amis les bonapartistes " (Quotation: Batholdi's letter to his friend).
The monument measuring 4 meters height and 7 meters length is very successful in the capital. The first celebration of the 14th of July takes place the same year of its installation and attracts a huge crowd of people to the Denfert square. The celebrations include parades, concerts and all kind of attractions. A success that was not contradicted in more than a century, as Agnès VARDA testifies in the following words (journal Libération on august 22nd 2003): Taking Boulevard Rapail, passing through the Cartier foundation you reach Denfert-Rochereau square. It' is the Place de l'Etoile of the XIV arrondissement, with it's green avenues. At the time of the town dues it was the barrier of hell. This Lion, installed in the centre of the square is a copy of the one sculptured by Bartholdi, paying tribute to colonel Denfert-Rochereau who defended the city (in 1870). But why this Franc-Comptois Lion in Paris? And why there? To the question "what should be done to embellish the city?" André Breton had answered this way : "give a big bone to gnaw to the Lion of Belfort and turn him towards the west." As far as turning the sculpture towards the west is concerned, it was done. For the bone, I saw it one morning when I filmed the Lion "le Lion volatil (2000 et 2003), 12 minutes" (Quotation: Movie title). A fortune-teller apprentice and a catacomb employee use place Denfert as the surrounding of their romance and the lion as a witness of their end (it is possible to visit the catacombs. You can enter from one of the town dues buildings, cerated by Ledoux). For sure my short film will be presented in the little cult cinema the Denfert. Les Guichard make a special and varied scheduling. And two years later since 2000, once a week they prolong the exclusiveness of my documentary . Hello neighbours! And hello demonstrators leaving from Denfert ! " I live in Paris XIV and not in Paris. By convenience or simply by laziness I hang around the neighbourhood near where I live. I will be buried in the same place where Jacques rests, just some steps from our house and our final residence".
In 2001 the lion, worn by time, pollution and the student's demonstrations, was the object of an important restoration. And if one day you decide to discover this piece of art, don't forget to take a visit in the cemetery of Montparnasse, where the sculptor Frédéric-Auguste BARTHOLDI rests.

  • Le lion de Denfert-Rochereau (Détail). Photo JP Le Padellec

  • Le lion de la place Denfert-rochereau, Paris XIVème. Photo JP Le Padellec

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    Practical information

    Address

    place Denfert-Rochereau 75014
    Paris

    Weekly opening hours

    Accessible toute l'année