Monuments of Paris: truly secret histories

Musée du Louvre monuments de Paris

Paris was predestined to become the capital of France. Thanks to the Seine.

Archaeological digs in the 15th arrondissement of Paris revealed that the riverbanks were cultivated by hunter-gatherers between 10000 and 5000 BC. By 300 BC, the Parisii, a people of fishermen, had settled there. At that time, the landscape was made up entirely of islands, such as our aptly named île de la Cité and île Saint Louis. They lived in this settlement called Lutèce, which comes from “Lutum”, the Latin word for “mud”. And so it was called, until a certain someone by the name of Caesar invaded Gaul and renamed the town after its inhabitants: Civitas Parisiorum: Paris.

On top of its 10,000-year history, you can imagine that Paris is full of secrets, and much is hidden beneath the surface.

Allow us to share a few examples with you…


The oldest monument in Paris: the obelisk


The obelisk was the first diplomatic gift to be erected in Paris and went on to become a historic monument. It was gifted by King Mehemet Ali of Egypt in 1830, on the advice of none other than Champollion, to thank France for assisting with the modernisation of his country.

The monument is straight out of the Temple of Luxor where it was erected under Ramses II. 

So Parisians can look back on 4,000 years of history from place de la Concorde.

It took 6 years to bring this treasure, which is 23 metres high and weighs 230 tonnes, to its new home in France. That was an enormous technical undertaking and was unfortunately so difficult that a second obelisk gifted was never brought over from Egypt.

The incredible obelisk is the oldest monument in Paris and one of the capital’s most-visited highlights.


The biggest monument scam that Paris has ever seen


A swindler sold the Eiffel Tower to a scrap dealer! Here’s one surprising story that the city isn’t proud of.

Victor Lustig was the swindler behind this astonishing scam.

In the 1920s, Victor Lustig, who was then in his thirties, arrived from the USA with money that he had swindled, not least from Al Capone, to whom he had sold a fake banknote printer.

Upon arrival in the Paris of the roaring twenties, he soon frittered away all that money on the new cabarets in Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the Latin Quarter.

As well as at the hôtel du Crillon, on place de la Concorde, where he lived way beyond his means.

Once penniless, he found out that the municipality of Paris was struggling to keep up with the maintenance of the Eiffel Tower, and that the idea of selling it really is on the table.

This intelligence formed the basis of his scam.

He invited five scrap merchants to go and negotiate at the Crillon behind closed doors, and seized upon the weakest among them. The latter parted with a large sum of money to become the scrap dealer who would have closed this astronomical deal.

Lustig made off with the money. Not a soul would hear this juicy anecdote, since out of shame, the scrap dealer never told on the crook.


Paris and its ghosts: the Tuileries and the Louvre Museum

The ghosts of Paris have given rise to proper myths, which are so deeply ingrained that some believe them to be part of the fabric of history.

Find out more about all the museums in Paris’s 7th arrondissement in this article.

Médor, the dog of the Louvre

Why do French people always call a dog they don’t know “Médor”? To find out, we need to tell you about a dark chapter in the history of Paris: The revolution of 1830.

The people rose up once more against the weakening monarchy, and it was a bloody assault on the Louvre that tipped the balance in favour of the insurgents. However, many lives were lost. Among them were those of two young cousins, Jacques-Léon et Louis-Alphonse Duhamel who had come to support the movement, accompanied by their dog, Médor.

Following this event that was the “Trois Glorieuses”, which cost them their lives, they were buried at the foot of the palais Royal colonnade. For days and nights on end, Médor stood in the palace grounds, howling after them.

The whole of Paris was upset by the situation, especially since the dog refused to eat. More and more people gathered at the foot of the colonnade to see the animal, and some even tried to take him away.

Each time, Médor broke away from them and returned to his masters’ graves. In the end he accepted food from a local woman.

After a while people lost interest in him, and we don’t know what became of him.


The ghost of Jean l’écorcheur (the flayer) prowls the Tuileries

This is another little-known anecdote these days, but one that had the whole of Paris trembling for some 300 years, up until 1871.

Between 1564 and 1871, a simple stroll could turn into a nightmare, thanks to the nefarious proclivities of Catherine de Médicis, who as everyone knows, resorted to murder on a regular basis.

The Queen wanted to build a royal palace in the Tuileries, but she was unable to get started on her building project without commandeering the shops and homes along the Seine that stood in her way.

Jean, the neighbourhood butcher also known as Jean l’écorcheur, turned down the deal offered and refused to give up his slaughterhouse or leave.

So de Médicis sent her henchman to do away with him.

With his dying breath, Jean vowed to go back and haunt the place and told the queen that she was to die near Saint Germain.

As a superstitious woman, for obvious reasons, de Médicis immediately moved to Blois, where she died, in any case…

As for Jean, he appeared in the gardens as a blood-red ghost, as witnessed and reported by Marie-Antoinette, Napoleon the First, Louis the 18th and other royals and onlookers.


The capital is surprising and unusual, and you can learn heaps from it

Every passageway, every chapel, every street, every bridge is a key to understanding history. Exploring Paris through its luxury boutiques, and its monuments is about taking a stroll that is somewhat hidden from the general public. But it’s accessible to all, thanks to the book Secrets de Paris by Philippe Krief.

Enjoy your visit.

Allow us to share a few secrets and surprising stories about the monuments of Paris with you…