On the 28th of July, 1830, a cannon was aimed at the Hôtel de Sens in Paris. The powder exploded, and the projectile, a lump of iron weighing several kilograms, collided with the stone with a hefty thunk. Instead of breaking the stone or bouncing off harmlessly, it embedded into the side of the hotel, where it is still lodged today.
The July Revolution
The event happened during the Trois Glorieuses, or July Revolution, a three-day period of civil unrest that escalated quickly into riots, and eventually, revolution. It led to the overthrow of the unpopular French King Charles X, and the installation of King Louis Philippe (who would himself be overthrown, in 1848).
On July 25, 1830, Charles signed the July Ordinances, which suspended the liberty of the press, excluded the commercial middle class from elections, and called for new elections. It was enough to infuriate the people. Starting on July 26, the July Ordinances, combined with social unrest and spiking unemployment came to a head when police raided a news press to seize contraband newspapers. An angry mob met the police with chants of “Down with the Bourbons!” and “Long live the charter!”
As word of confrontations grew, soldiers were deployed in public squares, such as the Place Vendôme and Place de la Bastille. But the angry mobs were growing all around the city, and residents in apartments joined in from their balconies. Stone, pavers and flowerpots were hurled at soldiers on the streets below. By the end of day 1, 21 civilians had been killed in retaliation.
By the end of the second day, the entire city was up in arms. A draft amendment was produced, but still the king refused to withdraw the Ordinances. Meanwhile, the people of Paris has erected over 4000 barricades around the city, bringing the city to a standstill.
On day 3, the French soldiery was overwhelmed. The Swiss Guard, no match for an angry mob, broke and ran from government buildings. The Louvre was occupied, the Tuileries palace was sacked, and eventually, the Hôtel de Ville as well. The crowds, however, respectfully refrained from looting the artworks in these buildings.
At the end of the three days, a constitutional Monarchy provisional government was formed, the king and his heir had abdicated and left for England, and (sometime during all the madness), the Hôtel de Sens had a new cannonball in its facade.
Origins of the Hôtel de Sens
Hôtel des Archevêques de Sens is a private mansion located in the Marais in Paris. It was built between 1475 and 1519 as a residence for the archbishops of Sens (a commune 120km from Paris). In 1622, Paris became an archdiocese, and the archbishops of Sens lost their power in Paris, visiting less frequently.
By the nineteenth century, the Hôtel de Sens had fallen into a period of decay, and was privately owned. It was during this time that the cannonball lodged in its wall. The hotel became a heritage site in 1862, and was restored in 1930, including an inscription underneath the cannonball to commemorate the date. Today, it has a lovely gardens with hedges and flowers to sit and read a book, or take a break from exploring the Marais.
The cannonball is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it hidden secret in Paris, and takes only a minute to appreciate. But with some understanding of what it is, and why it happened, it becomes a link to the past, and a reminder of a very significant event that changed French history. For history buffs who are visiting the Marais, it’s certainly worth tracking down.