Saturday, 29 December 2012

Sab's Paris Quirks & Curios: "Queens & Wizards Abroad"

Sab's Paris Quirks & Curios
by Sab Will,  wannabe offbeat Paris street guru

The title says it all: quirks and curiosities. And as luck would have it, Paris is packed with them; you just have to know where to look!

In this on-going series I offer you some hand picked, photographed and commented oddities which particularly interested me, and I hope will do the same for you.

I'm an avid collector of such items so any comments and suggestions you may have would be very welcome. So, without further ado, let's get straight onto...

Sab's Paris Quirks & Curios
1st Arrondissement: Quirk 11 ~ "Queens & Wizards Abroad"

I'm treating you to one of my first ever iPhone photos here from way back in 2010 as I have a bit of a soft spot for it.

Things have moved on from the 3GS of course and the other photos on this page are from the iPhone 5. That's right, not a Nikon SLR in sight - shhh, don't tell anyone, what would the purists say?

Anyway, this is the sight as you emerge from one of the exits of the Les Halles shopping centre, or what's left of it, and a splendid sight it is too.

The column, known as the Colonne Médicis, was actually attached to a splendid palace known as the Hôtel de la Reine, with the queen in question being Catherine de Médicis, wife of Henri II.

Henri had been killed about 15 years previously (to the construction of the column) in 1559, in a jousting tournament, and the intertwined 'H' and 'C's on the fluted sides are Catherine's tribute to her lost king.

Catherine was somewhat obsessed by astrology, and even accused by some of witchcraft. This column is thought to be linked to this activity and was used by her close friend, astronomer and some say sorcerer, Cosimo Ruggieri, to carry out his unearthly experiments.

The column was accessible at first floor level from the queen's apartments and used to be capped by a glass dome. All that's left now is the iron supporting structure. Depending on which source you believe, either the sides, or corners, of the square plinth face the four cardinal points, although Google Maps would beg to differ on both counts.

The whole story's pretty weird and complicated but goes roughly like this. The queen was living at the Louvre and had ordered another grand palace to be built, the Tuileries, just next door. Strangely, in 1570, all the work was stopped on the Tuileries and the queen ordered another complex, the future Hôtel de la Reine, also known as the Hôtel de Soissons, to be constructed forthwith.

Why? Although nothing is clear, it is thought that her magician Ruggieri predicted that she would die 'by Saint Germain'. As the Louvre was right next to the Saint Germain l'Auxerrois church this is bound to have troubled her. Hence the hasty move, as she is apparently thought to have believed everything the sorcerer told her.

This is fairly likely as another, much more famous fortune teller, Nostradamus, had already correctly predicted the unfortunate death of her husband. As it famously turns out, the priest who gave her the last rites as she lay dying in Blois in 1589 was a certain Julien de Saint Germain...

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As a matter of interest, Ruggieri also astutely predicted that Catherine de Médicis would become queen when she married only the second in line for the throne. Also that she would bear ten children, which she eventually did.

For us today, the Colonne Médicis is a wonderful reminder of times and intrigues gone by. It's also something of a miracle that it's actually survived to modern times. Maybe thanks to a spell by a certain magician named Cosimo?

* Sab Will runs Photo and Curios Tours in Paris, and also manages a variety of Paris and photography-themed sites and blogs. He writes an illustrated Paris Chronicle every day, runs a Meetup group for Paris lovers, interviews Paris personalities and reviews Paris books (on this blog), and even contributes to the city's street art (shh), so feel free to browse some of the links below and in the right-hand column to find out more about what he gets up to out there...

© 2012 Sab Will / Paris Set Me Free - Suggestions, questions, requests and offers always welcome!

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