Sunday, 1 November 2009

La Colonne Médicis – a mystery for Halloween

In a city that has been investigated and documented as much as Paris, not much remains that has a glimmer of mystery. Alongside the Bourse de Commerce near Les Halles though stands a 31 metre high column for which there are two unanswered questions; what was it used for and why is it still there?

The column itself is the only remaining vestige of a royal palace know as the Hôtel de la Reine. This palace was built for Catherine de Médicis in 1572, with the column being added three years later. It seems that Catherine de Médicis was a great believer in the divinatory arts, and employed an astrologist called Cosme Ruggieri, who she consulted before taking important decisions. This column may have played an important role in those decisions.

According to some evidence, the column was used by Ruggieri, primarily as an astrological observatory. Ruggieri had a workshop at the top of the tower, but interestingly it could also be accessed directly from Catherine de Médicis’s apartment in the palace via a spiral staircase. What exactly took place in Ruggieri’s workshop is not clear, and neither is the exact role astrology played in the life of Catherine de Médicis, an incredibly powerful woman, who was Queen from 1547 to 1559, then Queen Mother and advisor to three of her sons during their reigns.

Catherine de Médicis died in 1589, but the tower has survived long after her. Ruggieri continued with his work in his room, but made many enemies in the church and the court. When he died in 1615 he was refused a decent burial, and instead his body was dragged through the streets of the city and left on the wayside. Is it surely for this reason that there have often been reported sightings of a dark figure at the top of this column on stormy nights.

After the death of Ruggieri, it is probable that the column became purely decorative or possibly defensive. The column was sold separately from the rest of the palace, thus saving it from destruction, although it is not known why this was the case. It was eventually sold on again to the city of Paris, and has stood firmly in place whilst first the palace was demolished, then two other buildings were built around it (initially the Halle aux Blés, then today’s Bourse de Commerce).

The column looks curiously out of place today, even if the Bourse de Commerce that blankets it was designed in a similar classical style. It looks like an extravagant chimney, or a rather absurd decorative feature, but given this, it is still easy to overlook it in the congested landscape of Les Halles.

Does it still serve a purpose today? The staircase still exists inside the tower, but today there are no echoes of footsteps mounting and descending the steps. The doorway on the ground level is now firmly closed, and nobody stands at the top anymore – do they?

5 comments:

Peter (the other) said...

Now THAT is a great Halloween post! I shall always see the column now, and imagine a world where. perhaps rightfully, the powerful trusted astrologers as much as economists. There should be an Alan Greenspan Column in Washington.

Cergie said...

En sortant du métro les Halles on a tendance à aller vers Beaubourg surtout lorsqu’on est touriste mais il est intéressant de se diriger en lui tournant le dos vers les jardins, et l'église St Eustache. C'est un coin charmant et très animé (joueurs de pétanques).
Paris est une ville qui bouge et toi tu voudrais qu’il y ait des fantômes ?
Mais tu as raison, il y a des fantômes. Et puis cette tour n'est-elle pas loin de l'ancien cimetière des innocents ?
(Adam, contre le palu on prend des cachets, sinon lorsqu’on a une forme bénigne on a des crises périodiques toutes sa vie où on grelotte de fièvre ; contre la fièvre jaune on se vaccine, tu peux aller ailleurs qu’à Roissy mais mourir en vomissant de la bile noire huit jours après avoir été piqué par un petit moustique, très peu pour moi. Et puis lorsque tu arrives à la nage parce que tu n’as pas pris l’avion, te faire refouler pour défaut de vaccination, c’est quand même vexant)
:)

Owen said...

I'm thinking the Paris bureaucrats would have been too scared to ever tear it down, for fear that the wrath of the dark figure might smite them down...

Wonderful story Adam, I had never heard of all that before, although have seen the column out of the corner of my eye no doubt many times...

Peter said...

I believe that your story about the tower is as complete as possible!

It seems that Catherine asked Ruggieri his opinion on how to treat the hugenots!

Starman said...

You're right about overlooking the column. As many times as I've been in that area, I've never noticed it. That will change now, of course. Great post, as usual.

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