Sunday, 7 December 2014

Loafing in the Tuileries Garden/Strolling on the Place de la Concorde

Hail Caesar!

 I was scrolling through the photo files on my computer and couldn't resist posting this one. It is of myself in the Tuileries Garden in Paris in late September last year posing with a statue of that most famous conqueror of Gaul, Mr Gaius Julius Caesar.

 Just what the great Roman general is doing watching over tourists and hawkers in the centre of Paris is anyone's guess. If you are going to erect a monument to a foreign and ancient dictator in your city who better than the greatest of them all I suppose?

 Caesar conquered Gaul which encompassed most of modern day France and Belgium, in the first century BC. It was a protracted campaign, stretched over seven years, taking out Gallic tribes one by one, suffering the odd setback but eventually succeeding in imposing his will on the natives at the Battle of Alesia, one of the greatest and most famous military victories of all time. If you want an example of great decision making and leadership under pressure, read an account of the battle. Caesar wrote one himself! It has been translated into English several times since of course and his commentaries on his campaigns are still studied intimately at military colleges the world over. Big Julie could handle himself okay.

 Caesar had needed a big payday in Gaul to satisfy his creditors in Rome after running up huge debts in his bid to be elected Consul. After his one year stint as Rome's leader he was given provinces to govern as a Pro-Consul and he launched his campaign into Gaul for nothing more than plunder and glory. The Senate disapproved of unilateral military action especially involving a seemingly rogue ex-consul plunging without permission into untamed lands but once Caesar had won his first victories and sent his accounts of these triumphs back to Rome there was nothing much they could do but go along with it. Caesar, the master general was a sublime propagandist as well. The Roman populous lapped up his feats.The Senate bit down hard on their objection.

 Caesar's opponents in the Senate eventually succeeded in having him declared an outlaw which would have meant his permanent banishment from Rome and political life had this proscription been enforced. However, with 40 000 hardened veterans at his back Caesar crossed the Rubicon and seized Rome by force, his opponents fleeing to the four corners of the Roman State and plunging it into civil war. A war which lead to Caesar becoming dictator.

 He was assassinated in the Senate chamber in 44BC by opponents who had survived his conquest and whom he had pardoned. Killed in Rome by Romans. He remains one of history's greatest men.

 The Tuileries Garden, which was founded by Catherine de Medici in the 16th century, also saw some of the last shots fired by the German occupiers of Paris in 1944. Surging out of Normandy, the Allies raced for the City of Light and an insubordinate Free French armoured commander entered the city and engaged the enemy against the orders of his American masters. German tanks in the Garden were destroyed by armour piercing rounds fired down the length of the Champs Elysees and the last holdouts were arrested killed or captured after being forced out of their positions around the Louvre and the Rue de Rivoli.

Arc de Triomphe from the Place de la Concord. 
 The Rue de Rivoli runs alongside the Louvre and the Tuileries Garden and flows out onto the Place de la Concorde  where a right hand turn will take you onto the Champs Elysees and towards the Arc de Triomphe. The German commander of Paris signed the surrender document in a luxury hotel on the Rue de Rivoli and four years of humiliation at the hands of Adolf Hitler, his instruments of hate and the German Armed Forces in general was over. There was still a lot fighting to be done before the enemy was completely destroyed but Paris was liberated without too much damage being inflicted on her ancient facade.

 Collaborators were rounded up, old scores settled and a new regime installed. France has never faced such a crisis again.

Rue de Rivoli runs past the Louvre.

 The dark days of the Second World War are long past and Europe is united but there is still a great battle fought on these streets every year. The Tour de France meets it's end on these very roads and in these very surrounds every July. It is a much more civilised way of conquering a nation and winning eternal fame than warring and winning and losing like Caesar and Hitler practiced with regularity. A lot less bloody too.

 Paris is of course one of the most famous and aged capitals in the world. It may never see such history again than that which has already swept under her bow but she remains a must see for the tourist and a beacon of hope for many foreigners seeking a better life. If you haven't yet seen her you should get on a plane and go. The grand old lady of Europe is waiting.

 Have a nice day.

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