The barriers of Paris

The barriers of Paris

  • Barrier of the Champs Elisha


  • The bouquet. Freedom of entry to the barrier of Hell.


Barrier of the Champs Elisha

© BnF, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / BnF image

To close

Title: The bouquet. Freedom of entry to the barrier of Hell.

Author : ANONYMOUS (-)

Storage location: Carnavalet museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: RMN-Grand Palais / Bulloz Agency

Picture reference: 01-022642 /

The bouquet. Freedom of entry to the barrier of Hell.

© RMN-Grand Palais / Agence Bulloz

Publication date: December 2018

University of Evry-Val d'Essonne

Historical context

The economic laws of the Constituent

At the start of the French Revolution, the sites where the grant was taken were targeted and set on fire, such as the Conference barrier from July 12, 1789. On January 20, 1791, the National Constituent Assembly abolished this unpopular tax from from 1er following May. The engraving of the Champs Élysées barrier suggests an order from the Constituent Assembly offered to the city of Paris: “Premier May [1791] given to the City of Paris by the National Assembly which removes all entrance fees to barriers. See the decree of February 19, 1791 ”. On the engraving of the "Bouquet", the obelisk uses the official motto "The Nation, The Law, The King", and its base contains the title: "The suppression of all rights at the entrances to towns in accordance with the decree of the National Assembly at 1er May 1791. "The first part of the patriotic legend recalls the grievances formulated against this tax:" Let us forever celebrate this beautiful May Day, when our wise legislators have just abolished the entrance fees in the towns, where the rapacity of the general farmers and that of their agents is appalled. "

These two color-enhanced allegorical engravings, undated and anonymous, celebrate the same event: the removal of the entrance fee (the grant) at the gates of Paris. Since the Middle Ages, the levy of this indirect cash tax "granted" the entry of certain goods into the city, such as wine, grain or meat. In the grievances books, the grant arouses much criticism, because of the state's dependence on business circles, then for its unequal nature depending on the products and the cities.

Image Analysis

The removal of grant barriers

The two engravings commemorate the disappearance of barriers to trade and the celebrations that followed for two barriers installed on the outskirts of the city of Paris. That of the Champs Élysées or the Étoile represents a large procession of goods entering the capital from the west: barrels of wine, cattle, bags ... The atmosphere is light: the assembled characters converse, have fun, dance and drink. This atmosphere is reinforced by the presence of a Liberty tree on the left, plus a banner with another motto on the right: "Liberty. Long live the Nation ”. In the background, workers destroy the symbols of the old imposition, with the stone wall, the separation grid from which they recover the iron bars and the two guard posts of the Farm workers.

The engraving of the Bouquet represents another barrier which could be that of Hell in the south of Paris. The gate shatters as the freight convoy passes. The image here draws on the register of mythology to symbolize the blessings of the removal of the grant. Four sketches mix the gods of the Greco-Roman Pantheon with townspeople in period costumes. To the left of the point of the obelisk, installed in his chariot, we see "Apollo beginning his career". On the left, a sword in the left hand and a Phrygian cap in the right hand is "Liberty breaking the barriers". To the left of the dome, a group embodies "L’Abondance, Bacchus et Cérès entering the capital”. Finally, feet on the ground and equipped with its caduceus appears "Mercury promoting trade".


Freedom of trade and Equality before taxes

These engravings illustrate the policy of institutionalizing the image implemented by the Constituent Assembly. They address two principles that spread throughout the XVIIIe century and now find an echo in the law: freedom and equality. By removing trade constraints, the Constituent Assembly enshrined the precepts of liberal economic theories, such as those of Turgot (1727-1781) who was already campaigning for the disappearance of customs and free access to the grain market. In 1791, the Constituent Assembly gradually removed the obstacles to the freedom of trade and industry. In January, the grant is canceled. In March, duties levied on commercial activities are liquidated. In June, the Le Chapelier law abolished the trade guilds. The moralizing legend of the Bouquet engraving praises the merits of this liberal climate: “The peoples will easily enjoy the precious treasures of nature; the poor and the rich alike will find it all the easier, as the fearful fear of barriers is broken down. The race of the wolves is destroyed, prosperity will be reborn in the industrious hands of the farmer and the artist. "

Thanks to the development of the printing press, these event engravings, erected as a political tool, evoke the principle of equality before taxes which apply to individuals and communities. Built in Paris at the end of the Ancien Régime, the Fermiers Général wall embodied the desire to differentiate subjects. It owes its name to those who took charge of its collection and hired the architect Claude-Nicolas Ledoux (1736-1806) to build 55 barriers according to a neoclassical architecture made up of monumental propylaea. In his Paris painting, Louis-Sébastien Mercier strongly condemns the construction of these buildings and the segregation that results from them: "What is revolting for all eyes is to see the tax dens transformed into palaces with columns, which are veritable fortresses. Colossal figures accompany these monuments. We see one on the Passy side holding chains in hand, which she offers to those who arrive; he is the tax genius personified in his true attributes. Ah! Mr. Ledoux, you are a terrible architect! "Despite the decision of the Constituent Assembly, the wall was not completely destroyed and the grant was reinstated in 1798 by the Directory.

  • Paris
  • Parisians
  • customs
  • granting
  • allegory
  • tax
  • trade
  • Champs Elysees
  • tax
  • Constituent Assembly
  • Freedom
  • freedoms


BOURGUINATE Élisabeth, The streets of Paris in the 18th century: The gaze of Louis-Sébastien Mercier, Paris, Paris-Museums, 1999.

CHAGNIOT Jean, Paris in the 18th century: New history of Paris, Paris, Hachette, 1988.

CONCHON Anne, NOIZET Hélène, OLLION Michel (dir.), The limits of Paris: 12th-18th centuries, Lille, University Press of the Septentrion, 2017.

DELPORTE Christian and DUPRAT Annie, The event, history, memory, representations, Grâne, Créaphis, 2003.

LYONNET Jean-Pierre, The Propylaea of ​​Paris. Claude-Nicolas Ledoux, 1785-1788, Paris, Éditions Honoré Clair, 2013.

To cite this article

Stéphane BLOND, "The barriers of Paris"

Video: France: Paris to build 20 mln bulletproof wall around the Eiffel Tower