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Visit the July Column

July Column stairwell

The Colonne de Juillet, or July Column, is a large pillar on the Place de la Bastille commemorating the 1830 Revolution that finally opened to the public for guided tours in fall 2021.

The July Column
The July Column

The 1830 Revolution was a popular uprising that took place over three days in July, chasing off the last of the Bourbon kings of France (to be replaced by the constitutional monarchy of King Louis-Philippe d’Orléans). Not to be confused with the revolution of 1789 (where Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI lost their heads), the 1830 Revolution is one at the heart of the Victor Hugo classic, Les Miserables, and immortalized by Delacroix in his famous painting, La Liberté Guidant le Peuple, or Liberty Guiding the People.

Letting it all hang out in the name of “Liberty”

The bodies of the Parisians who died on the barricades are buried in a crypt inside, and their names engraved on the outside. On top of the column is the gilded statue, the Génie de la Liberté, or the Genius of Liberty. Unlike the Statue of Liberty the French made for the US, this one is buck naked and joyously leaping into the air, woo hoo!

The July Column has rarely been open to the public over the past 30 years, but after extensive restoration work, in October 2021 they finally opened it for guided tours on the weekends.

To be clear, there are a few things you should know before you book:

  • Tours are only in French for now.
  • Tours are only of the crypt, with a peek up the corkscrew stairwell (which hasn’t been restored yet), so you don’t get to go up into the column itself (ie no views).
  • The first 60 minutes of these 90-minute tours take place outside (which isn’t mentioned on their website).

It starts a few blocks away at the Hôtel de Sully, home to the offices of the Centre des Monuments Nationaux who organize the monument tours. The guide gives you the entire history of the Marais district, passing through the Place des Vosges next door before guiding the group (usually 15-18 people) to the Place de la Bastille. Here, you’ll get a full explanation of the history and symbolism, since it’s too narrow inside to actually talk to the group.

Holiday spotlights turn the column blue in December.

Tip: Dress warmly if it’s winter (I recommend waiting for warmer weather, though!), and stand close to the guide if you want to hear anything over the traffic.

Inside the July Column & Crypt

Narrow, but bright, the interior has been nicely restored throughout, including the mosaic marble floors, carved stone walls, and stained-glass windows. Another pleasant surprise: (modern) restrooms!

The crypt where the bodies are buried is quite minimalist, and also includes the remains of those who died on the barricades of the 1848 Revolution (and the end of the French monarchy for good).

Visitors are allowed to look up the spiral staircase inside the column, but not climb more than a few steps to take photos. Behind the stained glass is the access to the canal running below the Place de la Bastille.

This is as far as we were allowed to go up the stairs.

Practical Information

The 90-minute guided tours in French cost €13 (€6 for kids 7-17), and can be booked on weekends year-round through the National Monuments website: https://www.colonne-de-juillet.fr/

Attention! The tour starts in the courtayrd of the Hôtel de Sully, 62 rue St Antoine , 4th.

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