Cool Stuff in Paris. By Manning Leonard Krull.

Hôtel de Ville — a great place for an execution!

Hôtel de Ville is Paris' beautiful city hall, situated on the North bank of the Seine right in the center of town. Ornate and ostentatious, Hôtel de Ville seems to be the very picture of class and civility. You'd never guess that just in front of its doorstep lies a site where hundreds, possibly thousands of bloody executions took place, spanning over five centuries.

Hôtel de Ville - a great place for an execution!

The big open square in front of Hôtel de Ville is now called, appropriately enough, la Place de L'Hôtel de Ville, but its original name was the Place de Grève, and for centuries this was the spot in Paris where most public executions took place. Convicted criminals met their fate in various gruesome ways in the Place de Grève: Some were beheaded — commoners got the axe, while wealthy folks could pay a fee to have the job done cleanly with a sword, and the convicted could even slip the executioner an extra coin to make it nice and quick. Some were drawn and quartered; attached to four horses and torn to pieces when the horses were spurred into pulling in opposite directions. Some were hanged, some were burned at the stake, I've read some were apparently cooked(!), and others, later on in the 18th century, faced the guillotine; a personal favorite of mine! Executions were a great source of entertainment to pre-television Parisians, and the Place de Grève was always crowded with spectators. People who lived in the upper floors of the buildings with a good view of the Place would actually charge folks to come up and watch the executions from their balconies. All of this went on until the last public execution at the Place de Grève in 1830. (The last public execution in France occurred in 1939.)

The amount of blood that was shed at the former Place de Grève is staggering, and I get a devious thrill out of thinking about that every time I wander by the Place and see the smiling tourists taking pictures there, the carousel with its colorful lights and happy music, the ice skating rink the city puts up in wintertime, et cetera. If you're a fan of the morbid and macabre you might get a kick out of doing the same. Don't worry, no one will have any idea what you're smiling about.

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