In 2021, the French capital is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Commune de Paris, an unprecedented uprising on the part of Paris’s people. This historic and ground-breaking event took place in the capital over a period of a little over 2 months, from 18 March to 28 May 1871, in the wake of the Franco-Prussian War.
Following a four-month siege inflicted by Prussian troops, a severe famine and a rising cost of living, working-class Parisians, who had been bundled together in the eastern part of Paris after Haussmann’s urban renovation, were exhausted, and the new government in Versailles – pacifist, royalist and, in the eyes of the Communard rebels, collaborationist – was attempting to quell the growing discontent of the workers by force, by using its army. People in eastern Paris got organized and 30,000 of them took up arms in rebellion. From 18 March onwards, men and women – builders, stonecutters, woodworkers, shopkeepers – joined forces to protect the cannons of the National Guard, which had been installed during the war in Montmartre and Belleville, against attempts by 10,000 soldiers of the new government to remove them.
That was the beginning of the Commune, which would see the death of thousands of people from either side and the expression of revolutionary social ideals in the actions, words and writings of Louise Michel, Gustave Courbet, Jules Vallès, Charles Delescluze and many others.
The demolition of the Vendôme Column, considered a symbol of imperial despotism, the barricades on either side of the centre and east of the capital, and the semaine sanglante or ‘bloody week’ during which the Hôtel de Ville, the Paris Archives, the Préfecture de Police, the Palais de Justice and the Palais des Tuileries were set on fire were some of the noteworthy events marking the confrontation between the rebels and the supporters of the government of Adolphe Thiers. The killing of 147 Communards at Père Lachaise cemetery, who were executed by government troops against a wall now known as the ‘Mur des Fédérés’ on 27 May 1781, marked the beginning of the end of the insurrection.
This final revolution of the 19th century was widely reported internationally, and remains a key event in contemporary French history. The events being organized to mark its anniversary take you to the heart of Paris’s history.
More than 50 events in Paris
The City of Paris is commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Paris Commune with more than 50 cultural events to be held from 18 March to 28 May 2021 with hygiene measures in place. They offer an opportunity to attend exhibitions held outdoors and in libraries and town halls, talks, debates, guided tours, readings, plays, songs and tributes.
The programme will be launched on 18 March with an exhibition titled ‘Nous la Commune!’. Silhouettes of male and female Communards, created by the artist Dugudus, will be on display in the Square Louise Michel, at the foot of Montmartre Hill (18th). The exhibition will then move to the railings of the Hôtel de Ville, the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, and the Gare de l'Est.
Exhibitions, talks and guided tours
The history committee of the City of Paris is organizing a conference at the Petit Palais (8th) and the exhibition ‘1871, les 72 jours de la Commune’ relating to the 72 days of the Commune on the railings of the Sorbonne, the Buttes-Chaumont and the 11th arrondissement town hall. The general public can take part in guided walks in the footsteps of the Commune, particularly in Montmartre, attend talks at the Pavillon Baudouin (20th) and see the murals in the 20th arrondissement. A programme titled ‘Femmes et la Commune’ focusing on the women of the Commune and their fight for equal rights is being held at the 18th arrondissement town hall from 18 March to 2 April 2021 and at the Centre Paris Anim’ Rachid Taha on Boulevard de la Chapelle until 31 March. The Musée de Montmartre is also holding an exhibition, from 15 April to 16 May 2021, of documents, photographs and writings on its ... social channels.
A scale model of Montmartre Hill at the time of the Commune can be seen at the Bibliothèque Jacqueline Romilly, and photography workshops are being organized here until 30 April.
Shows, songs and tributes
Among the shows being organized is ‘Le pari de la Commune’, to be held at Rue de la Fontaine-au-Roi (11th) at the location of the final barricade and ‘Louise Michel, citoyenne et poétesse’, a tribute to the citizen and poet, one of the major revolutionary figures of the movement, as well as ‘Fausse Commune’ and ‘Les Lunaisiens honorent la Commune’ at the 11th arrondissement town hall.
A documentary titled ‘Les Damnés de la Commune’ will be screened on the forecourt of the Mairie de Paris centre town hall (3rd), while the Hôtel de Ville is organizing readings and songs on 2 April, followed by a recollection of Louise Michel’s trial at the Salle des Fêtes.
A festive evening will be held on 20 May at the Arènes de Montmartre (18th). Titled ‘Rendez-vous du 18 mars, the musical evening will have the chanson singer Riton la Manivelle performing.
The programme is subject to change based on any changes to current health guidelines.
See the full programme of City of Paris events devoted to the 150th anniversary of the Paris Commune.
To learn more about the Paris Commune, see the series of articles on this theme on Paris.fr and on the website of the Archives de Paris.
See the programme of the association Les Amies et Amis de la Commune de Paris (1871).
Guided and virtual tours
Delve into the history of the Paris Commune by taking part in one of the virtual talks or guided tours offered on the online platform ExploreParis.
The website provides access to a series of virtual talks organized by the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire Paul Eluard in Saint-Denis. ‘À la découverte du Siège et de la Commune de Paris’, a talk by Alice Cuny, the museum’s cultural mediator, retraces the history of the event and zooms in on well-known personalities such as Louise Michel using paintings, sculptures and documents of the time. Two other talks focus on the women of the Paris commune and on the ‘Suite Binant’ collection of paintings on the siege of Paris.
See other events on the website of the Seine-Saint-Denis tourist office.
Finally, Manola Bouley and Timothée Peignier provide an easy-to-understand, well-documented and entertaining exploration of the Paris Commune in their podcast series ‘Echos de la Commune’. These short free podcasts in the form of an immersive soundtrack taking you through the streets of Montmartre allow you to gain a better understanding of the clashes and events that shook Paris to its core, with lively tales interspersed with urban music.