Friday, 6 March 2015

Lion de Belfort

The world population of carved lions must rival that of the living and breathing variety. An association with nature at its most powerful and ruthless is universally desired by princes and tyrants. Despite occupying the summit of the food chain, the lion is routinely identified with superhuman courage and stamina unlimited. When the French nation was absorbing the humiliation sustained during the comprehensive military defeat at the hands of the Prussians in 1870-71, the heroic resistance of the French troops and local volunteers at the Siege of Belfort was a rare instance of successful defiance and quickly became an essential national story. In the interest of salvaging some vestige of national pride the event was celebrated by commissioning a massive carved lion to adorn the rock-face outside the town of Belfort. The work was carried out by Frédéric Bartholdi and completed in 1880. Bartholdi was the foremost monumental sculptor of his age and would become world famous for his carving of the Statue of Liberty. A more modest version of the Lion of Belfort was installed in a major street intersection to the south of Montparnasse that takes its present name (Place Denfert-Rochereau) from the name of the French commanding officer at Belfort. As the access point for the Parisian Catacombs, Place Denfert-Rochereau was formerly known as Place d’Enfer. Thus it could be renamed with minimal disruption. 

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