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Like an exclamation point at the end of the Champs-Elysées, the place de la Concorde is a magnificent arrangement of fountains and statues, with a 3,000-year-old Egyptian obelisk (a gift to France from Egypt in 1829) at its center. Looking at it today, it is hard to believe that this magnificent square was once bathed in blood, but during the Revolution, it was a grisly stage for public executions. King Louis XVI and his wife, Marie-Antoinette, both bowed down to the guillotine here, as did many prominent figures of the Revolution, including Danton, Camille Desmoulins, and Robespierre. Once the monarchy was back in place, the plaza hosted less lethal public events like festivals and trade expositions.

In 1835 the place was given its current look: Two immense fountains, copies of those in St. Peter’s Square in Rome, play on either side of the obelisk; 18 sumptuous columns decorated with shells, mermaids, and sea creatures each hold two lamps; and eight statues representing the country’s largest cities survey the scene from the edges of the action. On the west side are the famous Marly Horses, actually copies of the originals, which were suffering from erosion and have since been restored and housed in the Louvre. On the north side of the square are two palatial buildings that date from the 18th century: On the east side is the Hôtel de la Marine, and on the west side is the Hôtel Crillon, where in 1778, a treaty was signed by Louis XVI and Benjamin Franklin, wherein France officially recognized the United States as an independent country and became its ally.

Note: Cars tend to hurtle around the obelisk like racers in the Grand Prix; if you feel compelled to cross to the obelisk and you value your life, find the stoplight and cross there.