The ruins of the Hotel de Ville in Pairs, 1871

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The Hotel de Ville, Paris Town Hall, after the great fire of the Commune in 1871.
The burned ruins of the Hotel de Ville, Paris, 1871.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This photo depicts the ruins of Paris’s City Hall, the Hotel de Ville, after having been gutted by fires during the brief but explosive conclusion of the short-lived Paris Commune government. Following France’s loss of the Franco-Prussian War, radicals in Paris rejected France’s recently-formed Third Republic national government and formed a revolutionary government in the spring of 1871. The government, backed by the local National Guard militia, lasted only about two months and was summarily conquered at the end of May during “la semaine sanglante”, or the Bloody Week, wherein many buildings such as this were destroyed by fires.

The Commune government was significantly left-leaning for its time and touted a collective self-governing system that prioritized the rights of workers – garnering praise from the contemporary Karl Marx, and even being cited by Lenin as a precursor to the Russian Revolution. It lasted for a total of seventy-two days, until the national army of France began laying siege to the city on the 21st of May. By the 28th, the last remaining strongholds of the Commune had already been conquered completely. At least eight thousand Parisian Communists were killed, and over forty thousand were captured by the national army.

During the last few days of the Bloody Week, many of Paris’s iconic buildings were destroyed by fires. The exact causes of some of the fires are still unclear, although it is suspected that many of them were intentionally set by fleeing Communists as the last shot of revenge against the incoming national government. The Hotel de Ville was quickly rebuilt afterward, although the library and archives had been completely destroyed.

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