The mystery behind the oldest graffiti in Paris

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This is one of my favourite secret places of Paris. It is find on the very popular royal square of Place des Vosges. Thousands of people would visit the square without knowing that it holds France – if not the world’s oldest graffiti. Follow me and I will reveal to you the exact location to the curious graffiti in Paris.


The oldest graffiti in Paris

1764. That’s the year when the world’s first graffiti vandalism was committed! If you are already on Place des Vosges, go to number 11. On the wall of the arcade facing the street, you’ll find the tag quite easily. It is etched in deep scratches onto the stone pillar.

graffiti in Paris

The graffiti is found at number 11 place des Vosges © French Moments

The surprising message simply says:

1764 NICOLAS

graffiti in Paris

Paris’ oldest graffiti! © French Moments

That’s all!

Actually not, you might want to know a bit more about how it came to be etched here, in what was Paris’ most exclusive place. For this, we have to go back in time when Louis XV was the reigning king of France. Nicolas Restif de la Bretonne (1734-1806) was a writer who had worked in printing.

Nicolas Restif de la Bretonne

Nicolas Restif de la Bretonne

Born in Burgundy, Rétif de la Bretonne worked in a printer at Auxerre before moving to Paris. There he eventually became a novelist and produced a great number of books. Rétif de la Bretonne was actually a controversial author. He would often go out for a night-time rambling. A walk is always good to ponder about what to write on a book, isn’t it! However he would be seen scratching his name onto the walls of Paris. Because of this strange habit, people gave him the surname of « Le Griffon » (the scribbler).

In fact the graffiti in Place des Vosges is the only surviving tag of Nicolas Restif de la Bretonne known in Paris.


How to get there

Place des Vosges Paris

The arcade of Place des Vosges © French Moments


What to see in the neighbourhood?

  • At number 6, Place des Vosges, make sure you enter Victor Hugo’s house (Maison de Victor Hugo). [closed for renovations till June 2020]
  • The Hôtel de Sully, a Louis XIII-style private mansion from the 17th century. The beautiful estate is the seat of the Centre des Monuments Nationaux (CMN), the French national organisation responsible for national heritage sites. Address: 62 rue Saint-Antoine but there is public access from Place des Vosges. You can freely walk in the garden and the grand courtyard.
  • Finally, the Carnavalet Museum showcases the history of the city. In fact it occupies two private mansions: the Hôtel Carnavalet and the former Hôtel Le Peletier de Saint Fargeau. [The free entrance museum is closed for renovation till the end of spring 2020]

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Place des Vosges Paris

Place des Vosges, Paris © French Moments


 

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About Author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. In 2014 he moved back to Europe from Sydney with his wife and daughter to be closer to their families and to France. He has a background teaching French and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations and a degree of Economics and Management.

2 Comments

  1. Stephen Rosicka on

    Great insite, my 8th trip to Paris later this year. Visited Place Des Vosges last year for the first time, will go back again this year to look for the graffiti.

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