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The Tour Jean Sans Peur, in Paris, is a fortified tower built in the 15th century and the only vestige of medieval military architecture in the French capital.
Commissioned by Duke Jean of Burgundy, nicknamed ‘Jean Sans Peur’ (fearless Jean), the tower is also the last remaining vestige of the Dukes of Burgundy’s residence in Paris. The luxurious private mansion, backing onto the walls of Philippe Auguste, was built at the end of the 13th century by Robert II d’Artois and inherited later by the Dukes of Burgundy.
Located in central Paris, in the Second Arrondissement, the Tour Jean Sans Peur is a place steeped in history. The fate of the kingdom of France was played out between these walls during the civil war between Armagnacs and Burgundians, in the heart of the Hundred Years War.
History of the Tour Jean Sains Peur
Built in the 15th century, the Tour Jean Sans Peur had a defensive vocation: to protect Duke Jean from possible reprisals following the assassination of his cousin Louis of Orléans, which the Duke himself ordered.
At that time, France was ruled by King Charles VI, who was subject to fits of madness. These terrible episodes brought the closest members of the royal family to intervene in the government. Charles VI’s ambitious brother, Louis I of Orleans, quickly came into conflict with the most powerful of his uncles, Philippe II of Burgundy (Philippe the Bold).
With the death of Philippe the Bold, Jean of Burgundy became his successor. While Duke Jean was busy with the important succession his parents left him, the Duke of Orleans took control of the government.
But the new Duke of Burgundy did not give up! Noting that demonstrations of force were not enough, Duke Jean organized the assassination of Louis of Orleans in 1407. The fatal assault on his cousin took place at the current impasse des Arbalétriers (Paris 3).
Following Louis of Orléans’ assassination, Duke Jean became regent of France while Charles I of Orleans demanded justice for his father. In 1410, Charles allied himself with Bernard VII d’Armagnac and received the support of other branches of the royal family.
This crime was the founding act of a terrible civil war known as the ‘Armagnac-Burgundian quarrel,’ which triggered the return of the English and the resumption of the Hundred Years War.
A Peek Inside the Tour Jean Sans Peur
The Tour Jean Sans Peur had an undeniable defensive vocation, but it was not limited to that! It was also a place where people lived and consisted of several rooms.
With the construction of the tower, from 1409 to 1411, Jean Sans Peur also wanted to show his wealth and power in the capital of the kingdom. The tower was richly decorated, and it was one of the tallest buildings of the time (27 meters high), clearly dominating the skyline of medieval Paris.
The Tour Jean Sans Peur has two main parts. In the lower part of the tower, the main staircase served the three floors of the west wing of the Hôtel de Bourgogne (today disappeared). Above the entrance, a mezzanine ensured communication with the east wing of the Hôtel de Bourgogne (also disappeared);
On the other side, the tower communicated with the curtain walls of the Philippe Auguste – at the time already disused due to the construction of the walls of Charles V – thus creating a second discreet exit to the outside.
The main stairway is covered by a vault, richly sculpted with the emblems of the family of Jean sans Peur. This vault is a unique masterpiece of French sculpture!
From there, a narrow stairway leads to the tower’s upper part. This part was equipped with battlements and machicolations which protected access to two superimposed ‘safety rooms.’ These rooms, very well lit by windows, were heated by a fireplace and fitted with sophisticated latrines, heated by the backs of chimneys, and conduits for evacuation and ventilation installed inside the south wall.
According to most of the writings from this period, the tower was filled with inventions to deceive possible attacks. The bedroom of the Duke’s closest servant, for example, was an exact replica of his to mislead a potential assassin. Today, the different rooms are decorated with some period furniture and mannequins. There are also some information panels in French and English about Jean Sans Peur and the tower’s construction.
The Tour Jean Sans Peur visit is self-guided, but guided visits are also proposed regularly for an extra fee. Enter this place steeped in history and learn about one of the most powerful men in medieval France and what life was like for a nobleman in his home in the Middle Ages.
- Address: 20 rue Etienne Marcel, Paris 2
- Opens from Wednesday to Sunday from 1.30 pm to 6 pm
- Price 6€ (adults) and 4€ (kids).