The Twenty SS20 Issue

Clash: A History of the Barricade

By Jo Phillips

Paris; the city of love. That’s how most of us know it, but did you know this beautiful city is the birthplace of barricades? What is now most commonly known as a city of romance, was once a city plagued with a clash and revolution.

In the history of European revolutions, the barricade is a glorious emblem, especially the barricades of Paris, which graced all the revolts of the nineteenth century. The word ‘barricade’ derives from ‘barrique’ or ‘barrel’, and it enmeshed the forces of repression. The barricade was always a makeshift construction, which was used as a barrier or obstacle to control, block passage, or force the flow of traffic in a certain direction. Barricades were also a theatrical stage, from where insurgents could harangue soldiers and subvert their allegiance, and their symbolic power remained alive in the historic French protests of May 1968 and the Occupy movements.

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Above, the picture shows a barricade created in Paris 1871 at the corner of the Place de l’Hôtel-de-Ville and the Rue de Rivoli.

The barricade is the focal point of endless riots, insurrections and even revolutions that punctuate the history of this beautiful city. The barricade had such an impact upon the world that by the middle of the nineteenth century it became the prominent symbol of a revolutionary tradition that would ultimately spread worldwide. Barricade references also appear in many colloquial expressions and are used, often metaphorically, in poems and songs celebrating radical social movements.

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Due to the sheer influence of the barricades in Paris, Eric Hazan has written a book about this time. Inside this historic book, there are a series of concise chapters in which Eric Hazan traces the many stages in the barricade’s evolution, from the Wars of Religion through the Paris Commune, spanning from 1588-1871. He does so by drawing on observations from contemporary thinkers.

“A passionate left-wing historian seeking to rescue the truth of Pari’s revolutionary past” 

– Julian Barnes, London Review of Books.                       

This is indeed a detailed and extremely well researched monograph on the use of the barricade, and Hazan points out the barricade stands as a “symbolic form of insurrection”. Inside the Paris Commune chapter, fascinating content is presented with references to actual people who fought on the streets where the barricades stood.  It also includes several well-drawn maps and photographs. 

A History of the Barricade is an easy read, originally was written in French and will enrich you with the fascinating history of Paris. This historic book is strongly recommended and definitely represents everything to do with clash.