The Champ de Mars is a public greenspace in the vicinity of the Eiffel Tower and the École Militaire. The park is named after the Campus Martius (‘Mars Field’) in Rome, a tribute to the Roman god of war. The name also alludes to the fact that the lawns here were formerly used as drilling and marching grounds by the French military.
The Champ de Mars was once a part of a large, flat open area called Grenelle, where Parisians would grow produce and flowers for the local market. With the construction of the École Militaire in the 18th century, however, the need for drilling grounds arose, and parts of the former Grenelle were transformed to suit that purpose.
The planners levelled the ground, surrounded it with a large ditch and an avenue of elms, and, as a final touch, the esplanade was enclosed by a fine grille-work fence. The Isle of Swans, formerly a riverine islet at the location of the north-eastern foot of the Eiffel Tower, was, for the sake of symmetry and pleasing perspectives, attached to the shore.
The Champ de Mars witnessed some of the most well-remembered events of the French Revolution. On July 14, 1790, the first ‘Federation Day’ celebration, now known as Bastille Day, was held there, exactly one year after the storming of the prison. The following year, on July 17, 1791, the massacre on the Champ de Mars took place. Jean Sylvain Bailly, the first mayor of Paris, became a victim of his own revolution and was guillotined there on 12 November 1793. The Champ de Mars was also the site of the Festival of the Supreme Being on June 8, 1794. With a design by the painter Jacques-Louis David, a massive ‘Altar of the Nation’ was built atop an artificial mountain and surmounted by a ‘Tree of Liberty. The festival is regarded as the most successful of its type in France.
The Champ de Mars was the site of Expositions Universelles in 1867, 1878, 1889, and 1900.
Jacques Charles and the Robert brothers launched the world’s first hydrogen-filled balloon from the Champ-de-Mars on August 27, 1783.