This expression may sound nationalistic, but it really is not. It is simplythe basic motto that every French president uses to close his speeches. The Gardes Républicains, equivalent to the British horse guards, were created in 1789 just after the first French Revolution in 1789 to replace the Gardes du Roi. Their function was and still is to represent and pay respect to the highest positions of the French state. Napoleon I gave them the name of Garde Imperiale, and they have changed names many times during the 19th century, depending on the current government – whether it was a King, an Emperor or a Republic with an elected president. Today the Garde Républicaine still exists as an elite part of the French army, in charge of protecting the French president and government.
Parisians admire the Gardes Républicains as much as they do the firemen,
especially when the guards dress up in their fancy parade uniforms and ride
their beautiful pur-sang horses in the Marais streets. It doesn’t happen
often, but when it does, it is a wonderful event.
Once a year, the Gardes Républicains open the doors of their Marais
headquarters to the public. Their “caserne” or barracks is close
to the former Bastille Castle on boulevard Henri IV, next to the River Seine
and métro Saint Paul. We were lucky enough to attend a magnificent
horse show, including a wonderful military orchestra, splendid in their 1820
antique uniforms, playing “Aida,” the Verdi opera. A fantastic
motorcycle show followed. These are the guards who can stop you on the motorway
if you drive too fast – remember the speed limit in Paris is only 50
km/h and most of the Marais streets, considered a “quartier tranquile,”
have a speed limit of only 30km/h when they are not exclusively pedestrian.
The show also included an anti-terrorist demonstration featuring the latest
machine guns, and cars that looked like they could have been made for a new
Mad Max film.
When the French president escaped a gun shot on July 14 two years ago, these
were the guards who saved him. They are in charge of all high-security missions
as well, to protect not only the government, but also you and I in our daily
lives. Knowing that the Gardes Républicains are living in le Marais,
ready to jump on their horses, high-speed motorbikes or in their super fast
cars to respond to any emergency at any time, makes us feel more secure. If
safety is not an issue in most districts of Paris, it is definitely not one
in le Marais, where you can walk around safely at any hour of the day or night.
It is just one more reason to stay in this area when you are visiting Paris,
or, as is our good fortune, to live here all year round.
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