French Statue of Liberty to be restored with aid from US firm Airbnb

We look at the story behind the dozens of ‘Liberty’ statues in France and their creator

An image of Roybon's Statue of Liberty in the town square
The Statue of Liberty in Roybon
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A small town in southeast France has received €30,000 from Airbnb as part of a non-profit initiative to help finance the renovation of its Statue of Liberty replica.

The payment came as the result of a €150,000 renovation project application made by the town of Roybon (Isère) in the hope of restoring its crumbling Statue of Liberty, which is one of the area’s key tourist attractions, and nearby public square.

The application was submitted to the ‘Fondation du patrimoine’, a non-profit organisation which works to conserve France’s heritage.

The foundation selected the project to be among the first five beneficiaries of its ‘patrimoine et tourisme local’ (heritage and local tourism) programme, which is boosted by a €5.6million donation from Airbnb.

The foundation told the town’s mairie that the statue restoration project had caught the attention of the American holiday let company, which eventually helped cover a fifth of the total renovation costs.

Roybon has thus far raised €110,000 of the €150,000 needed for the restoration, thanks in part to a crowdfunding campaign that has collected €53,365 from 167 donors. The town hopes foreign companies will provide additional funds.

“Liberty needs to be prioritised now more than ever,” Serge Perraud, the mayor of Roybon, told The Connexion, adding that our current age bears “troubling similarities” with periods of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with regards to the state of religious freedoms and other liberties.

Roybon’s renovation project includes the statue, its surroundings and the nearby public square. The town has designed a star made from regional stones and pebbles to surround the edge of the statue.

The renovation process has already begun, with fresh plants having already been placed in the public square, and it is hoped it will be completed by March 15.

Mr Perraud said he “dreams” of a public square inauguration by President Emmanuel Macron between March 15 and the end of the presidential election campaign, having sent him a letter personally inviting him to do so.

Pic: Marie Brusson / Fondation du patrimoine

Statues of Liberty around France

The copy of the Statue of Liberty displayed in Roybon was a gift from the American monument’s original creator French sculptor Fredéric Auguste Bartholdi to his friend Mathias Saint-Romme.

The monument was set up to honour Henri Saint-Romme, Mathias’ father and the Isère department MP, on September 23, 1906.

The public square where the Statue of Liberty is erected was named after the Saint-Romme family.

Roybon’s Statue of Liberty was historically considered by the town’s inhabitants to be the artwork which embodied the values of the French revolution across the country, following the 1905 law on the separation of Church and State that laid the foundation of the French laïcité.

The original Statue of Liberty sits on Ellis Island, New York – also called ‘Liberty Enlightening The World’ – which was inaugurated on October 28, 1886.

It was sculpted by Mr Bartholdi as part of a gift proposed by French jurist Edouard de Laboulaye in 1865 as a celebration of the friendship between France and the United States.

Read more: 130 years since Liberty arrived

Its creation began in 1875 but was not completed until 1884. In the meantime, Liberty’s head was put on display at the World Exhibition (Exposition Universelle) in Paris in 1878. Parts of the statue were assembled in Gustave Eiffel’s workshop.

While the French spent years raising funds for the project through galas, visitors’ fees and more, the Americans made no progress on sorting out a pedestal for Liberty once she arrived.

The original plaster model of the statue was given by Mr Bartholdi’s widow in 1907 to be displayed in the public garden of the Musée des arts et métiers de Paris. The model was given to the United States in 2021 and is now featured in the garden of the French embassy in Washington D.C.

Read more:France to send second Statue of Liberty statue to United States

Pic: Marie Brusson / Fondation du patrimoine

Paris counts three Statue of Liberty replicas, situated on the ‘swan island’ by the Pont de Grenelle, inside the Jardin du Luxembourg and in Général Morin’s public square.

The replica of the original statue is fairly common throughout France, with copies spread throughout many regions and departments such as in Nice, Angoulême or Bordeaux.

Other successful projects in the ‘patrimoine et tourisme local scheme include the ‘S Weileschnieder's farm in Engwiller (Bas-Rhin), the Maison du Grand Carroi in Crissay-sur-Manse (Indre-et-Loire), the Hôtel de Bourrouilhan in Saint-Sever (Landes) and the Val Hulin windmill in Turquant (Maine-et-Loire).

The ‘S Weileschnieder's farm is listed among the oldest in Engwiller and was inhabited for ten years before being bought by a local woman who was supported by the foundation to shoulder the forecasted €100,000 of work needed to restore its original design.

A crowdfunding page for this project has already raised €18,500, as of February 10.

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