Biographer, novelist, journalist of Viennese origin, Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) embodies the figure of the intellectual messenger of a universal culture. Bestowed with a great curiosity, he was an insatiable traveler and chronicler. He was among the most widely read foreign authors in France. In 1932, in his book “Visite à la Souterraine”, he gave his impressions of the security devices set up to protect France’s gold reserves.
How then did he manage to enter this very secure place, usually closed to visitors? Stefan Zweig used his persuasive force wisely: he got his editor, Grasset, to write a request to access “the most gigantic gold mine of our contemporary world”. The exceptional privilege granted to him enables us to have an artist’s view of this unique place. For Zweig, “while Dante’s paradise and hell had seven circles, the cellars of the Banque de France have perhaps even more”. The “Souterraine” counts hundreds of pillars, “a real forest of stone columns”, and an armored door, “heavy with threats”, weighing close to seven tons. With poetry, he endeavours to describe a “vertiginous dive”, a “disproportionate” place, an architectural feat “demonstrating our technical genius”.
While Dante’s paradise and hell had seven circles, the cellars of the Banque de France have perhaps even more.
The writer also looks at the relationship between men and this famous precious metal. For this observer of the interwar period, a period characterised by the gold exchange standard, France’s gold reserves appeared to constitute “the heart of our economic world, the epicentre of the invisible waves that affect markets, stock exchanges, banks”. He had, in any case, understood that “creative power is never derived from matter in itself, but from faith” – i.e. the confidence – “that it inspires”.
Immerse yourself in this “wonderful labyrinth” with this video in computer-generated images.
For further information
- A book on “Zweig et la Souterraine” with a photographic notebook, published by Artélia Éditions
- A biography and chronology about Stefan Zweig by France TV Education
- A video about the construction, between 1924 and 1927, of the Souterraine
Published on 15 March 2017.