In 1808, as a monument to his victories, Napoleon planned to erect a colossal bronze elephant on the site of the Bastille. Standing 24 meters tall, the creature would be cast from the guns captured at the Battle of Friedland, and a stairway inside one leg would lead visitors up to an observation platform on its back.
The project fell apart after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, but they got as far as building a full-sized plaster model of the finished statue, protected by a guard who lived in one of the legs. The plaster elephant stood for some 30 years, overrun with rats and gradually falling into ruin. Finally removed in 1846, it was commemorated by Victor Hugo in Les Misérables: “It was unclean, despised, repulsive, and superb, ugly in the eyes of the bourgeois, melancholy in the eyes of the thinker.”