The word parvis, in Italian, French, English and related languages, means a forecourt in front of a large public building, typically a cathedral or basilica. In French, the -s at the end of parvis is (usually) silent.
The world’s first and most famous parvis is the one in front of St Peter’s in Rome.
The best-known parvis in France is the one in front of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, which now officially bears the unwieldy double name “Parvis Notre-Dame – Place Jean-Paul II”.
A much more recent parvis is the Parvis Alan Turing, a public square in front of the startup incubator Station F in the 13th arrondissement in Paris. Until 2017, this space did not have a name (and was not open to the public), but was designated for administrative purposes as “GK/13”.
The current street sign was unveiled in 2017. It reads:
PARVIS ALAN TURING
1912 – 1954
British mathematician and cryptologist
Pioneer of computer science
Hero of the Second World War
Alan Turing was not the kind of hero who showed exceptional courage on the battlefield. Rather, he was a genius who headed a small team of cryptologists at Bletchley, England, that figured out how to read messages from the latest versions of the German coding machine Enigma.
According to the website of the British Imperial War Museum, Turing and his team “carried out cryptanalysis of all German naval signals” during the Second World War. “This meant that — apart from during a period in 1942 when the code became unreadable — Allied convoys could be directed away from the U-boat ‘wolf-packs’. Turing’s role was pivotal in helping the Allies during the Battle of the Atlantic.”
The same website adds: “It has been estimated that the efforts of Turing and his fellow code-breakers shortened the war by several years. What is certain is that they saved countless lives and helped to determine the course and outcome of the conflict.”
Another website, brilliant.org, explains: “Some historians believe that the cracking of Enigma was the single most important victory by the Allied powers during WWII. Using information that they decoded from the Germans, the Allies were able to prevent many attacks. However, to avoid Nazi suspicion that they had insight to German communications, the Allies had to allow some attacks to be carried out despite the fact that they had the knowledge to stop them.”
This original Enigma machine is now on display at the Mundolingua museum in Paris. I took the above photo in 2018.
Despite his outstanding achievements as a cryptologist and a pioneer of computer science, Alan Turing was a victim of the draconian British laws against homosexuality that were still in force during his lifetime. In 1952, he was prosecuted for homosexual acts. To avoid going to prison, he accepted a hormone treatment then known as “chemical castration”. In 1954, he died of cyanide poisoning. At the time, his death was officially determined to have been a suicide, though it is now recognized that accidental poisoning would have been equally possible.
The pedestrian street on the northeast side of Station F (one of the long sides) was named in 2018 after the British mathematician Ada Lovelace (1815 – 1852), the only ‘legitimate’ child of the poet Lord Byron.
As a close friend and collaborator of Charles Babbage (1791 – 1871), Ada Lovelace made important contributions to his Analytical Engine, which despite being purely mechanical contained essentially all the components of a modern computer. They never did get it to work properly, because one or another of the mechanical parts was always failing, but the programs they wrote for it bear an amazing resemblance to the modern computer programs that we use today.
The square (= place in French) at the back end of Station F is also named after a female pioneer of computer science, the American mathematician and naval officer Grace Murray Hopper (1906-1992), known to her friends and colleagues as “Amazing Grace”. Among many other computer projects, she was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I and was a member of the team that developed the UNIVAC I computer at the Remington Rand corporation. She also wrote the world’s first computer manual, “A Manual of Operation for the Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator.”
My photos in this post are from 2018 (Mundolingua) and 2023.
I wrote the text in 2023.
See also: Station F for start-ups.