Palais Royal

Just opposite the Louvre, are the magnificent buildings and beautiful gardens of Palais Royal. They are steeped in history, whispering with a thousand stories and  haunted by hundreds of ghosts.

The Gardens of Palais Royal
The Gardens of Palais Royal

Built in 1624 by the architect Jacques Le Mercier for Cardinal Richelieu, the palace was first known as the Palais du Cardinal. When Richelieu bequeathed it to the Crown, it became the Palis Royal and was in turn home to Louis XIII, the young Louis XIV, the Dukes of Orleans and the seat of the House of Bourbon.

In 1641, Cardinal Richelieu established the Theatre du Palais Royal, which still operates as a theatre today, at the far end of  the palace, on the corner of Rue de Montpensier. Here, Moliere staged his plays and Lully performed his operas to entertain the Sun King, Louis XIV. Le Theatre du Comedie Francaise at the other end of the complex, on the Place du Palais Royal, facing the Louvre, has been centre of French theatre since the time of Napoleon

In 1784 Louis Phillippe II, Duke of Orleans, opened the palace gardens to the public. The architect Victor Louis restructured the surrounding buildings and enclosed the gardens with colonnades.

From the 1780s to the mid-1800s, Palais Royal was a hub of Parisian social activity and political intrigue. Businesses flourished under the colonnades. Cafes sprang up, among them the one where, in July 1789, Camille des Moulins leapt onto a table and exhorted his fellow revolutionaries to take arms and storm the Bastille. Restaurants were established, like Le Grand Vefour, which still operates today as a grand and rather expensive Bar Americain, Bar Anglais, and Brasserie. There were businesses and shops, like the one where Carlotte Corday bought the knife she used to stab Jean Marat. Gambling dens, bordellos and prostitues also plied their trade under the arches.

The apartments around Palais Royal, have been home to many famous Francais and Francaises, like the novelist, Colette who lived here in the early 1900s.

Palais Royal today houses the offices of the French National Government, the Conseil d’ Etat, the Constitutional Council and the Ministry of Culture. Across its forecourt Daniel Burens 1986 sculpture stretches like a forest of black and white stone stumps, where people sit and rest in the sun while children jump and dance precariously.

The Palais  garden is a tranquil spot where couples stroll beneath the trees, workers on lunch breaks read on benches, mothers and au pairs watch children potter in the fenced playground. There are still restaurants and cafes under the colonades and sumptuous shops, selling art, antiques, fashion and exquisite toys.  Buskers entertain passers by and the homeless find a refuge for the night in secluded doorways

And every day at 12.00 midday,  at Palais Royal, the Noon Canon, set up in 1786, captures the rays of the midday sun, ignites and fires a shot.

La Place de la Concorde

Emerging from the Metro, even the most intrepid traveller will find La Place de La Concorde a little daunting. The roar of the incessantly whirling traffic makes you want to turn and run for the shelter of the nearby Tuilleries gardens. But don’t, persevere, there’s a lot to see and La Place De La Concorde has its own fascinating history.

Place de la Concorde at the time of the 2007 Rugby World Cup
Place de la Concorde at the time of the 2007 Rugby World Cup

Designed in 1755, the octagonal shaped place was originally named La Place Louis XV, after the King of the time.  His stone image, on horseback, stood at its centre.

During the French Revolution, the statue of the Louis XV was torn down and a guilloutine erected in its place. The square was re-named “La Place de la Revolution” and it was here, watched by cheering crowds, that Louis XVI was executed on January 21, 1793. His wife Marie Antoinette was put to death shortly after.  In 1794 more than 1, 300 people fell victim to the guilloutine in a single month.  The square became a terrible place and its stones were stained with the blood of the people killed there.

In 1795, the guilloutine was removed and the square was renamed Place de la Concorde. At each of the angles of the octagon is a statue, representing eight great cities of France. Two Romanesque fountains represent the rivers and seas. On the northern side of the place are two magnificent stone mansions, dating back to the time of Louis XV. Today one of them houses one of the world’s most luxurious hotels, Le Crillon.

During World War II Le Crillon served as the headquarters of the High Command of the German Army and  La Place de La Concorde became the centre of occupied France.  The obelisk, which today stands on the spot where Louis XV once sat astride his stone horse, is decorated with hieroglyphics celebrating the reign of Ramses II. It once marked the entrance to the Luxor Temple and was gifted to the people of France by the Egyptian Government in 1833.

Finally, La Place de La Concorde forms part of the great vista of avenues, arches, squares and gardens that stretches all the way from ultra modern La Défense through the Arc de Triomphe, down the Champs Elysées, across the Place de la Concorde, through the Tuileries gardens to Le Musée du Louvre.