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.
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.