In the very center of Paris, on the Cite island, stands the medieval castle – Conciergerie. Once inside, visitors will discover one of the most stunning examples of Gothic architecture, not only in France, but throughout Europe.
In the 10th – 14th centuries, the building was part of the Palais de la Cité, which also included the Palais de Justice and Sainte-Chapelle. With the beginning of the French Revolution, the castle became the main prison of Paris. Currently, part of the premises is given to municipal services, the court and the prosecutor’s office in France.
The western part of the island, on which Conciergerie now stands, was originally the home of the Merovingian dynasty. From the 10th to the 14th century, it was the main residence of the French kings. During the reign of Louis IX and Philip IV, the Merovingian Palace was completed and strengthened even more. King Louis IX attached the chapel of Saint-Chapelle and its associated galleries to the palace, and Philip IV created an elevated facade on the side of the River Seine and a large hall. Both sites are excellent examples of French religious and secular architecture of the time.
In the 14th century, the kings of the Valois dynasty continued to modify the palace until, in 1358, Charles V left it, moving to the Louvre.
Conciergerie continued to perform administrative functions, the office and the French parliament continued their work. In the absence of the king, a high-ranking manager, a concierge, was put in charge of the palace. Hence the name – Conciergerie.
In 1391, part of the building was used as a prison. People here were planted the most different – from ordinary criminals to political prisoners. As in other prisons of that time, the treatment of prisoners depended on their wealth, status, and cellmates. Prosperous and powerful prisoners usually received their own cells with a bed, a desk, and reading and writing materials. The poorest slept in cramped cages on a straw-laden, parasitic, in complete insanity.
During the French Revolution, Conciergerie became the centerpiece of Parisian prisons.
In March 1793, the Revolutionary Tribunal sat in the Grand Chamber, and in July 1793, Robespierre discovered the “Kingdom of Terror”, which ordered the arrest of anyone who was allegedly an enemy of the revolution or confessed to it. Soon in the Conciergerie, as many as 1,200 prisoners were placed
In 1914, the castle was opened to the public, quickly becoming one of the main tourist attractions in Paris, even despite the fact that only a relatively small part of the building was open to the public.
In 1862, the Ministry of Culture of France took the medieval castle to the number of historical monuments.
The modern architectural ensemble of Conciergerie includes a number of structures built from the 13th to the 20th centuries.
The facade of the building includes four stone towers:
Silver (Tour d’Argent) – used as a storeroom where the royal treasure was kept
Caesar (Tour de César) – named after the Roman emperor, a copy of a nearby silver tower
The Hour (Tour de l’Horloge) is the tallest tower (47 meters). Since 1371, it has a huge clock
Bonbek (Tour Bonbec) – the oldest of the towers, dates from the XI century
The lower floors of the castle are the only things that today remind of the royal past. The most interesting places are listed below.
The Hall of Warriors (Salle des Gens d’Armes) is a four-story Gothic hall, built by Engerrand de Marigny between 1302 and 1313, has a length of 64 meters, a width of 27.5 meters and a height of 8.5 meters. The room was used as a dining room for 2,000 employees, as well as a hall for royal banquets. The room had several fireplaces and many windows that are now blocked.
The sentry room (Salle des Gardes) is another vaulted room in the Gothic style, built around the same time as the Hall of Warriors. The vaults of the hall are supported by strong columns with capitals of interesting shape, for example, the central pillar, which is believed to depict Abelard and Eloise. The security room was a hallway in a large hall on the top floor (now non-existent).
The kitchen was built during the reign of John II the Good (1319–1364), for feeding royal staff (2,000–3,000 people).
Rue de Paris is the royal street, owes its name to the executioner of the French Revolution – “Monsieur de Paris”. Here, in terrible conditions, the poorest prisoners were locked up.
The chapel of Marie Antoinette was built in 1815, by order of Louis XVIII. The chapel stands on the spot where there was a chamber in which from August 2 to October 16, 1793 the Queen of France was sentenced to death.