Conciergerie was constructed in the fourteenth century and was once a great royal residence. The edifice, which has been used for anything from a parliament to a museum, is widely regarded as one of the Middle Ages’ most remarkable architectural achievements.
The Conciergerie, also known as the Palais de la Cite, was built on the Isla de la Cite. Since French King Charles V intended to make the Louvre his new palace, the edifice was renamed accordingly. The Conciergerie soon became the new seat of government for the realm.
The Conciergerie structure was extensively renovated in the nineteenth century, yet retaining its medieval aspect. Over the reigns of several kings, the building has also benefited from a number of additions. The patchwork is a vivid reminder of the past’s architectural achievements and artistic details.
After being decommissioned in 1914, Conciergerie became a national monument. With its extensive collection of artifacts from bygone eras, it is a major tourist destination. The majority of the building is still in use as the Paris Law Courts and just a tiny portion is used as the museum.
Four towering minarets with breathtaking vistas, a magnificent public clock, Gothic arched interiors, and countless more historical artifacts await your discovery.
The months of April through June and October through early November are the best times to visit the Conciergerie in Paris.
History of Conciergerie
Located in the center of Paris on the Seine, the Conciergerie is one of the oldest remnants of the Palais de la Cité, the house and seat of power of the kings of France in the Middle Ages. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Conciergerie, which had been a jail for the Parliament of Paris since the late 14th century, thanks to the founding of the Revolutionary Court, served a similar function throughout the French Revolution.
On the east side of the Ile de la Cité, where the Notre Dame cathedral currently stands, a temple was built by the Gallo-Romans. As the Capetians took over at the end of the 10th century, the fortress—once the home of Roman governors and then Frankish kings—became a palace.
The palace expanded significantly throughout the 13th and 14th centuries when it served as the seat of the royal family.
The Caesar and Silver Towers, as well as the Conciergerie, which corresponds to the lower chambers of the previous royal palace, are all examples of Gothic civic architecture that have survived to the present day from this time period.
After the 14th century, the palace was no longer used as a residence, but it continued to serve as the seat of Parliament and other important government agencies for the kingdom.
To maintain order in the palace, the King appoints a concierge, who turns a section of the building into a jail (thus the term “Conciergerie”).
The Conciergerie served as one of Paris’s most prominent prisons from the 15th century until the Revolution.
The Grand’ Chambre of the Paris Parliament, now called Salle de la Liberté, became the permanent home of the Revolutionary Court in March 1793.
The “law of the suspects” was enacted in September 1793. Everyone who is known or believed to be an enemy of the Republic must be arrested.
Inmates held in Parisian and certain outlying jails who were required to appear in court were gradually sent to the Conciergerie.
The Conciergerie has earned a reputation for being scary and dark, with some even comparing it to the Bastille before its destruction as a “living hell” serving as an “antechamber leading ultimately to death.”
Up to 600 men and women were held in filthy, overcrowded cells during the height of the persecution in the spring of 1794.
The Conciergerie continues to serve its original purpose as a prison long after the Revolution, undergoing regular reorganizations to increase safety and, in some cases, slightly improve inmates’ living circumstances.
The Conciergerie was one of the most important royalist memorials during the reign of Louis XVIII (1815–1824), Louis XVI’s younger brother. An expiatory chapel was built in 1816 on the location of Marie Antoinette’s cell at the monarch’s request.
The palace was restored many times, beginning in 1812 when architect Antoine Marie Peyre was put in charge of the project.
Although the Gothic sections of the Conciergerie were saved after the Paris Commune fire of 1871, they nevertheless required restoration, prompting a fresh endeavor in 1876.
The original layout of the medieval chambers was maintained despite these alterations. The Palais de la Cité’s beauty and symbolic significance have also been preserved.
In 1862, the Conciergerie was added to the list of national historic landmarks. In 1914, the public was allowed to see a portion of the monument. In 1934, all jail operations were permanently stopped.
Architecture of Conciergerie
One of the most impressive Gothic buildings is the Conciergerie. The structure operated as a jail during the French Revolution after having been constructed as a royal residence in the 14th century.
The towering spires, lofty arches, and elaborate stonework are all hallmarks of the Gothic style, which the edifice exemplifies. Discover the violent history of France as you walk through the corridors and cells where legendary inmates like Marie Antoinette were once imprisoned.
The Conciergerie is a prime example of the timeless elegance and cultural significance that characterize Gothic design.
The towering clock tower that can be seen from miles away is easily the most eye-catching part of the edifice. The tower is adorned with sculptures and statues, including one of Archangel Michael fighting a dragon, symbolizing the triumph of good over evil.
The Conciergerie’s interior is as stunning as its façade. Grand stone arches and artistic carvings decorate the main hall’s high ceilings. The cells where notable prisoners were imprisoned before their deaths during the Reign of Terror are also open to visitors.
Highlights of Conciergerie
There are several parts of Conciergerie that may be the highlight of the structure. You can’t leave without visiting these important parts of the building:
Marie Antoinette’s Memorial Chapel
During the Restoration of 1815, when the House of Bourbon regained power in France, King Louis XVI commissioned the construction of a memorial chapel in honor of the late Queen Marie Antoinette.
There’s a marble memorial there, as well as “The Queen’s Testament” and three pictures illustrating a confined queen. One stained glass window lets in light, and black faux-marble walls are decorated with teardrop-shaped stone carvings.
There hasn’t been any renovation to the Women’s Courtyard since the Revolution when Marie Antoinette and the other female captives were allowed to spend time there. Inmates were allowed to use the gardens, patios, stone tables, and fountains to do laundry.
The Royal Kitchens
Originally, there were two floors in the Royal Kitchens, with the lower level being used to make food for the employees and the upper level being used to prepare food for the royal family and their visitors.
The kitchen had eight enormous windows before it was turned into a jail, but now only two remain open. The upstairs and downstairs cooks collaborated to prepare and serve a three-part banquet with 10 dishes in each course to 800 German and French knights and the royal guests in the Grand Hall.
Hall of Men at Arms
Around the turn of the 14th century, Philip IV had the ground-level Hall of the Men-at-Arms (Salle des Gens d’Armes) built. Due to its immense size, it is the biggest Gothic Hall in Europe that is not associated with a religious building. The palace employed between one and two thousand armed guards and servants, and this hall functioned as their eating and social center.
Hall of Names
More than four thousand individuals were tried by the Revolutionary Tribunal and handed death sentences; their names are inscribed on the walls of the Hall of Names. The bulk of the inmates were from the middle and lower classes, although about 20% were members of the former aristocracy and clergy.
Fifty prominent prisoners who were killed during the Terror have their biographies available on a touch screen for visitors to peruse.
Corner of the Twelve
There was a passageway called “Côté des Douzes” next to the women’s courtyard where inmates of all sexes could communicate via the bars. A wagon would bring them to the guillotine, and the prisoners would wait in groups of twelve to board.
How to get to Conciergerie?
Located in the Palais de la Cité, the Conciergerie is close to the Sainte-Chapelle, the Marché aux fleurs, and Notre Dame de Paris.
Cité on line 4 is the closest metro stop (if you’re not in excellent shape, use the elevator to the ground!)
The Saint-Michel metro stop (line 4 and RER C) is within walking distance of the Conciergerie, as is the connection to the Cluny – La Sorbonne station (line 10 and RER B). The Châtelet stop serves the 1, 4, 7, 11, and 14 lines.
The Conciergerie is conveniently located near several bus stops served by city bus lines (21, 24, 27, 38, 58, 81, 85, and 96) and tour bus routes.
The Conciergerie, a 14th-century Gothic masterpiece on the Île de la Cité in the 1st arrondissement of Paris, was formerly a riverfront stronghold and jail during the French Revolution.
The Conciergerie is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Paris because of its four massive minarets, fragments of the royal treasure, a great primal clock, gothic vaulted interiors, and numerous artifacts from the past. The Conciergerie now welcomes tourists from all over the world to discover Paris’s legendary past and rich culture.