Thursday, August 20, 2009

Day 74, The Conciergerie (7), Paris, France

And that my dear friends is the Conciergerie, a former royal palace and prison in Paris. It is part of the larger complex known as the Palais de Justice, which is still used for judicial purposes.

Located on the Ile de la Cite, which is the island in the middle of the River Seine, the location was originally chosen by King Philippe IV, also known as Philippe The Fair, in the early 14th Century as the place where he would build a palace to symbolise his power.

Described at the time as one of the most impressive palaces of the Middle Ages it is an imposing building that was named the Palais de la Cite, but towards the end of the 14th century this place was abandoned in favour of Chateau Vincennes and The Louvre palace, which of course is now the most famous museum in Paris.

This left the Palais de la Cite to be used by the Paris parliament and administration and it was the Concierge that was nominated by the King to maintain order, manage the police and he transformed part of the building into a prison, which is why the building became known as La Conciergerie.

The hall of guards, the soldiers hall and the kitchen at the Conciergerie all date from the 14th century, but it was the cellars of the building that although had become like a courthouse, eventually were made into a prison and by the 1700's this building had become the main prison.

This building really became a famous Paris Landmark through the French Revolution and in the years 1793 and 1794 there were around 2,780 men and women who were detained at La Conciergerie awaiting their fate before they were escorted to the Concorde square to be beheaded.

One of those most famous names in history, Marie-Antoinette, who was the Queen of France and sister of the King of Austria, was among those detained here before facing the guillotine.....somehow, I don't think that her last meal included cake!!

If we were here during the day we would have been able to visit the halls that were the setting for the Reign of Terror, .....can you imagine how Marie Antoinette felt as she walked down the gloomy halls towards the guillotine.....knowing that they were going to chop off her pretty little head?

The chapel known as des Girondins is an expiatory chapel that was built according to the instructions of King Louis XVIII on the exact spot of Marie Antoinette's cell, and in her memory it now includes a crucifix and a couple of portraits.

With its impressive Gothic architecture and halls, beautiful vaulted ceilings, to the imposing facade, which is a reminder of the Middle Ages, La Conciergerie is the oldest prison in the whole of France!!

Today, La Conciergerie constitutes a wing of the Palais de Justice and the colonnaded Salle des Gens d'Armes, which is over 60m long and around 25m wide is now sometimes used for concerts.

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