Conciergerie: Palace to Prison

IMG_0219Just a few blocks’ short walk from Notre Dame Cathedral on the Ile-de-la-Cité stands a rather grand building behind a gold leaf gate. The main building is the Palais de Justice. On either side of this building are two places I highly recommend for visitors to Paris: Saint Chappelle (left), and Conciergerie (right). We’ll get to Saint Chappelle another time, but today I want to focus on the place I didn’t even plan to visit. The one that took my breath away.

The entrance is an innocuous little door leading into a basement. There are several stairs down, and a small foyer where a reasonable entry fee is collected, then visitors are free to wander and roam as they like.IMG_0268

Just off the foyer is a huge stone hall with tall medieval arched ceilings. As soon as I walked in, I looked around in silence along with the other visitors. My jaw may have been on the floor.

It’s stunning and starkly beautiful. The lofty Gothic ceilings lack adornment, but the lighting is worthy of a high-quality feature film. Good lighting never hurts a first impression. You can quote me.

IMG_0270Saint Louis IX envisioned and began the construction of what was to be a sizable palace, and the construction was completed by his grandson, Philippe IV the Fair in the 14th century.

The great hall that still stands was once used to house the palace’s men-at-arms. Nothing much is left of the palace now. IMG_0271The Hall of the Men-at-Arms has no furniture, aside from a chair that really helps to show off the enormous fireplace. Across from the fireplace, there’s a circular stone staircase tucked among pillars.

Maybe I was bowled over so much because I didn’t know much about it. I only knew the building had been used during the French Revolution to hold those headed to the guillotine, including Marie Antoinette. Hence, the reason I added it to my list of places to visit.

IMG_1927The prison section is dark and dreary, and I didn’t spend much time there. The holding cell for Marie Antoinette was very posh compared to the rest of the cells. She spent the last months of her life there before she was found guilty of treason, theft, and incest with her son. She was guillotined 221 years ago on October 16, 1793.

This was the one day on my trip when both of my cameras and my phone were very low on battery life, and I used up every bit of juice to try and get at least one good image of the hall. I think I came close.IMG_0267

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