Ile de la Cité
The Ile de la Cité is the historical and geographical center of Paris. Here, on the little island protected by two arms of the Seine, a Celtic tribe, the Parisii, established a settlement in the third century B.C. Here too the Romans built the Gallo-Roman city of Lutetia, and here the inhabitants of the city sought refuge during raids by Germanic tribes, Norsemen and Huns. It was only in the High Middle Ages that the city was able to establish a durable presence on the two banks of the Seine and a center of power and authority.
From the sixth to the 14th century the kings of France resided on the island, on which were the secular palace and its religious counterpart, Notre-Dame, the "Cathedral of France". When the royal residence was transferred elsewhere the aspect of the Ile de la Cité changed, since it was no longer necessary to have spacious streets and squares for the festivities of the court. There now grew up a dense huddle of narrow lanes and closely packed houses in the shadow of the Gothic towers of Notre-Dame. In the 19th century the aspect of the Cité was again radically altered by Baron Haussmann. In a massive campaign of clearance and redevelopment which involved the rehousing of more than 25,000 people space was cleared for the broad avenues running north-south through Paris, the Préfecture de Police, the Tribunal de Commerce, the extension to the Palais de Justice and the rebuilding of the Hôtel Dieu, and an unobstructed view of Notre Dame was opened up on all sides. With only a few exceptions the historic core of the city was transformed, so that the Cité is no longer the "old town" of Paris in the sense in which that term is usually employed.
Notre-Dame de Paris
Institut de France
The Académie Française, founded by Cardinal Richelieu in 1635 to foster the French language, is the oldest of the five learned academies of the Institut de France which have their headquarters in the Palais de l'Institut de France. The members of the Academy, the "quarante Immortels", who are appointed for life, decide whether a word should be admitted into their authoritative Dictionnaire de la Langue Française and thus officially recognized as a French word.
On the 350th anniversary of the Academy's foundation President Mitterand was presented with one of the first copies of the ninth edition of the Dictionary, which contains 45,000 words (the eighth ediion of 1935 had only 35,000).
The other academies carry out and promote research in the fields of classical history and archaeology (Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres, founded 1664), the natural sciences (Académie des Sciences, 1666), the humanities, law and the social sciences (Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques, 1832) and art (Académie des Beaux-Arts, 1816).
Cardinal Mazarin, dying in 1661, bequeathed money for the foundation of a college to take 15 young nobles from France's new provinces of Artois, Alsace, Piedmont and Roussillon. This Collège des Quatre-Nations, which continued in existence until 1790, was housed in 1691 in a new building, with a chapel and a library, designed by Louis Le Vau. In 1805 Napoleon transferred the five academies, which since 1795 had been brought together in the Institut de France, from the Louvre to the College.
The Palais de l'Institut de France was designed as a counterpart on the left bank of the Seine to the Cour Carrée of the Louvre on the right bank. This accounts for its unexpected size (for only 60 students) and its imposing architecture, which shows the characteristic features of classical French Baroque - the emphasis given to the ends of the main front by the two pavilions (projecting blocks with high- pitched roofs), the alignment of the facade and the drum supporting the dome and the closely set columns. A particular feature is the semicircular facade, with a six-column portico behind which is the dome of what was originally the chapel.
The chapel was converted into the large council chamber in which the academies and the Institute as a whole meet in plenary session. Here too the academies elect new members to fill vacancies caused by death and formally admit the new members.
In spite of assertions to the contrary by critics of the institution, membership of one of the academies still ranks as the climax of any career. Although the membership of the Académie Française has included many internationally renowned figures (Victor Hugo, Prosper Mérimée, Jean Cocteau, René Clair and Eugène Ionesco among them), it is also true that many great philosophers and writers, including Pascal, Molière, Rousseau, Diderot, Balzac, Zola and Proust, have failed to secure admittance to the select company sous la Coupole (under the Dome). In 1980, for the first time in the history of the academies, a woman (Marguerite Yourcenar) was admitted to the Académie Française, followed by the admission of Yvonne Choquet- Bruhat to the Académie des Sciences.
Paris Council Chamber
The Conciergerie in Paris, originally part of the medieval palace of the Capetian kings and later a prison which achieved a melancholy fame during the French Revolution, is now a museum and also a popular venue for concerts. Part of the building is used as a remand prison attached to the adjoining Palais de Justice.
The three High Gothic halls of the Conciergerie were built around 1300, in the reign of Philippe le Bel, and these are the only parts of the original palace that survive. In those days the castellan of the palace and the head of the royal household was known as the Concierge (a term which has come down in the world to mean the caretaker of a block of flats). Presumably he also had some kind of judicial authority, since the building soon became the palace prison and later a state prison. Among those confined here were the murderers of Henri IV and the Duc de Berry, Charlotte Corday (who killed Marat), Marie-Antoinette, Danton and Robespierre.
From the Quai de la Mégisserie on the opposite side of the Seine there is a good view of the Conciergerie, with its 19th century neo-Gothic facade, its three round towers and the Tour de l'Horloge (Clock Tower), in which Paris's first public clock was installed around 1370 (destroyed in 1793 and restored in the 19th century). The entrance to the Conciergerie is on the Quai de l'Horloge, to the right.
Visitors first enter the 14th century Salle des Gardes (Guard Room), with heavy vaulting borne on massive piers, the capitals of which are richly decorated (animal fights, etc.). The adjoining Salle des Gens d'Armes (Hall of the Men-at-Arms), the dining room of the palace's armed guard, is a jewel of Gothic secular architecture (by Philippe de Bels, 1285-1314). Measuring 70 by 30 meters (230 by 100 feet), it has ribbed vaulting supported on three rows of pillars.
The kitchens, dating from around 1350, were equipped to cater for banquets with two or three thousand guests and drew their supplies directly from boats on the Seine, since in those days there was no quay. The open fireplaces were large enough to roast oxen whole.
The Rue de Paris, a passage separated from the Salle des Gens d'Armes by a grating, was so called after the executioner, known as Monsieur de Paris, to whom the condemned prisoners were handed over here. The Salle des Girondins, originally the palace chapel, was used during the Revolution as a special prison for supporters of the Girondist party (opponents of the Jacobin dictatorship). In this room are displayed a variety of relics of the bloody days of the Terror, include a guillotine blade, prison regulations and a facsimile of Marie-Antoinette's last letter. The Rue de Paris continues to the prisons, including the cell in which Marie-Antoinette was confined after an unsuccessful attempt to rescue her. Here, after a trial lasting 20 hours, she awaited execution, like thousands of other prisoners of the Revolution. Visitors are also shown the cell in which Danton and later Robespierre were imprisoned before going to the guillotine.
Palais de Justice
On the site now occupied by the Palais de Justice, on the Ile de la Cité, the Gauls, followed by the Romans and later the Merovingians, built their fortified settlements and strongholds. This was the cradle of French royal authority. In the reign of Louis IX (St Louis; 1226-70) the royal residence, with the newly built Sainte-Chapelle, reached the peak of its magnificence. After the storming of the palace in 1358 by the rebellious merchants of Paris under the leadership of Etienne Marcel, however, the court moved to the Louvre. From the 16th century onwards the palace was the seat of the Parlement de Paris, the highest French court of justice, whose assent was necessary for all laws promulgated by the king. This privilege was abolished by the young king Louis XIV after the Fronde (1648-52), a revolt against the royal authority. The French Revolution later removed both the king and the Parlement, sending all its members to the scaffold. The new citizens' courts moved into the old palace, which now became known as the Palais de Justice. Thereafter the building suffered much damage and destruction by fire and in the course of time was much altered, until finally at the turn of the century the Palais de Justice took its present form. The south wing was added in 1911-14. The Palais houses the civil and criminal courts, with the criminal investigation department in the south wing on the Quai des Orfèvres.
At the entrance to the Palais de Justice, in the Cour de Mai (where the maypole used to be set up), is a magnificent wrought-iron gate dating from the time of Louis XVI (1787). From here a flight of steps leads up to the Galerie Marchande (Merchants' Hall), which in the time of Louis IX was a passage between the royal palace and the Sainte-Chapelle; before the Revolution it was crowded with merchants offering their wares. This leads into the Salle des Pas Perdus ("Hall of the Lost Steps") - an allusion to the time wasted here by hopeful litigants. The hall is situated directly above the Salle des Gens d'Armes in the Conciergerie, the old Grande Salle of the royal palace, in which the king signed important treaties and held official receptions. The neo-classical decor is a reproduction of the original decoration by Salomon de Brosse, restored after a fire in 1871. From the Galerie Duc, named after the architect and restorer of ancient monuments Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc (1814-79), there is a view of the Sainte-Chapelle and, at the other end, of the Cour des Femmes of the Conciergerie. In the Vestibule de Harlay are statues of Charlemagne, Philippe Auguste, Louis IX and Napoleon, monarchs who were particularly concerned with law-making.
Opening off the Salle des Pas Perdus is the Chambre Dorée, the Première Chambre Civile, which was originally Louis IX's bedroom and in 1793 became the Salle de la Liberté, seat of the revolutionary tribunal which passed over 2,000 sentences of death, including that of Marie-Antoinette. The neo-Renaissance decor dates from the 19th century.