The Conciergerie is a former prison and part of the former royal palace, the Palais de la Cité, which consisted of the Conciergerie, Palais de Justice and the Sainte-Chapelle. Hundreds of prisoners during the French Revolution were taken from the Conciergerie to be executed on the guillotine at a number of locations around Paris.
The west part of the island was originally the site of a Merovingian palace, and was initially known as the Palais de la Cité. From the 10th to the 14th centuries it was the seat of the medieval Kings of France. Under Louis IX (Saint Louis) (1214–1270) and Philip IV (Philip the Fair) (1284–1314) the Merovingian palace was extended and more heavily fortified. Louis IX added the Sainte-Chapelle and associated galleries, while Philippe IV created the towered facade on the river side and a large hall. Both are excellent examples of French religious and secular architecture of the period.
The early Valois kings continued to improve the palace in the 14th century, but Charles V abandoned the palace in 1358, moving across the river to the Louvre. The palace continued to serve an administrative function, and still included the chancellery and French Parliament. In the king's absence, he appointed a concierge to hold command of the palace. This was a very high ranking office, and could be considered the housekeeper for the king. In 1391 part of the building was converted for use as a prison, and took its name from the ruling office. Its prisoners were a mixture of common criminals and political prisoners.
Three towers survive from the medieval Conciergerie: the Caesar Tower, named in honor of the Roman Emperors; the Silver Tower, so named for its (alleged) use as the store for the royal treasure; and the Bonbec ('good beak') Tower, which obtained its name from the torture chamber that it housed, in which victims were encouraged to 'sing'. The building was extended under later kings with France's first public clock being installed around 1370. The current clock dates from 1535. The concierge or keeper of the royal palace, gave the place its eventual name.
Despite lasting only ten months, the Reign of Terror (September 1793-July 1794) had a profound impact on France. More than 40,000 people died from execution and imprisonment, and France would not be a republic again for nearly half a century.
After the Restoration of the Bourbons in the 19th century, the Conciergerie continued to be used as a prison for high-value prisoners, most notably the future Napoleon III. Marie Antoinette's cell was converted into a chapel dedicated to her memory. The Conciergerie and Palais de Justice underwent major rebuilding in the mid-19th century, totally altering their external appearance. While the building looks like a brooding medieval fortress, this appearance actually only dates from about 1858.
The Conciergerie was decommissioned in 1914 and was opened to the public as a national historical monument. It is today a popular tourist attraction, although only a relatively small part of the building is open to public access; much of it is still used for the Paris law courts.References:
Les Invalides is a complex of buildings containing museums and monuments, all relating to the military history of France, as well as a hospital and a retirement home for war veterans, the building"s original purpose. The buildings house the Musée de l"Armée, the military museum of the Army of France, the Musée des Plans-Reliefs, and the Musée d"Histoire Contemporaine, as well as the burial site for some of France"s war heroes, notably Napoleon Bonaparte.
Louis XIV initiated the project in 1670, as a home and hospital for aged and unwell soldiers: the name is a shortened form of hôpital des invalides. The architect of Les Invalides was Libéral Bruant. The enlarged project was completed in 1676, the river front measured 196 metres and the complex had fifteen courtyards. Jules Hardouin Mansart assisted the aged Bruant, and the chapel was finished in 1679 to Bruant"s designs after the elder architect"s death.
Shortly after the veterans" chapel was completed, Louis XIV commissioned Mansart to construct a separate private royal chapel referred to as the Église du Dôme from its most striking feature. Inspired by St. Peter"s Basilica in Rome, the original for all Baroque domes, it is one of the triumphs of French Baroque architecture. The domed chapel is centrally placed to dominate the court of honour. It was finished in 1708.
Because of its location and significance, the Invalides served as the scene for several key events in French history. On 14 July 1789 it was stormed by Parisian rioters who seized the cannons and muskets stored in its cellars to use against the Bastille later the same day. Napoleon was entombed under the dome of the Invalides with great ceremony in 1840. In December 1894 the degradation of Captain Alfred Dreyfus was held before the main building, while his subsequent rehabilitation ceremony took place in a courtyard of the complex in 1906.
The building retained its primary function of a retirement home and hospital for military veterans until the early twentieth century. In 1872 the musée d"artillerie (Artillery Museum) was located within the building to be joined by the Historical Museum of the Armies in 1896. The two institutions were merged to form the present musée de l"armée in 1905. At the same time the veterans in residence were dispersed to smaller centres outside Paris. The reason was that the adoption of a mainly conscript army, after 1872, meant a substantial reduction in the numbers of veterans having the twenty or more years of military service formerly required to enter the Hôpital des Invalides. The building accordingly became too large for its original purpose. The modern complex does however still include the facilities detailed below for about a hundred elderly or incapacitated former soldiers.