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.

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Details

Founded: 13th century
Category: Palaces, manors and town halls in France
Historical period: Late Capetians (France)

Rating

4.3/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Susan Thompson (17 months ago)
Worth seeing for anyone interested in history. There is a short film recapping the French revolutions with English subtitles, period displays, and a tribute room lined with the names of the prisoners held here.
Sam Wilson (17 months ago)
Great place to learn and see about history from the French revolution. Very well done
Matthew Hathaway (17 months ago)
The staff here were all incredibly knowledgeable and nice. Learned a lot of France history here. Was our first stop of our trip and did not disappoint. Great stop if you are headed toward the cathedral of Notre Dame. It is right around the corner from there.
Chengcheng Xu (18 months ago)
Compare to the Saint Chappel, it doesn't have much breath taking stained glass, but it does have a really detailed exhibition of the French revolution. It was very well demonstrate and very informative. The basement's arches are pretty cool for pictures, but you should really come for the history.
Phillip P. (2 years ago)
A great place to learn about medieval Paris as well as the Revolution. Not much remains of the medieval era palace but what does is well preserved and interesting. Also included are the cells and history regarding prisoners during the Revolution including Marie Antoinette
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