What Is La Conciergerie? A Brief History of the Conciergerie
The Conciergerie is located on the Île de la Cité, which is one of two natural islands in the Seine River that runs through Paris. It’s situated across from Sainte-Chapelle, and used to be part of the medieval royal palace, Palais de la Cité.
In the 14th century, King Charles V moved the royal residence to the Louvre Palace. In turn, the concierge of the old palace was given more authority over lower and middle courts. More and more prison cells were added, and the place became known as La Conciergerie – “the guard house.”
The building underwent many changes over the centuries. Parts of it were destroyed in fires and floods, then rebuilt – with additional cells being added each time. By the late 18th century, it was used primarily as a prison for common criminals and political prisoners. The Revolutionary Tribunal sentenced thousands of people to death – a table with their names can be seen in one of the halls.
During the French Revolution, La Conciergerie held some of the most famous prisoners of that time, including Marie-Antoinette, Louis XVI’s wife. She was tried and sentenced to death by guillotine in 1793. The execution was carried out at the Place de la Concorde, which was called Place de la Révolution at that time.
The Conciergerie continued to be used as a prison until the 19th century. One notable prisoner from that time was Napoleon III, who was tried there in 1840 after a failed attempt to seize power.
The Conciergerie in Paris Today
In 1914, La Conciergerie became a historical monument and started offering tours for tourists. The Prison was closed for good in 1934. Today, it’s one of the top tourist attractions in Paris – and for good reason.
When you visit, you’ll get to explore the former prison cells, which have been converted into exhibits. You’ll also see the courtroom where Marie Antoinette was tried, a detailed reconstruction of her cell, as well as other historic rooms.
What to See at La Conciergerie – The Prison and More
As mentioned, one of the highlights of La Conciergerie is exploring the former prison cells. These have been converted into exhibits that give you a glimpse into life in Paris centuries ago. You’ll see how the prisoners lived, and learn about some of the famous inmates who were held here.
In addition to the prison cells, you’ll also want to see the following:
- the Salle des Gardes (Guard Room);
- the Salle des Gens d’armes (Hall of the Soldiers);
- the kitchens built under King John the Good.
It’s a great opportunity to learn about the history of Paris – and see a side of the city that many tourists don’t get to experience.
Places to Visit Near the Conciergerie
After exploring the Conciergerie, you can walk across the street to Sainte Chapelle. This Gothic chapel with beautiful stained glass windows was built in the 13th century to house Christ’s Crown of Thorns. It’s considered one of the best examples of French Gothic architecture – and it’s well worth a visit.
You can also explore the following nearby:
- the Cathedral of Notre Dame – the iconic Gothic cathedral that’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in Paris;
- the Place Dauphine – a charming square that’s popular with locals;
- the Pont Neuf – the oldest bridge in Paris, which spans the Seine River;
- the Palais de Justice – the law courts of Paris, also open to the public;
- the Archaeological Crypt of the Île de la Cité – an underground museum with artifacts from the history of Paris;
- the Square du Vert-Galant – a small park with a statue of King Henry IV;
- de l’Horloge du Palais de la Cité – an astronomical clock with a fascinating history.
- the Latin Quarter – a lively district with plenty of shops, restaurants, and bars.
As you can see, the island is full of historical and cultural landmarks. There’s plenty to see and do – and you could easily spend a day exploring all the sights. And the Latin Quarter is just south of the Île de la Cité, so you can easily walk there via one of the bridges.
Visit the Conciergerie and Immerse Yourself in the Past!
If you’re interested in French history, then La Conciergerie is a must-visit. Even if you’re not, it’s still worth checking out for the unique experience of exploring a former prison. Ready to add it to your Paris itinerary?
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