History of La Conciergerie in Paris

The Conciergerie is located on Ile de la Cite, which is an island in the River Seine that is actually classed as the true heart of Paris, and even today all distances are measured from the centre of this island.

The history of the Ile de la Cite is fascinating, as it has been inhabited since well before Roman times, but it was in the 6th century that the first French King, called Clovis, who was the founder of the Merovingian dynasty of Frankish kings, decided to have a royal residence built on the island.
La Conciergerie history

First royal palace in Paris

It turned out that this would be the very first royal palace in the capital city of Paris where you can still get to see some parts of this and it desicribed as one of the most impressive palaces of the Middle Ages, with this imposing building being called the Palais de la Cite.

It was then approximately five centuries later that the first Capetian King, Hugues Capet, decided to set up his council and the government within the Palais de la Cite and therefore it became the seat of the royal power.

Carrying through the history of the Conciergerie, Saint Louis then had the Sainte Chapelle built as a flamboyant gothic church in the heart of the palace between the years of 1242 to 1248 that still remains intact today and is a fantastic monument in Paris that you can visit while on holiday in Paris.
Then by the 14th century, King Philippe IV, known as Philippe The fair, continued the work of his grandfather Saint Louis and turned the palace in to a very prestigious symbol of the French monarchy and it also then that they decided to include the seat of the Parliament of Paris within its walls.

But towards the end of the 14th century royals were turning to castles like Chateau Vincennes and the Louvre palace (which is now The Louvre Museum) as their royal residences and at the end of the 14th century King Charles V left the palace on the Ile de la Cite following the assassination of the advisors to his father.

After this it was King Charles V who appointed an official known as a Concierge, which was a high official of the kingdom that could only be appointed by a king, and he was there with legal powers to oversee the running of the palace.  It was at this time that it turned into the palace of justice and part of the beautiful palace was turned into a prison, which is why it was then called La Conciergerie.  In fact, it is the oldest prison in Paris.
La Conciergerie Marie-Antoinette picture

La Conciergerie north facade
And up until 1790 La Conciergerie was the seat of the Parliament of Paris until the mayor of Paris decided to seal its doors, however, after the downfall of the monarchy in August 1792, Maximilien Robespierre was elected first deputy to Paris to the National Convention.

The Convention abolished the French monarchy, declaring France a republic and they put the King on trial for treason, and he was executed in the January of 1793.

By this time the Conciergerie had a reputation as a very severe and harsh prison system and the harshest of any prison in France, with its cells accommodating hundreds of people in severe conditions, overcrowded and exceedingly filthy.
La Conciergerie north east corner

At the same period of time Maximilien Robespierre was becoming even more powerful and he became a dominant force for the committee, which then led to the Reign of Terror, where enemies of the Republic of France were actively pursued and ruthlessly eliminated.

During the years 1793 and the early part of 1794 there were over two thousand people that came before the prosecutor for execution and unfortunately, even suspects that had not even been to trial were kept with common-law prisoners.

Whilst the Reign of Terror was continuing, there were many that did not like the ideas of Maximilien Robespierre, especially when he wanted the French religion changed, which was based on the thoughts of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
La Conciergerie plaques

La Conciergerie historical bell tower
Just like Marie-Antoinette was arrested, put in the prison at the Conciergie and then taken to the Place de la Concorde where she was beheaded in the October of 1793, Robespierre was also sent to the guillotine, but this was not until the July of 1794 and there were tens of people being guillotined every day during this year.

However, after his demise, the tribunal was dissolved and the Reign of Terror came to an end, but La Conciergerie was still used as a prison, although this was for more high value prisoners such as Napoleon III.

But in the mid 19th century it underwent some alterations and the cell of Marie-Antionette was converted into a sort of chapel, which is a part of this monument in Paris that you can visit today.
La Conciergerie roof line
Eventually the Conciergerie was stopped in the early 1900s and then opened to the general public, however, there are still only certain sections of La Conciergerie that you can visit, as the remainder have either been destroyed, or are still being used by the Paris judicial system.

And yet, this has still become a very popular tourist attractions in Paris, especially if you like the idea of the history of Paris, the French revolution or seeing something completely different, then La Conciergerie on the Ile de la Cite in Paris is a must see whilst you are on holiday in the Ile de France region.