Conciergerie  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Conciergerie (French: La Conciergerie) is a former royal palace and prison in Paris, located on the west of the Île de la Cité, near the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. It is part of the larger complex known as the Palais de Justice, which is still used for judicial purposes. Hundreds of prisoners during the French Revolution were executed on the guillotines at La Conciergerie.

The Conciergerie and the French Revolution

The Conciergerie thus already had an unpleasant reputation before it became internationally famous as the "antechamber to the guillotine" during the Reign of Terror, the bloodiest phase of the French Revolution. It housed the Revolutionary Tribunal as well as up to 1,200 male and female prisoners at a time. The Tribunal sat in the Great Hall between 2 April 1793 and 31 May 1795 and sent nearly 2,600 prisoners to the guillotine. Its rules were simple. Only two outcomes existed — a declaration of innocence or a death sentence — and in most cases the latter was chosen. The most famous prisoners (and victims) included Queen Marie Antoinette, the poet André Chénier, Charlotte Corday, Madame Élisabeth, Madame du Barry and the Girondins, who were condemned by Georges Danton, who was in turn condemned by Robespierre, who was himself condemned and executed in a final bout of bloodletting. En route to the tumbrils, the victims walked through the Salle Saint-Louis, (Saint Louis Room), which acquired the nickname of the Salle des Perdus, the "Room of the Doomed".

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. A description from 1825 gives an impression of the structure before the rebuilding:

"The buildings which form this prison still retain the hideous character of feudal times. The préau presents a kind of area or court, one hundred and eighty feet in length by sixty in breadth, round which is a gallery leading to the cells, and communicating by stairs to the upper storeys. It was partly constructed in the thirteenth century, and partly rebuilt in modern times, and is ten or twelve feet below the level of the adjacent streets; it serves as a promenade for the prisoners. The dungeons, which have not been used for the last thirty years, are twenty-three feet in length by eleven and a half in height."

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.

Notable prisoners




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Conciergerie" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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