The Hotel de Ville and the Conciergerie

By Augustus J. C. Hare


It was Etienne Marcel, Mayor of Paris, who first established the municipal council at the Place de Greve, at that time the only large square in Paris. In July, 1357, he purchased as a Hostel de Ville the Maison aux Piliers, which had been inhabited by Clemence d'Hongrie, widow of Louis le Hutin, and which afterward took the name of Maison du Dauphin from her nephew and heir, Guy, Dauphin de Viennois.

In 1532 a new Hotel de Ville was begun and finished by the architect Marin de la Vallee in the reign of Henri IV. This was so much altered by successive restorations and revolutions that only a staircase, two monumental chimney-pieces in the Salle du Trone, and some sculptured doorways and other details remained from the interior decorations in the old building at the time of its destruction.

Till the time of Louis XVI. the history of the Hotel de Ville was entirely local; after that it became the history of France. It was there that Louis XVI. received the tri-colored cockade from Bailly, Mayor of Paris, July 17, 1789; and there, in the chamber called, from its hangings, Le Cabinet Vert, that Robespierre was arrested, in the name of the Convention, during one of the meetings of the Commune, July 27, 1794. After the fall of Robespierre it was seriously proposed to pull down the Hotel de Ville, because it had been his last asylum--"Le Louvre de Robespierre." It was only saved by the common-sense of Leonard Bourdon.

But most of all, in the popular recollection, is the Hotel de Ville connected with public fetes--with those on the second marriage of Napoleon I. (1810), on the entry of Louis XVIII. (1814), on the coronation of Charles X. (1825), on the marriage of the Duke of Orleans (1837), on the visits of different foreign potentates to Napoleon III. Here also was the Republic proclaimed, September 4, 1870.

It was in one of the windows of the Hotel de Ville that Louis Philippe embraced Lafayette (August, 1830) in sight of the people, to evince the union of the July monarchy with the bourgeoisie. On the steps of the building Louis Blanc proclaimed the Republic, February 24,1848. From September 4, 1870, to February 28, 1871, the hotel was the seat of the "government of the national defense," and from March 19 to May 22, 1871, that of the pretended "Committee of public safety" of the Communists. On May 24 it was burned by its savage defenders, many of whom happily perished in the flames.

The Place de l'Hotel de Ville is so modernized that it retains nothing of the Place de Greve but its terrible historic associations. Among the many fearful executions here, it is only necessary to recall that of Jean Hardi, torn to pieces by four horses (March 30, 1473) on an accusation of trying to poison Louis XI.; that of the Comte de St. Pol (December 19, 1475), long commemorated by a pillar; those of a long list of Protestants, opened by the auto-de-fe of Jacques de Povanes, student of the University, in 1525; that of Nicholas de Salcede, Sieur d'Auvillers, torn to pieces by four horses in the presence of the king and queens, for conspiracy to murder the Duc d'Anjou, youngest son of Catherine de Medici. More terrible still was the execution of Ravaillac (May 27, 1610) murderer of Henri IV.

"The executioner cut off his hand with an ax, and threw it and the murderous knife into the fire. His breasts, his arms and his legs were torn with pincers, and boiling oil and melted lead poured into the open wounds. He was then dismembered by four strong horses, which pulled for no less than an entire hour. They dismembered only a corpse. He expired," says L'Estoile, "at the second or third pull." When the executioner had to throw the limbs into the fire that the ashes, according to the sentence, might be flung to the winds, the whole crowd rushed on to claim them. "But," adds the same chronicler, "the people rushed on so impetuously that every mother's son had a piece, even the children, who made fires of them at the corners of the streets."

After the capture of the Bastille its brave governor, M. de Launay, was beheaded on the steps of the Hotel de Ville, and his major, M. de Losme- Salbray, was massacred under the Arcade St. Jean. These were the first victims of the Revolution. Foulon, Intendant du Commerce, suffered here soon afterward, hung from the cords by which a lamp was suspended, whence the expression, which soon resounded in many a popular refrain, of "put the aristocrats to the lantern."

Two parasite buildings, the Conciergerie, and the Prefecture of Police, are now annexed to the Palais de Justice. The Conciergerie takes its name from the house of the concierge in the time of the royal residence here, who had a right to two chickens a day and to the cinders and ashes of the king's chimney.

It has always been a prison, and it was here that the Comte d'Armagnac was murdered, June 12, 1418. Here was made, below the level of the Seine, the prison called La Souriciere, from the rats which had the reputation of eating the prisoners alive. The present Conciergerie occupies the lower story of the right wing of the existing Palais de Justice, and extends along the Quai de l'Horloge, as far as the towers of Montgomery and Cesar. It has an entrance on the quay, before which the guillotine-carts received the victims of the Reign of Terror, and another to the right of the great staircase in the Cour d'Honneur.

All other associations of the Conciergerie are lost in those which were attached to it by the great Revolution. The cell in which Marie Antoinette suffered her seventy-five days' agony--from August 2 till October 15, when she was condemned--was turned into a chapel of expiation in 1816. The lamp still exists which lighted the august prisoner and enabled her guards to watch her through the night. The door still exists, tho changed in position, which was cut transversely in half and the upper part fixt that the queen might be forced to bend in going out, because she had said that whatever indignities they might inflict upon her they could never force her to bend the head.

After her condemnation, Marie Antoinette was not brought back to this chamber. It was a far more miserable cell which saw her write her last touching farewell to Madame Elizabeth. But this was the room in which the Girondins spent their last night, when, as Riouffe, himself in the prison at the time, says, "all during this frightful night their songs sounded and if they stopt singing it was but to talk about their country." The adjoining cell, now used as a sacristy, was the prison of Robespierre.

[7] From "Walks In Paris." By arrangement with the publisher, David McKay. Copyright, 1880.