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Local Matters / Architecture & Landmarks

Paris’ finest palaces and mansions: the Bibliothèque Nationale de France site in the city center

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The Bibliothèque Nationale de France (French National Library) is actually a complex of buildings in Paris’ 2nd arrondissement (district). It occupies the so-called Quadrilatère Richelieu (Richelieu rectangle), bordered by the Rues Colbert, des Petits-Champs, Richelieu, and Vivienne.

The oldest parts of the complex are the former Hôtel Tubeuf and the remnants of the Palais Mazarin, built for Cardinal Mazarin, chief minister of the Sun King, Louis XIV.

The Hôtel Tubeuf was built in 1635. Its façade remains unchanged, although its interior was reconstructed between the two world wars. Mazarin leased the building in 1643 to house his extensive art collection and his growing library, and then bought it.

The architects Pierre Le Muet and François Mansart built the Palais Mazarin, which was once much bigger. The remaining parts of the building house two galleries that are now used for temporary exhibitions. The Mazarine Gallery is decorated in sumptuous 17th-century style with ceiling paintings by the Italian artist Romanelli, portraying mythological scenes.

The national library itself had its origins in medieval times but grew rapidly in the 17th century under Louis XIII and Louis XIV. Lack of space meant that the library was moved around several times until it found a more permanent home in the Rue Vivienne, part of the present complex. It opened to the public in 1692.

By the mid-19th century, the collections had swelled to more than 650,000 volumes and 80,000 manuscripts. In 1868, it was moved to newly-constructed buildings on the Rue Richelieu designed by Henri Labrouste. Part of the Palais Mazarin was demolished for this purpose.

After Labrouste’s death, Jean-Louis Pascal continued the library’s expansion with the grand staircase and the Oval Room, which remained unfinished until 1932.

Bursting at the seams by the mid-20th century, a brand-new site in the 13th arrondissement was designed by Dominique Perrault and finally inaugurated in 1996. The major collections were moved from the Richelieu site, which is undergoing an extensive renovation program.

The 2nd arrondissement may be less chic than the 1st, but property prices here have held up. The area around the pedestrianized Rue Montorgeuil is highly sought-after. In the neighborhood of the Bibliothèque Nationale, prices for up-market studios can go to €14,000/m2. Around the chic Rue de la Paix, adjacent to the Opera Garnier, they can reach €16,000/m2 .

Credit Photo – Remi Mathis

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