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Local Matters / Architecture & Landmarks

Paris’ finest palaces and mansions: the Palais Royal

The_Palais_Cardinal_(future_Palais_Royal,_Paris)_by_an_unknown_artist_(adjusted)

Located opposite the Louvre in Paris’s central 1st arrondissement (district), the Palais Royal has a long and colorful history. It has been home to royalty and aristocracy, once contained a shopping and entertainment complex, and is now owned by the French State. And it is no stranger to controversy.

The palace was originally called the Palais Richelieu, since it was the personal residence of Louis XIII’s first minister, Cardinal Richelieu. Designed by the architect Jacques Lemercier, the palace was completed in 1639.

When Richelieu died in 1642, Louis XIII took it over and it was renamed the Palais Royal. After he died in 1645, the young Louis XIV and his mother, Anne of Austria, lived there. Finally, it became the seat of the Orléans family in 1661.

The buildings have been altered over the centuries. The three wings surrounding the present gardens were built in the late 18th century. This is when the gardens and parts of the buildings were opened to the public as a shopping and entertainment center. It also contained one of the foremost theaters in Paris.

The aristocracy rubbed shoulders with the masses at the Palais Royal and it had a reputation as a place of promiscuity, where prostitutes plied their trade around the arcades and gambling casinos. It was also a center of political and social intrigue.

Today, the Conseil d’Etat, the Constitutional Council, and the Ministry of Culture occupy the Palais-Royal. Part of the Bibliothèque National de France, France’s national library, also occupies buildings at the rear of the garden.

In 1985-86, French artist Daniel Buren created a highly controversial art installation in the inner courtyard of the Palais. Known as “les colonnes de Buren,” it consists of striped columns of varying heights rising up from a grid pattern. At the time, people criticized the work for its cost and unsuitability for a historic monument. The storm over its artistic merits died down, but the high cost of renovating the installation in 2008 gave rise to further criticism.

The Palais Royal gardens are open to the public and the covered arcades contain shops, cafés and the gourmet restaurant Le Grand Véfour, which has been there for more than 200 years. Private guided tours of the buildings are also available.

The Palais itself, of course, is not for sale, but the neighborhood is sought after and apartments are hard to find. A luxury studio will cost around €16,300/m2, while a large prestige apartment has a price tag of around €15,000/m2. Exceptional properties can fetch even more.

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