Palais de Justice

The Palace of Justice was long the home of the French Kings. It was built on the premises where the Roman Governors and later the Merovingians and Capetians established their headquarters. The “Sainte Chapelle” was built 1246-48, simultaneously with the “Conciergerie”. The towers we can see on the Seine banks date from the 14th century as well as the recently renovated clock. 

In 1431, the Kings left for the Louvre and the old palace was given to the “Parliament”, a place of justice, which it still is today.

I have already posted on “Sainte Chapelle” (here), the “Conciergerie” (here) and the old clock (here)

In this post I will concentrate on the justice part. This is where we today can find all the major Parisian and some national justice courts. (Part of the activity will move to new facilities in the Batignolles area of Paris in a couple of years (see post here).

What today is used as a main entrance was added 1783-86. The magnificent wrought-iron fence has been there since 1787.

Why is the entrance court called “Cour de Mai” (May)? During the 13th century reign of King Louis IX, Saint Louis, (who had the Sainte Chapelle constructed) a tree was every year in the month of May temporarily planted in the “Cour de Mai” for some festivities. The legend says that the King administered justice under an oak tree. Here or elsewhere? Probably rather somewhere in the Bois de Vincennes. To your left, you have “Sainte Chapelle”, to the right the entrance to the local restaurant.

To get to the restaurantt, you will use the same steps that Marie-Antoinette used on her way to the guillotine. 

There is also a back entrance to the Palace. It was actually meant to be the main entrance, when it was added during the 19th century. The idea was also to demolish Place Dauphine to give a full and nice perspective. Finally, “only” the third part of the Place Dauphine rectangle was destroyed. (Compare the 1715 and today’s views above.)

It’s evident that ambition to make this in a 19th century magnificent design was there.

Once you have passed a security control, you are free to walk around and to attend trials. Of course, photos are not allowed where a trial takes place, but some of the chambers can be empty…

What previously was named “La Grande Salle” from the 14th century - originally the central place of ceremonies and celebrations in the old Royal Palace - burnt in 1618 and was reconstructed in 1622… suffered from a new fire in 1871 (the Commune) and was then renovated in its 17th century design. Today it’s referred to as the “Salle-des-Pas-Perdus” (lost steps), the place where you wait, where lawyers and their clients meet and prepare the hearings...

The statue to the right represents Malesherbes (1721-94) who defended King Louis XVI. The lady to the left of her represents “France”. When you look behind you may see her bare back.

The statue to the left is of a famous lawyer, A.P. Berryer (1790-1868), considered to be a very courageous advocate, a fantastic orator, often defending those who were not in favour. 

Today his name is also remembered by the monthly “Berryer Conferences”, which mostly take place in this chamber, “Chambre de Criées”. Always with an invited prestigious personality (Salvador Dali, Serge Gainsbourg, Peter Ustinov, Dominique Strauss-Khan, Marcel Marceau, Nicolas Sarkozy, Catherine Deneuve…), one of the 12 secretaries of the Conference makes a (mostly rude) presentation of the invited person, followed by some oratory exercise by secretary candidates or others, pleading on nonsense subjects which have nothing to do with law. There are lot of laughs. You have to queue for hours if you want to get in.

This chamber, today “Première Chambre”, was probably once the sleeping quarters of Saint Louis, then referred to as “La Chambre Dorée” (the Golden Chamber) or “Grand-Chambre”, has changed name a number of times. Referred to as “Chambre de la Liberté” or “Chambre de l’Egalité” during the revolutionary years, this was then the seat of the Revolutionary Tribunal, where Marie-Antoinette, Robespierre, Danton… and finally the Public Prosecutor himself (Foquier-Tonville) were condemned. The room was a bit bigger those days and after a fire in 1871 it was renovated in its 16th century design.

Here are some views from the long corridors. You may note the spectacular heating arrangements. I found a cock (rooster). The rooster had actually been a symbol for France already since the fall of the Roman Empire and may be a play on word on “gallus” (Latin for rooster) and “Gallus” (Gallick).

Many doors were of course closed or it was not (or hardly) possible to take photos. 

Some beautiful stairs – again with a cock!

… and at last (this is getting long!), some stained glass windows and glassed ceilings.

I did not visit (maybe fortunately) the Criminal Investigation quarters on one of the upper corners, mostly referred to as “36 Quai des Orfèvres”, its address, well-known from e.g. George Simenon’s Commissaire Maigret fiction novels.  


Jeanie said...

I always love it when you take us remarkable places, Peter. What an impressive place for all activities of justice! It's all quite beautiful -- and as always, I appreciate your historical context. Sending you wishes for a Happy Easter, which will be yesterday when you see this!

Alain said...

Une statue de la "France" avec les fesses à l'air ? Ca c'est Paris !

Dave-CostaRicaDailyPhoto.com said...

Superb and informative post. We have walked through a small part of the Justice complex on our way to evening concerts in St. Chapelle, as in the evening the access to St. Chapelle is through the Hall of Justice. At leaf it was years ago when we were there.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful tour, Peter!

Your photos are fantastic...

Mil gracias.

Synne said...

Wow, the stained glass windows are great! This place seems decorated with such an attention to detail!