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The Palais de la Cité, residence and center of Capetian power

What better symbol of the greatness of a monarch than his Palace?

The Palais de la Cité, residence and center of Capetian power

During 4 centuries, the Capetians are going to work so that of simple fortress, the residence of the king becomes under Philip the Fair the most beautiful, the vastest and the most sumptuous Palace of Europe.

It all began with Hugues Capet in 987, when Paris became the capital of the kingdom again, a status that had eluded him under the Carolingians. The fortress of the Ile de la Cité, reinforced since the Gallo-Roman period against invasions, was probably only slightly modified at that time, especially since it was still only a place of passage for the king. His power is exercised in itinerancy.

It is known that Robert II the Pious (996-1031), son of Hugues Capet, had already undertaken, in the eleventh century, extensions to meet the comfort requirements of his wife. It is only from the reign of Philippe Auguste in the XIIth that the power will be fixed more durably on the island, moment when great transformations will be carried out to transform the old Palace of the City.

Since the first Capetians, the Palace has had three functions:

  • A "public" function with, to the north of the Palace, a King's Hall intended to render justice and to gather the Curia regis, an assembly of advisors and familiars who assist the king in his government
  • A "private" function with, in the northwest of the complex, the King's room
  • Finally, a "religious" function with, in the south, a chapel, first dedicated to Saint Nicolas, then replaced by the Sainte-Chapelle in the middle of the 13th century.
Le Palais panneau de médiation salle des Gardes

Conciergerie - Centre des monuments-nationaux

The reign of Philippe Auguste (1180-1223)

Statue de roi, dite de Philippe-Auguste, provenant des tabernacles des contreforts du transept de la cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims et aujourd'hui présentée au Palais du Tau
Statue de roi, dite de Philippe-Auguste, provenant des tabernacles des contreforts du transept de la cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims

© Pascal Lemaître - Centre des monuments nationaux

Philip II Augustus succeeded his father, Louis the Younger, at the age of fifteen. The kingdom grew significantly under his reign, which led the king to continue the expansion and embellishment of his palace in the Cité.
Let us recall that his brilliant victory of Bouvines, on July 27, 1214, definitively confirmed his military and political supremacy over the Christian West.
The main streets of Paris were paved and, from 1190 onwards, Philip Augustus ordered the construction of a new wall, punctuated with towers and fortified gates, which encircled both banks. At the same time as he had the fortress of the Louvre built, a dungeon was constructed in the very heart of the Palais de la Cité: a cylindrical tower with a diameter of more than twelve meters, covered with a conical roof. It remained until the fire of 1776.

As for the royal archives, previously itinerant and lost during the battle of Fréteval (1194) against Richard the Lionheart of England, they were reconstituted and deposited in the palace, which now occupies a central position in the administration of the kingdom, a probable prelude to the construction of the Trésor des Chartes (see below), which was built next to the Sainte-Chapelle at the time of Saint Louis.

The king also appointed a Concierge at this time to ensure the smooth running of the Palace and earthworks were carried out to raise the buildings in case of violent floods.

The reign of Saint Louis

Saint Louis rendant la justice
Saint Louis rendant la justice - Panneau gauche d'un épisode du cycle consacré à "La Vie de Saint Louis" au Panthéon

© Hervé Lewandowski - Centre des monuments nationaux

Louis IX, the future Saint Louis (1226 - 1270), grandson of Philip Augustus, was crowned at the age of 12; his mother, Blanche of Castile, was regent until the king came of age. In the middle of the 13th century, Louis IX made substantial changes to the Palace, which became a mirror of the growing royal power. His most admirable achievement, preserved to this day, is the Sainte-Chapelle.

Between 1239 and 1241, Louis IX acquired the insignificant relics of the Passion of Christ, until then kept in Constantinople, for the considerable sum of 135,000 livres tournois, that is to say about half of the annual income of the royal domain. The transfer of these major relics of Christianity made Paris a second Jerusalem or a second Rome: the kingdom of France thus affirmed its political pre-eminence in Europe.
For this precious deposit, Louis IX sumptuously transformed the religious pole to the south of the Palace: the fine and elegant Sainte-Chapelle, built between 1242 and 1248, replaced the chapel of Saint-Nicolas.

This monumental two-level reliquary is representative of the radiant Gothic style. Find out more about this unique 13th century jewel on the Sainte-Chapelle website (hyperlink to be added). A quarter reserved for the canons developed to the south of the Sainte-Chapelle. A small building built to the north of the building housed the sacristies (revestiaries) and, on the upper floor, the "treasure of the Charters", where the archives and the main acts of the kingdom were kept. The Treasure of the Charters disappeared in 1783.

The king connected his private apartments to the Sainte-Chapelle by a gallery which was later called the "galerie mercière", because of the numerous merchants' stalls that were set up there.
He also had the "salle sur l'eau" built on the banks of the Seine - which has since disappeared -, a vast room for receptions or assemblies, flanked by the Bonbec Tower, which has been preserved to this day and which can be recognized on the Quai de l'Horloge, by the crenellated base of its conical roof

The reign of Philip the Fair

Portrait de Philippe IV le Bel
Portrait de Philippe IV le Bel conservé au château de Bussy-Rabutin

© Reproduction Hervé Lewandowski - CMN

At the end of the XIIIth century, the ancient Palace was unsuitable for the government of the kingdom, in full expansion.

Philip IV the Fair (1285-1314) then transformed it into a place where the royal majesty is staged, expression of the power of the Capetian dynasty. It was at this time that the Palais de la Cité reached its peak.

Rooted in the past of his glorious ancestors, the king now reigned over the most populous and richest kingdom in the Christian West.

The Palais de la Cité must also integrate the imperatives of a considerably modernized administration.

The mutation of feudal society towards a centralized monarchy, initiated by Louis IX, was fully realized.
Work began in 1296, directed by Enguerrand de Marigny, the main minister. The surface area of the Palace tripled.

In 1298, the construction of the ceremonial buildings began.

La grand-salle du Palais de la Cité au Moyen-Âge

Benjamin Gavaudo - Centre des monuments-nationaux

The "Grand'Salle", to the north, replaced and doubled the initial surface of the King's Hall. Its dimensions and decoration make it the most remarkable royal hall in Europe. Then came the buildings created for the new institutions. The Chambre des Comptes was housed to the west of the Sainte-Chapelle. The "Grand' Chambre", built from 1302 to 1305, above the Salle des Gardes preserved in the Conciergerie, became from 1314 the official seat of the Parliament of Paris, the highest jurisdiction of the kingdom under the Ancien Régime and in charge of registering the royal orders. Around, the Silver and Caesar towers that can still be admired along the quai de l'horloge, house its administration.

At the end of the main courtyard of the Palace, called "du Mai*", a ceremonial staircase with three flights leads to the "galerie mercière", a monumental door.

To the south of the "galerie mercière", the Sainte-Chapelle, which has been preserved, receives a new bell tower. The canons' lodgings are enlarged. The spiritual institution is moreover reinforced in 1297 by the canonization of Louis IX, become saint Louis of France.
Finally, the king's dwelling, now purely private, was moved to the west in 1308. A gallery, along the Grand' Salle, leads to it.
The wall of the old arcaded enclosure forms the facade with a magnificent perspective on the Grand Jardin, now the Place Dauphine, and the Seine.
The services of the Hôtel du roi were located near the Salle des Gens d'Armes (under the Grand' Salle), the refectory of the numerous personnel of the Palais. The supplies were provided by the Seine, into which the walls of the Palace plunged.

In 1314, the new Palace shelters the apparatus of a modernized State and, in its center, the sovereign, like the Palace in the heart of the city.

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