Conciergerie Paris is a historical royal palace and a prison, today forming part of the Palais de Justice building complex.
Conciergerie is located within the island of Cité, in Seine river. The island is from which Paris originally grew out of, to its current, massive size.
During the late ancient times, the area was first inhabited by the Romans.
During their rule, Merovingian Kings constructed a royal palace within the island, making it the main royal residence for the rulers of France, from 10th century to the 14th century.
Later, the building also acted as a place for “Conseil du Roi“, or Curia Regis.
In fact, the name “Conciergerie” means in English “the caretaker’s residence”, or a residence for the person in charge of a major building, such as a palace or a castle.
The reasion for the current name dates from 1358, when the building was abandoned as a royal residence, and the then-caretaker of the palace lived at the building.
PICTURE: View to part of the Conciergerie building complex, originally part of a historical 10th century Palais de la Cité, but today, part of the Palais de Justice, including the Sainte Chapelle. The picture has been taken from the Pont au Change, named for the fact that since 1141, by a royal decree (Louis VII), the bridge was the place where foreigners could exchange their currencies in Paris.
PICTURE: A closeup of Tour de l’Horloge and its clock, the original of which was the oldest public clock in Paris, originally constructed in 1585. The view is from the Boulevard du Palais.
During the reigns of Kings Louis IX (1226-1270) and Phillip IV (1284–1314), the palace of the Merovingian Kings was expanded and its structures were heavily enforced to withstand major attacks.
For his part, Louis IX also added the Gothic style Sainte-Chapelle, with the purpose of holding holy relics from Crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Phillip IV, on the other hand, was responsible for the a new facade and for having the famous Great Hall constructed.
In fact, King Phillip IV’s “Grande-Salle“, the Great Hall, designed by Enguerrand de Marigny from 1302 to 1313, when finished, was one of the largest royal halls in Europe.
However, today, the hall’s lower floor, known as “La salle des gens” (64 meters long, 27.5 meters wide, and 8.5 meters in height), is all that still remains.
When still intact, the magnificent hall was often used as a fitting venue for royal banquets, and for handling of serious legal matters.
The early Valois dynasty kings continued the reconstruction and expansion work, up until the 14th century, but during his reign, King Charles V abandoned the palace (in 1358)…
…and moved the royal court to the nearby palace of Louvre.
Even after the abandonment as a royal residence, many administrative functions still continued here, including the Parliament of Paris.
While the upper floors of the palace were reserved for the parliament, in 1391, much of Conciergerie Paris was turned into a prison.
The prison sections were within the lowest floor in the building, facing Quai de l’Horloge. The two towers of the palace also housed prisoners.
During this period, the faith of the prisoners was often dependent on the prisoner’s individual status within Parisian society, connections, as well as wealth.
For the more wealthy, Conciergerie had its own cells, that had tables, a bed, and material to read and write with. In fact, many wealthy had the habit of writing memoirs before their death.
Less wealthy often could afford one of the furnished cells called “pistoles“, typically with just a rough bed and a plain table.
The poorest, which at the prisons were called “pailleux” due to the hay beds they had, were located on the dark, moist, and disease-spreading cells called “oubliettes” (literally “forgotten“).