Hotel de Ville Paris is a massive city hall from 1628, suitable to represent, at the time, the largest city in Europe and Christendom.
The city hall’s history goes back to 1357, when Étienne Marcel, provost of the merchants (then-title for the Mayor of Paris), purchased the location, Place de Grève square, and a harbor, “maison aux piliers” (House of Pillars), next door.
However, as early as 1310, Parisians had meetings here, especially at times of public executions at the Place de Grève.
PHOTO: Hotel de Ville Paris, as seen from the entrance to the “Hôtel de Ville” metro station (for lines M1 and M11). The city hall, and its Place de Grève, was from 1310 the place, where the city’s public executions took place. The last public execution here, however, took place in 1830…after which the square was renamed “Place de l’Hôtel de Ville”. The structure in the picture, in front of the city hall, is a skating rink, available every year through the Christmas period.
PHOTO: A closeup of one of the finest highlights in the city hall, the clock-tower. The clock tower is decorated with female statues, allegorical to the Seine river, the city of Paris, work, and education.
The Paris city administration premises have been at this location from 1357, ever since the purchase by Étienne Marcel.
However, construction work on a major administrative building took place much later, in 1533.
That was when King Francis I decided to gift the city with a new, majestic city hall, one that would be representative of the then-largest city in Europe.
Francis I commissioned Italian Dominique de Cortone to design the new building…
…and once construction work got underway, it took nearly 100 years before the building was completed, in 1628, during the reign of Louis XIII.
During the years of the French Revolution (1789-99), Hotel de Ville Paris was witness to many famous events…including the death of the last “provost of the merchants”, Jacques de Flesselles, at the hands of an angry mob in 1789.
The Thermidorian Reaction also brought the French Revolution to the city hall, when Robespierre was shot in the jaw and arrested here, together with his supporters.
The very first of the French Revolution guillotines was build to the square in front of the city hall, and used during 1792-1795.
Among the high profile people to die at Place de Gréve guillotine was Paris’ public prosecutor, Antoine Quentin Fouquier-Tinville.
Even though the building survived unscathed from the revolutionary years, later, in 1871, when Paris Commune kept its headquarters at the city hall…
…and when an anti-commune demonstration closed in on the building, the commune members set the building on fire, destroying the palatial city hall.
Rebuilding of Hotel de Ville Paris with leadership from architects Théodore Ballu and Édouard Deperthes, took place from 1873 to 1892.
This rebuilding effort used the outer shell of the former city hall as a basis for the new construction…which is why, externally, the current city hall still resembles a 16th-17th century French Renaissance palace.
However, in terms of interiors, the new city hall got a completely new look, in the overflowing, ceremonial 1880s style.
New Hôtel de Ville also got 338 statues to its facades, mostly representing famous personalities from the city’s history.
Artists contributing works to the new city hall included many leading names of the time, such as Auguste Rodin.
Rodin’s 1882 statue on the facade is of 18th century mathematician, Jean le Rond d’Alembert.
The Hotel de Ville Paris indoors artwork, especially the famous murals (which you’ll be able to see during the guided tour), were added by such famous artists as…
- Raphaël Collin,
- Jean-Paul Laurens,
- Puvis de Chavannes,
- Henri Gervex,
- Aimé Morot and
- Alfred Roll.
The city hall also took efforts in rebranding. For example, to distance the Place de Gréve from its grim past, it was renamed (1830) as Place de l’Hotel de Ville.
Later, in 1982, the square became a pedestrian zone, and nowadays, is is popular as an event and entertainment venue.
To plan your visit and to learn more about the available guided tours, you can use the city hall’s official website, at www.paris.fr. There is also a virtual tour available, from labs.paris.fr/commun/visite_virtuelle/html/en/debit_en.html.