November 5, 2016

Conciergerie & Marie-Antoinette's Final Days

Another memorable morning of my five years living in Paris must be the guided tour by Dr. Kelly Spearman of the Conciergerie known as the the antechamber to the guillotine.

The Conciergerie is the former jail of the medieval royal palace on the Ile de la Cité and is now part of the Paris Law Courts known as Palais de Justice. It was the centre of the Roman administration some 2000 years ago.

During our tour we admired the monument’s complexity, woven over centuries invisible to the naked eye. Our guide evoked the site’s relation to manners and morals of past times, and led us to understand how it ended up becoming one of the most infamous prisons of all times.

Patiently and taciturnly, next to the eerie Sainte Chapelle, was erected a temple of prejudice and discrimination, a den of horrors and abuse, a maze of torture chambers, humid cells and echoing endless corridors where humans were made to spend the last phase of their existence in filth, squalor and fear.

No other prisoner of the Conciergerie better represents the tragic fall of the rich and mighty of the Ancient Regime than the ex-Queen of France, Marie-Antoinette. A paragon of beauty and fashion, but also of privilege, wealth and entitlement, she was soon transformed into a sick, frail and broken woman in black, mourning for everyone and everything she loved. Once the charming icon of the Petit-Trianon, Marie-Antoinette was to end her days in desperate isolation - in the very cell in which we will stand and reflect on human nature and the unpredictable twists of fate.

La Conciergerie seen from the Seine

La Sainte Chapelle. Do you dare to walk through these gates?

A touch of past gloire et grandeur

Imagining what I'd find under this vaulted ceiling a century ago?
The Salle des Gens-d’Armes is to this day the largest surviving medieval hall in Europe.

Luckily the 2016 Paris floods did not make it to the 1910 level

The vestiges of the staircase that connected the Salle Haute (Upper Great Hall) to the Salle des Gens d’Armes has beautifully been restored.

A splendid illustration of Gothic architecture, built in 1300s.

Rue de Paris is the wide corridor, which connects the Guardroom to the Conciergerie’s entrance

It was named after the executioner, commonly known as Monsieur de Paris, as tradition dictated that his true name should not be used. The wealthiest prisoners could afford a bed and a table, the others slept on straw thrown on the ground.

The Rue de Paris leads into the eerie Galerie des Prisonniers, a narrow corridor starting at the level of the Concierge’s room and bordered with a series of small cells.

The dark walls along with the ledger retaining the suffering and despair of all the men and women who transited there before being sent to the guillotine.

Women were allowed to spend several hours every day in the Cour des Femmes

The men’s courtyard was known as Préau des Hommes

The tiny cell, where Marie-Antoinette spent the 76 last days of her life, no longer exists in its original state, exception made of the brick floor.

In 1863 her tiny room was converted into an expiatory chapel.

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