Back in time

Sunday, August 20, 2017
Paris, Île-de-France, France
This morning we were able to sleep in which was helpful in recouping from the initial trip to Europe. After a delicious brunch, we walked out into bright sunshine; it was a beautiful day, and Parisians and tourists were out in masse to take advantage of it. We walked through the Louvre courtyards to the Seine and then ambled along the water for a mile and a quarter or so to the Conciergerie, part of one of the oldest royal palaces in Paris. It was a Merovingian Palace (the dynasty preceding Charles Martel and Charlemagne who founded the Carolingian dynasty). From the 10th to the 14th century it was the main royal palace of the kings of France. Louis IX, the one called Saint Louis, had a special chapel built, the Sainte Chappelle, right next to the Conciergerie, to house supposed relics of Jesus. Louis bought more than thirty relics from Baudoin II, the Latin Emperor in Constantinople. (Actually Baudoin had pawned them to the Venetians whom, in fact, Louis paid). The relics supposedly included the crown of thorns, a piece of the cross, part of the lance, and more. Possessing such impressive relics made Louis the civil leader of Western Christianity. Later Philippe IV built the towering façade that marks the structure today. It contained the largest single room in Europe, which was used for royal banquets and could hold up to 2000 people, pretty impressive for the Middle Ages. The ground floor remains today and the scale is impressive.
In the 14th century the kings of France moved across the river to the Louvre, leaving a Concierge in command, thus the name. Part of the old palace came to be used as a prison. The three surviving round towers on the façade were named, from left to right, the Caesar Tower, in honor of the Roman Emperors; the Silver Tower, for its supposed use as the royal treasury; and the Bonbec ("good beak"), because of the torture chamber it contained, where hapless victims were encouraged to “sing.”
It’s most famous prisoner, during the Reign of Terror was Marie Antoinette who was held here for two and half months after the guillotining of her husband Louis XVI. Prisoners found guilty, (virtually all of them), were taken quickly from here to the place de la Concorde where one of several guillotines around Paris was in full operation. This was her fate.
Fittingly, revolutionaries Danton and Robespierre who had sent so many to the guillotine were themselves imprisoned in the Conciergerie before their trip to the guillotine….
So much history to be found in one place.
Marjolaine and I joined up with a French guided tour, the guide was really quite good. She told us the stories mostly chronologically but also anachronistically if it granted a better understanding.
We moved from the Conciergerie to the Sainte Chappelle to see the amazing stained glass windows, some of the most impressive from the entire Middle Ages. It is a truly impressive chapel to this day and, as usual, it was filled, wall-to-wall, with visitors.
Our visits finished, we walked slowly back along the Seine to our apartment. We decided we’d have one meal out, so we took an Uber to the Bouillon Chartier a short ways off. I’ve written about it many times before, so I won’t again now, but it was a very enjoyable meal. A Chinese-Canadian couple were seated with us. He from Taiwan, she from Shanghai, now living in Toronto. This was their first trip to France and they were very excited.
Back at the apartment, we began repacking in preparation for our onward travel tomorrow. Next destination: Moscow!


Mary Hendren

Thanks for the update and wonderful pictures. The architecture--so grand and soaring, the stained glass, and the sad reminder of the Bonbec, so much history and beauty.

CB Johnson

Your updates are always appreciated. Great pics. Safe travels.