Palais de Justice, a former royal palace

The Palais de Justice, Paris Law Courts, is located on the Ile de la Cité and includes the Sainte-Chapelle and Conciergerie.

Palais de Justice - Sainte-Chapelle and Cour du Mai
Sainte-Chapelle and Cour du Mai

It was built on the site of the former royal residence, hence its name (palais – palace).

The Sainte-Chapelle, King Louis IX’s private chapel, is located in the courtyard.

The Conciergerie, the medieval prison, overlooks the river on the northern side.

Their history is therefore intertwined.

A stunning Louis XVI wrought-iron gate accesses the Cour du Mai, the main entrance to the Palais de Justice, on Boulevard du Palais.

Palais de Justice – Roman Governors’ Palace

The Ile de la Cité is the spiritual and historical centre and the oldest district of Paris.

Court of Cassation entrance in Palais de Justice
Court of Cassation entrance

Long before the Roman conquest, the Gallic tribe Parisii built their oppidum Lutetia on the small island  (Ile de la Cité)that stood in a shallow section of the Seine.

The Parisii built their immense wealth and influence from hunting and fishing, but mostly from the river trade.

Lutetia kept thriving after the Roman conquest of 52BC, as the Romans installed their local administration on the island.

They erected their Governors Palace on the site of the current Palais de Justice, and their Temple of Jupiter on Notre-Dame Cathedral‘s.

The antic walled city or Cité and its forum, jail, markets, shops and dwellings stretched between these two major buildings. 

It thrived until the fall of the Roman Empire in the late 5th century.

The Frankish Clovis invaded Gaul and became the first king of France in 481AD.

King Saint-Louis transformed of the old palace

The first major transformation took place in the late 1240s when Louis IX redesigned the palace.

He indeed commissioned the architect Pierre de Montreuil with the construction of  the Sainte-Chapelle.

The Tour Bonbec was erected in 1250, on the northern wall of the palace, and served as prison.

King Philip the Fair founded the Palais de Justice

At the turn of the 14th century, Philip the Fair converted the palace into justice courts.

He demolished the outbuildings located on the northern side of the palace, and the wall that flanked them, but kept the Tour Bonbec.

Palais de Justice - Conciergerie on northern side
Conciergerie on northern side

He replaced them with the Conciergerie to house the kingdom’s legal, administrative and financial services.

The building included the Guardroom (Salle des Gardes) and Hall of the Men-at-Arms (Salle des Gens-d’Armes), Tour César and Tour d’Argent.

The Salle Haute, on the upper level, which directly led to St-Louis’ private apartments, today accommodates the First Civil Court.

The Marchande Gallery – Galerie Marchande connected the Salle Haute to the Sainte-Chapelle.

The king also enlarged the Ile de la Cité.

The river arm that delineated the islet Ilot Galilée from the southern side of the island, was filled in 1310 to create the Quai des Orfêvres

This was the medieval jewelers’ district (orfêvre means goldsmith).

Tour de l'Horloge in Conciergerie
Tour de l’Horloge

Philip the Fair inaugurated his new palace in 1313.

King John the Good’s additions

King Jean le Bon built the Cuisines Saint-Louis and the Tour de l’Horloge in 1353.

Queen Marie de Medici transformed the gardens, which stretched to the west of the palace, in a botanical garden during the 16th century.

Palais de Justice – the seat of the Government

In 1367, Charles V deserted the Ile de la Cité and moved the Parliament in the old royal palace.

The Salle Haute was converted into the Law Courts waiting room, Salle des Pas-Perdus and led to the Supreme Court of Parliament (the current First Civil Court).

Tragically, Queen Marie-Antoinette and many other unfortunate prisoners were sentenced to death in this hall during the French Revolution.

Royal Palace converted into Law Courts – Palais de Justice

In 1607 the two islets Ile aux Juifs and Ile du Passeur were attached to the Ile de la Cité in order to create the Place Dauphine.

Palais de Justice - Vestibule de Harlay
Vestibule de Harlay

The president of the Law Courts, Achille de Harlay, built a series of identical stone and brick houses around the newly created square.

Most were demolished in 1874 to create the Vestibule de Harlay, a new entrance to the Law Courts.

The Quai de l’Horloge (north side) was created in 1611 and extended in 1736 and 1836.

A fire destroyed the Palais de Justice’s eastern facade in 1776.

Rebuilt in 1836, it boasts an unusual mix of Gothic and Corinthian architectural features.

Haussmann transformed the Palais de Justice

Baron Haussmann redefined the layout of the Ile de la Cité – and Palais de Justice – during his renovation of Paris in the 1850’s.

Palais de Justice - Gate on Cour du Mai
Wrought-iron gate leading into Cour du Mai

He pulled down the medieval buildings that flanked the Palais de Justice and destroyed the gardens to build additional law courts.

He demolished also the old Chapelle Saint-Michel that stood in the courtyard of the Sainte-Chapelle.

The jail he built along the Quai des Orfêvres was decommissioned in 1914. 

The buildings were converted in 1955 to house the headquarters of the Judicial Police or P.J.

A labyrinth of underground corridors today connects the judges’ chambers and the courts to the P.J.

The First Civil Court (St.Louis’ former private apartments) burned during the Paris Commune of 1871. It was fortunately restored, and boasts a superb 15th century ceiling.

 Vestiges of the medieval palace

As a result, the Hall of the Men-at-Arms, Guardroom, the ground-floor of Cuisines Saint-Louis, the towers, and the Sainte-Chapelle are all that is left of the original medieval royal palace.

Directions: 1st District
Metro station: Cité on Line 4
Coordinates: Lat 48.855551 – Long 2.345592

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