Hotel de Ville

Hotel de Ville (31)

Right in the heart of Paris, just a few metres from the Pompidou Centre, between Rue Rivoli and the Seine is the building of the City Council, called “Hotel de Ville” in French.

Paris in the Middle Ages is unthinkable without the presence of the town hall and the public square where it was placed. Since then, the entire history of Paris has passed through here to a greater or lesser extent. Initially, the square was nothing more than a piece of stony ground. Its rise began in 1141. This was when the traders that went up and down the Seine decided to build a port. The port on Cité island was becoming overcrowded and the new port would alleviate the traffic. Coal, wine, wheat, wood and other raw materials began to be unloaded here also. 

These traders of the Seine were known as the “water salesmen”. The king gave them great power, when in 1170 he awarded them the trade monopoly. At that time, nearly all goods reached the city by boat along the river.

Let’s now jump in time to almost a hundred years later, 1246 to be precise, when Louis IX created the first municipality. Within the municipality the figure known as the “Prévôt des Marchands”, or provost, was appointed. This figure was in charge of trade and his role was to represent the traders before the king. The traders themselves chose the Provost. For a hundred years the traders’ meetings took place very close to the Abbey of Saint Genevieve. 

As the power of the traders grew, so it became necessary to have a headquarters for the municipal authorities. The Provost Etienne Marcel bought a building for this use in 1357. The Gothic construction he bought was known as the “house of pillars”. Its exact position was in the Place de Greve. The acquisition of this building was also very symbolic. The municipal authorities had increasingly more weight against the power of the king, at that time Charles V.

The small Place de Greve was a festival from that time on. It was always lively. When there was no festival being held, a revolt broke out, and when there was no revolt, the ground was painted in blood with a good execution. Without television, the masses had to do with thrashings, some hanging, drawing and quartering or burnings at the stake, among other refined entertainments. In the times of the revolution, the Place de Greve had the dubious honour of being the square where the guillotine was used for the first time. The spectacle, which did not take long in becoming a regular event was rather disappointing for the Parisians. The public enjoyed their executions more if they were slower and with more suffering.

Under the government of Francois I, in the 16th century, Gothic gave way to Renaissance and the house of pillars was replaced by a building in the new style. According to the design of the Italian architect Boccador, the construction was carried out between 1533 and 1628. Years later, under the government of Louis-Philippe, the palace was remodelled, enlarged and decorated. The original façade was respected, however.

The republican supporters of the II and III Republics found refuge in this building after the fall of Louis-Philippe and Napoleon III. The fall of the latter meant represented the most tragic moment for the City Council. A group of revolutionary Parisians invaded the building and reduced it to ashes on the 28th of March 1871. Along with the palace they also burnt all the municipal archives.

It was during the III Republic when the palace was rebuilt just as it had been. If you look at the façade you will see that in its numerous niches and pillars are represented more than 100 figures relating to the history of the city. There are also 30 French cities represented in statues. The inside wanted to reflect the luxury that reigned in the period of its reconstruction. If you look carefully, you will be able to see its gold details, its rich marbles and its extremely high quality woods.

The City Council runs the city from here. Sessions are open and the public can attend.

We recommend you take a stroll around at night when the fountains are illuminated.

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