Once a place of pleasure and leisure, today the Palais Royal is home to an austere institution – the Council of State. Discovering the Palais-Royal, reveals a monument that is home to both leisure and state bureaucracy, between classicism and contemporary art, is a discovery of paradoxes and charms.
Once called the Palais-Cardinal, in honor of the Cardinal Richelieu, who initiated its construction, the Palais-Royal acquired its current name during the regency of Anne of Austria, when it was inhabited by a young Louis the 14th. The king then bestowed it upon his brother, the Duke of Orleans. It remained the Palais-Royal or royal palace until 1848, when the monarchy was overthrown once and for all.
The Palais-Royal has seen many changes: fire, reconstruction, renovation… As a witness to the Revolution, the uprisings of the 19th century and the Commune of Paris in 1871, the Palais-Royal has had many different purposes throughout its history!
Perhaps the most striking was on the order of the Duke Philippe D’Orleans. In order to make a bit of extra spending money, he had buildings built in the galleries surrounding the palace gardens, so that he could rent out the commercial spaces on the ground floor. Cafés, restaurants, game rooms and bordellos soon opened and flourished here, all of which were closed in 1836 by king Louis-Philippe.
To begin your visit of the Palais-Royal, use the metro exit at Palais Royal-Musée du Louvre, which will let you off at place Colette. A work by the artist Jean-Michel Othoniel will greet you as soon as you surface, the kiosque des noctambules. You’re facing the Comédie Française, the home of classic French theater. If you come an hour before the beginning of a show, you may be able to take advantage of discounted tickets.
Pass under the archways near the theater to access the courtyard, and you might be surprised at what you find: the Buren columns, a contemporary art display that has long been controversial in such a traditional and historical space. Next, explore the galleries that surround the garden, where venerable boutiques coexist with more recent designer shops. Take a seat underneath the linden trees to take in your surroundings. Your discovery of Palais-Royal can finish with a meal at the Grand Véfour, one of Paris’s best restaurants, which will attract you as much with its menu as with its refined décor.
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