The Palais Royal and its garden (Paris)

The Palais Royal and its garden (Paris)

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Long closed to the public, the Palais-Royal built by Richelieu has now regained its former function as a place to walk and have fun. The Royal Palace Garden is at the center of a quadrilateral closed on all four sides: one side houses the Council of State, the Constitutional Council, the Comédie Française and the other three are galleries hosting the Ministry of Culture, fashion boutiques, furniture and antiques and cafes. President François Mitterrand made embellishments there, decorating the courtyard with columns by Buren (1985-1986) and movable spheres by Pol Bury (1985).

The Palais-Cardinal de Richelieu

In Gallo-Roman times, the location of the Royal Palace and the garden was north-west of Lutèce in the Rouvray forest. During the planting of trees in 1781, two rather impressive surface pools were discovered, which suggests that there may have been the first Parisian spa resort on this site. According to the medals found, it dates back to the 270s. In some places the depth was two meters below grade. Researchers believe its use ceased about a hundred years later.

Richelieu, who became a minister in 1624, wanted to get closer to the Louvre. He had a first residence built near the Charles V enclosure, then to enlarge it bought the neighboring land when this enclosure was demolished in 1633: the building took the name of the Cardinal Palace. The garden housed two large pools with water jets, statues, flower beds, and was surrounded by two paths of elm trees and a small wood. Before his death, Richelieu bequeathed his palace to King Louis XIII. Anne of Austria, now Regent, left the Louvre with her two children to live in this palace, which became the Royal Palace in October 1643.

Mazarin, in 1644, was staying in the Hôtel Tubeuf, the current National Library, and crossed the garden to reach the Queen's.

It was during this period that little Louis XIV almost drowned in the large pond in the garden. He had as his playmate, the daughter of a maid of the Queen's chambermaids, it was also with her that he played King and Queen in the palace kitchens. In this garden, Mazarin organized miniature hunts for the king, taught him to ride a horse and Louis began to wage war on a small fort. But the Fronde put an end to this happy period.

Transformations of the Royal Palace

The first transformations took place in 1730: the old elms were felled, the two basins grouped into one, with a jet of water. Under Louis XV, the garden open to the public saw the installation in the main alley of a bookseller's hut, the appearance of young ladies of petty virtue, the planting of the Cracow Tree around which gathered short story writers, strollers, idlers, as well as the installation of benches. Not far from there, Diderot strolled there regularly towards the end of the afternoon "whether the weather is fine, whether the weather is ugly, it is my habit to go around five in the evening to take a walk at the Palais Royal; it’s me that you always see alone, dreaming on the Argenson bench ”.

It is Philippe d´Orléans who will restore the palace and give it its current structure. He had about sixty pavilions built from 1781 to 1784 on three sides of the garden. These arcaded pavilions, designed by architect Victor Louis, are occupied on the ground floor by shops and galleries and upstairs by individuals. This architect also restores the buildings of the palace, in particular the opera, burnt down, which becomes the Théâtre-Français. During the Revolution, the palace, an active center of popular unrest, was acquired by the State in 1793. Then confiscated by the Bonaparte family, the palace became a monument of the State under the Restoration. Louis-Philippe restored it by replacing the wooden galleries with vast classical-style porticoes.

The garden of the Royal Palace

In the 18th century, the garden was reduced by about a third due to the construction of the surrounding streets. Despite this, it was to experience unparalleled activity and life, more intense than Place Royale: it was open until 11 p.m. in winter and 1 a.m. in summer. Soldiers, women in aprons as well as people in livery were prohibited there, only couples and beautiful ladies exhibited there, it is there that Bonaparte made his first conquest there in 1787.

The police being forbidden in this garden, the beginnings of the Revolution were born there, when Camille Desmoulins climbed on a table to call the people to raise their arms, the leaves torn from the trees serving as cockades and rallying signs. The galleries around the garden were the place of various encounters: intellectuals as well as girls, gambling dens, gambling circles, literary cabinets, restaurants that were to become famous.

Under Charles X (1824-1830), the garden was further modified and in 1836, it took on its present appearance when gambling houses disappeared. In the Belle Epoque, the garden finally welcomed all kinds of people: well-dressed families as well as proletarians.


Its alleys are lined with lime trees and red chestnut trees, there is a central basin decorated with water jets, flowered plots, a real haven of peace in the heart of Paris. In the center of the garden, marble statues such as the Snake Charmer and the Shepherd and the Goat invite you to dream.

In 1986, Daniel Buren installed his black and white marble columns at the entrance to the garden, in the main courtyard of the Royal Palace. The introduction of a work of contemporary art in a high place of French heritage in the heart of Paris will give rise to many controversies. The garden has also served since 1997 as a place for temporary sculpture exhibitions.

For further

- Knowledge of Old Paris - Jacques Hillairet. Rivages, April 2005.

- The Royal Palace (Lambert / Massounie). Itineraries, 2010.

- History of the Palais-Royal: The two trays, by Daniel Buren. Actes Sud, 2010.

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