Palais-Royal: Around and About Paris

Palais-Royal: Around and About Paris
So: you are going to Paris. Whether this is your first trip and you don’t know Paris at all, or whether this is your umpteenth trip and you think Paris holds no more secrets, be wary and listen to what Victor Hugo had to say about his native city, which he knew at least as well as any of his contemporaries did: “He who looks into the depths of Paris grows giddy.” I couldn’t agree more with Victor Hugo. This is precisely why this quotation heads my book. Don’t just rush to the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay when you come to Paris. Put on your walking shoes and go into the streets. I hope the excerpts from my books will entice you to do so and help you glimpse both its hidden beauty spots and its secret nooks and stories, which Paris only unveils to those who are adventurous and en terprising enough to seek them out. The following excerpt is taken from the chapter on the 1st arrondissement, in the first volume of Around and About Paris, and is part of the third walk. Guided historical walk at the Palais-Royal gardens Turn left on rue de Beaujolais and left again to the Galerie de Beaujolais, leading to the gardens of Palais-Royal. You will enter a world of exquisite tranquillity where time has come to a standstill, a sleepy arcaded enclosure, shut off from the noisy streets around and graced with a Venetian touch. Despite the playful children and the chatty diners of an outdoor restaurant, a quiet secluded atmosphere prevails. Even Daniel Buren‘s striped columns, which har with the surrounding architecture and stone, and draw here weekend crowds, do not awaken it from its provincial drowsiness, particularly on weekday mornings. And yet, between 1784 and 1830 this was the bustling centre of both intellectual and dissolute Paris, lined with cafés and restaurants as well as game-houses and brothels. The mecca of prostitution, to which whores and courtesans came from all over Paris “faire le Palais,” as the saying went. Witness Casanova, who rushed here on his arrival in Paris. When the palace was built for Richelieu it was known as le Palais-Cardinal. Richelieu bequeathed it to Louis XIII and after the latter’s death the royal family moved in. It was conveniently situated close to Mazarin‘s home on the neighbouring rue Neuve-des-Petits-Champs. To facilitate his rendezvous with Anne of Austria, a door was fitted into the wall which surrounded the palace. It proved handy in 1650, during the princely revolt of the Fronde, when the Queen and her two sons, the future Louis XIV and Philippe d’Orléans, escaped to Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Later Henrietta of France, the widow of Charles I of England, came to live here with her daughter, Henrietta of England, who would marry Philippe d’Orléans. She died in 1661 and Philippe d’Orléans married the princess Palatine, by whom he had one son, another Philippe Duc d’Orléans, who would become the celebrated Régent after the death of Louis XIV in 1715. He ruled over Paris till 1723, when Louis XV, aged 13, began to rule in effect. It was during the Regent’s light-hearted reign that the Palais-Royal became notorious for its “soupers,” veritable bacchanalia. His grandson Philippe, the Fifth Duc d’Orléans and father of the future King Louis-Philippe, was in deep debt when he took over the Palais-Royal. He therefore built the arcades and their shops which he rented out, turning the establishment into a profitable business. Gambling houses and brothels opened up too, to ensure substantial profits. The Duke’s new line of activities was not to the taste of Louis XVI: “Cousin,” he said disdainfully, “you have turned shop-keeper and no doubt we shall see you only on Sundays.” Philippe d’Orléans would have his revenge: in 1793, having sided with the Revolution, he became member of the Convention under the name of Philippe Egalité and voted for the death of his royal cousin (whom some claim he had hoped to replace). The guillotine, however, took charge of him too, only a few months later. The newly converted Palais-Royal was opened in 1784 to the satisfaction of all. Among its shops was a cutlery establishment at number 177, Galerie de Valois, which belonged to Monsieur Badin. Here on July 13, 1793 Charlotte Corday bought the knife with which she stabbed Marat in his bathtub the same day. But the Palais-Royal was also the intellectual centre of the capital, studded with cafés where such prominent figures as Diderot used to sup and where dangerous new ideas were in progress. Diderot’s fictitious, beggarly, parasitical, yet so worldly Neveu de Rameau tells us that the celebrated café La Régence (on the site of the present number 161, rue Saint-Honoré) was the mecca of chess players. On wet days, when he could not meditate on one of the benches in the garden, the musician Rameau’s nephew would step into La Régence and watch a good game of chess. The chessboards were rented by the hour and cost more at night when a candle had to be fixed on either side. “Paris is the place in the world, and the Café de la Régence the place in Paris where the game…

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