The Lost Palace of the Tuileries

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The Lost Palace of the Tuileries
Imagine Paris in the 3rd century B.C. as a fortified village originally located on the Île de la Cité, between the left and right banks of the Seine River. The village, inhabited by the Celtic tribe known as the Parisii, was conquered by the Romans in A.D. 52. Roman Paris, then known as Lutetia, was not a particularly important village. It had a population of less than 10,000 and existed primarily on the left bank, rive gauche. The right bank, rive droite, was almost uninhabitable due to the vast marshes which extended from the present-day Place de la Bastille to the Marais. During the Middle Ages, Paris grew rapidly and became one of the largest cities in Europe under the vision of King Philippe-Auguste (1180-1223). The right bank marshes were drained, main thoroughfares were paved, the central market of Les Halles was constructed, the building of Notre Dame de Paris continued, and the Louvre Fortress was built. A new wall was erected around the city of Paris, enclosing 253 hectares on both sides of the Seine. This new wall was 2.5 meters thick in some places, protected by wide, deep ditches, and fortified with as many as 500 towers. Several elements of the wall’s structure were later incorporated into the subsequent wall of King Charles V (1338-1380). The Louvre Fortress, however, was not a royal residence. Instead, the Palais de la Cité was home to the Kings of France from the sixth until the 14th century. The site is now occupied by the Palais du Justice. Only a few vestiges of the vanished grandeur remain: the medieval lower hall of the Conciergerie (four towers along the Seine) and Sainte-Chapelle, the former chapel of the Palais. Between 1364 and 1380, Charles V undertook work on the Louvre Fortress, transforming it into a chateau. The old fortress became a comfortable residence consisting of apartments. A king’s library was set up, and this collection would, over the centuries, become the National Library of France. During the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453), when Paris was often under siege and held by the British, a dazzling variety of chateaux were transformed in the Loire Valley: Chambord, Amboise, Chenonceau, Fontainebleau, Chaumont, Tours, and Blois. Originally designed for defensive purposes, they were later renovated into the Italian Renaissance-inspired, revolving-door homes of the Royals, epitomized in the courts of King François I (1494-1547), and his son Henri II (1519-1559). Tuileries Palace. (C) Unknown author. Public Domain In 1533 Henri II was married Catherine de Medici (1519-1589) when they were both 14 years old. Catherine was the daughter of Lorenzo de’ Medici, and Madeleine de La Tour d’Auvergne. Within a month of her birth, illness killed both of her parents. Thereafter, she shunted between relatives and convents in Florence and Rome. Her uncle Pope Clement II eventually made a deal with François I for Catherine to marry his son Henri. When he inherited the French crown from his father, Catherine became Queen. Catherine had 10 children with Henri. In 1559, during a jousting match before their daughter Elizabeth’s wedding to Phillip II of Spain, Henri took to the saddle against a young nobleman.

Lead photo credit : The Tuileries Palace and the Louvre on the 1739 Turgot map of Paris, during the reign of Louis XV (C) Public Domain

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Sue Aran lives in the Gers department of southwest France. She is the owner of French Country Adventures, which provides private, personally-guided, small-group food & wine adventures into Gascony, the Pays Basque and Provence. She writes a monthly blog about her life in France and is a contributor to Bonjour Paris and France Today magazines.


  • Cynthia Kulikov
    2022-06-30 08:43:44
    Cynthia Kulikov
    Wonderful, in-depth article and fascinating information on the transformation of an area so central to Paris. Thank you so much!


  • Hazel Smith
    2021-05-20 07:58:10
    Hazel Smith
    This is so interesting. Besides the ancient tile factories, 16th C Ceramicist Bernard Pallissy - he of the delicate platters with eels and snakes - was commissioned to create a grotto for Catherine. His pottery kiln buried under the Tuileries, was unearthed in the late 1800s and buried again with some of his molds inside it.


    • Sue Aran
      2021-05-22 07:56:26
      Sue Aran
      Hello Hazel, T hanks for your note. I was going to write more about the grotto, but the article was long enough as is. I'm glad you are familiar with it, though - it's so fascinating. Regards, Sue