Conciergerie

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La Conciergerie (French pronunciation: [la kɔ̃sjɛʒəʁi]) is a former royal palace and prison in Paris, France, located on the west of the Île de la Cité, near the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. It is part of the larger complex known as the Palais de Justice, which is still used for judicial purposes. Hundreds of prisoners during the French Revolution were taken from La Conciergerie to be executed on the guillotine at a number of locations around Paris.

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The Middle Ages: Le Palais de la Cité

The Île de la Cité was occupied by the Romans during late antiquity. Later, the west part of the island was the site of a Merovingian palace; and from the 10th to the 14th centuries was the seat of the medieval Kings of France. Under Louis IX (Saint Louis) (1226–1270) and Philip IV (Philip the Fair) (1284–1314) the Merovingian palace was extended and more heavily fortified.

Louis IX added the remarkable Sainte-Chapelle and associated galleries, while Philippe IV created the towered facade on the river side and a large hall. Both are excellent examples of French religious and secular architecture of the period. The Sainte-Chapelle, built in the French royal style, was erected to house the crown of thorns brought back from the crusades, and to serve as royal chapel. The "Grande-Salle" (Great Hall) was one of the largest in Europe, and its lower story, known as "La salle des gens" survives: 64 m long, 27.5 m wide and 8.5 m high. It was used as a dining-room for the 2,000 staff who worked in the palace. It was heated with four large fireplaces and lit by many windows, now blocked up. It was also used for royal banquets and judicial proceedings. The neighboring Salle des Gardes was used as an antechamber to the Great Hall immediately above, where the king held his lit de justice (a session of parliament in the king's presence).

The early Valois kings continued to improve the palace in the 14th century, but Charles V abandoned the palace in 1358, moving across the river to the Louvre. The palace continued to serve an administrative function, and still included the chancellery and French Parliament. In 1391 the building was converted for use as a prison. Its prisoners were a mixture of common criminals and political prisoners. In common with other prisons of the time, the treatment of prisoners was very dependent on their wealth, status and connections. The very wealthy or influential usually got their own cells with a bed, desk and materials for reading and writing. Less well-off prisoners could afford to pay for simply furnished cells called pistoles, which would be equipped with a rough bed and perhaps a table. The poorest, known as the pailleux from the hay (paille) that they slept on, would be confined to dark, damp, vermin-infested cells called oubliettes (literally "forgotten places"). In keeping with the name, they were left to die in conditions that were ideal for the plague and other infectious diseaser which were rife in the insanitary conditions of the prison.

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