Like the city itself, the Paris City Hall has a long and tumultuous history. Occupying this same exact spot through fires, royals, and riots, the Hôtel de Ville embodies the motto of Paris, “Fluctuat nec mergitur,” tossed by the waves, but does not sink. A beautiful example of Renaissance architecture right in the heart of Paris, the town hall has stood the test of time and remains a gathering place for Parisians today. The Paris City Hall dates back to 1357 when merchant provost Etienne Marcel acquired “La Maison aux Piliers,” the House of Pillars, in the name of the municipality. When the building fell into ruins in the 16th century, King François I replaced the humble city hall with a beautiful Renaissance-style palace designed by Italian architect Boccador.
After its completion in 1628, the Hôtel de Ville remained mostly untouched for nearly 200 years. It survived well past the French Revolution despite being the rallying point of rioters, insurgents, and revolutionaries, but the building was partially destroyed by a fire in 1871 during the bloody Paris Commune. Reconstruction started just two years later but took nearly 20 years to complete. While the exterior was rebuilt to be identical to the former building, the interior was modernized.
Although the town hall is no longer open to the public, with the exception of occasional temporary exhibits, admiring the building from the outside is enough to give you a strange and moving sense of glimpsing into history. The square just in front of the Hôtel de Ville is where Robespierre was shot and arrested – among many other significant moments in Paris’s past – now hosts a wide variety of events throughout the year. Home to sports fan zones and a music festival in summer and an ice rink and Christmas market in winter, there’s nearly always something happening here. And you couldn’t ask for a more beautiful backdrop – it’s particularly gorgeous at night!
Urbansider Tip: Like most monuments in Paris, the Hôtel de Ville is open to the public during the annual European Heritage Days which traditionally take place the third weekend in September. There are often long lines, however, so plan accordingly!