Just next to the Palais de Justice, you’ll find the Conciergerie, one of the last two vestiges of the medieval Palais de la Cité along with the nearby Sainte-Chapelle. This wonderful piece of architecture from the Middle Ages is best known for the formidable and frightening prison it became during the darkest hours of the French Revolution.Between 1793 and 1795 (a period called La Terreur, or “The Reign of Terror”, by historians), more than 4,000 people, accused of threatening the newly-formed Republic, were judged and incarcerated there. The prisoners’ conditions depended on their financial resources, the poorest sleeping on straw in damp, shared cells, while others were afforded relative comfort, for a price. Marie-Antoinette was most certainly its most famous prisoner, imprisoned here before being put to the guillotine in 1793.
You can even visit her cell today. Opt for the Histopad during your tour of the Conciergerie to go back in time and follow along with the last days of the French queen. Or simply appreciate the architecture of the remarkable Salle des Gens d’Armes, a guardroom, that is the largest remaining medieval space in Europe.
Before or after your visit, head to the Northeast corner of the Conciergerie, right along the Seine. Look up and you’ll see an ornate horloge, a gilded public clock that’s been keeping time for Parisians since the 14th century.
Urbansider tip: Purchase the combined Conciergerie + Sainte-Chapelle ticket online to visit both monuments and save time and money.