Located on the west side of the Île de la Cité, the Conciergerie Royal palace (the Palais de la Cité) at first and later a prison, the Conciergerie played a dark role in the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror. The remarkable site was chosen by Phillippe le Bel (Philip the Fair) in the early 14th century so that he could build a palace that would be a sign of his wealth and stature.
In his peak of success – the Middle Ages – the palace was considered one of the finest in the world.
The palaces of Louvre and Vincennes were selected by Charles V and the Capetian Kings to be “The conciergierie” by the end of the same century. It was chosen over the Palais de la Cité and later used for the kingdom’s organizational offices. A Concierge is responsible for the maintenance of the palace. He is assigned with legal and police power in the municipality.
The palace had been converted to a prison for both common and political criminals in 1391. Wealthy prisoners were given the best space and accommodations in the former palace while irrelevant thieves were made to sleep in dark, rodent-infested rooms.
There are a few residue of the Conciergerie remains from the Middle Ages. There is the Silver Tower, which apparently the house of the royal treasury. The Caesar Tower, named after the Roman emperors and the Bonbec Tower, which housed a torture chamber.
The Conciergerie became prominent during the French Revolution which took part on 1789-1799. It was the most violent era in French history where convicts were detained at the Conciergerie before taken to the guillotine to be executed. The Revolutionary Tribunal, a court system to test opponents of the French Revolution, was also located in Conciergerie.
The Conciergerie continued to be used for what the French considered the most significant prisoners, such as Napoleon III. Though it’s difficult to tell given its aged appearance, general rebuilding and restoration took place in the mid-19th century, including the renovation of Marie Antoinette’s cell to a chapel. The building was decommissioned for official use in 1914. And later, it was opened to the public as a national historic monument. Today, it remains a popular tourist attraction though access to most of the building is severely limited.