Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Concierge & Conciergerie

The term concierge is derived from the French term Comte des Cierges (keeper of the candles). In medieval times, the concierge was an officer of the King who was charged with executing justice, with the help of bailiffs. On the Île de la Cité, not far from Notre-Dame, a building known as the Conciergerie (part of the Palais de Justice) stands on a site that has been used as royal palace, parliament building and a prison. It was the home of the Revolutionary Tribunal, which sent 2,600 prisoners to the guillotine during the Reign of Terror. The three towers with conical tops in the center-right of the photo are survivors from medieval times. Much of this structure is still used today by the law courts, although portions are open to the public. Queen Marie Antoinette was imprisoned here prior to her execution, and her holding cell may be visited.

The bridge leading from the Conciergerie to the Right Bank owes its name, Pont au Change, to the goldsmiths and money changers who installed their shops on the bridge in the 12th century. The current structure, built in 1858, is also known as Pont Napoleon III, after the imperial “N” carved between the arches, illuminated in the center of the photograph.

In modern times the term took on a different meaning. Located on the ground floor at a building’s entrance was the small apartment of the concierge, who took care of the property, distributed mail, took out the trash and monitored who went in and out. In earlier decades there was almost no Parisian building without a live-in concierge, but now they are considered too expensive and have been mostly replaced by part-time door staff.

This photo by Eric Tenin shows the entrance to a concierge apartment located on Rue des Saint-Pères in the St-Germain neighborhood.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Marie Antoinette's holding cell has been turned into a chapel and a replica of her cell has been set up for viewing.