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Paris The Right Bank - Palais Royal


Photographers of all hues could easily get lost in the very photogenic Palais Royal and end up spending the day here, or even their entire holiday, looking for that perfect shot. Built originally in 1639 as the Palais Cardinal for Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642), it subsequently passed through a long line of royal hands, housing the young Louis XIV as well as the exiled wife and daughter of Charles I of England and several generations of the Ducs d’Orléans. In the late 1700s the impressive colonnades and 6-storey apartments were built around the surrounding gardens and the Palais Royal took on a life of its own as the hub of Parisian high society for the next 50 years. With over 140 stores, cafés, booths and titillating “entertainment” salons, the covered walkways offered an oasis of genteel and often pleasurable distraction away from the capital’s thronging streets. Slowly displaced in the 1850s and 60s by the arrival of Haussmann’s revitalized boulevards and their extensive network of covered Passages, the Palais Royal made a comeback in the 20th century with notable residents Colette and Jean Cocteau holding court here and regularly eating breakfast (either separately or often together) at the conveniently located Le Grand Véfour at the northern end of the gardens. The original palace today houses the French Conseil d’État (Council of State) as well as the French Ministry of Culture, and the impressive adjoining Salle Richelieu, built in 1790, is still home to France’s national theatre company, La Comédie Française, which moved to the venue in 1799 and is sometimes referred to as La Maison Molière. There is another theatre at the back of the gardens, Le Théatre du Palais Royal, originally conceived as a puppet theatre and dating back to 1784. But visitors today (with camera-phone at hand or not) will be primarily drawn in and enchanted by the endless geometric vistas created by the colonnades (almost reminiscent of Bernini at the Vatican) as well as Daniel Buren’s playful, mirroring columns in the courtyard entitled Les Deux Plateaux. And what about the gardens themselves with their magnificent purple magnolia trees in Spring set off by plentiful park benches that have seen the addition of cryptic quotations painted on them in white italics for philosopher-flaneurs to ponder away the hours? If you look closely enough, you will notice each quotation has a small brass plaque beside it describing the author and the work it came from, like the appropriately chosen line from local hero Cocteau towards the back of the gardens: “Un secret a toujours la forme d’une oreille”, which of course you probably knew already, since every secret has the shape of an ear, bien evidemment!

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