Once a former royal palace and a prison during the French Revolution, the Conciergerie lies within close distance of Notre Dame Cathedral on the River Seine. Its charming façade is something of a fairytale, but hides the irony that it was at one time the most feared prison during the Reign of Terror.

More on that later…

The French pride themselves on their unique history, culture, and food, and what better way to experience all of these things and much more than on an educational student tour. Educational tours to the City of Light are extremely popular with student groups. As a teacher, you have the opportunity to bring the lessons you’re teaching in the classroom to life through a global setting. It’s been said you could spend a lifetime in Paris and never see or do it all, so while the top sights are quite impressive try seeing the lesser known places as well.

The Conciergerie was residence to the Kings of France. In the 6th century, Clovis, the first French king, established his royal residence on the Ile-de-la-Cité. Five centuries later, Hugues Capet formed his council in the Palais de la Cité thus making it the seat of royal power. During the following years, the Palace became a prestigious symbol of the monarchy. At the end of the 14th century, Charles V appointed a steward, or “concierge” (hence the name) someone with endowed legal powers, to run the Palace and prison.

Seeing as numerous prisoners of State were kept here and the wealth of history surrounding the building, the Conciergerie was listed as a historical monument in 1914. You and your students will walk the same medieval halls where the Royal Guard and numerous staff who worked for the King and his family walked. The floor is still at its 14th century level. You will immediately step down into the Hall of Men-at-Arms which was built in 1302 and is one of the finest examples in Europe of Gothic secular architecture. Continuing on, you will pass into the revolutionary halls.

After the fire of 1776, Louis XVI modernized the prison which was later used during the Revolution. Perhaps the most well-known prisoner to occupy these walls was none other than Marie-Antoinette. A chapel was built in 1815 on the exact spot where her prison cell stood. She was to be permanently guarded by two guardsmen at all times. Finishing your visit, you will pass through the Women’s Courtyard. Surrounded by two floors of prisoners’ cells, you can see the fountain where clothes were washed, stone tables at which prisoners ate, and the “Corner of the Twelve” or “of last goodbyes.” This is where condemned prisoners waited in groups of twelve for the cart that would carry them off to their execution site.

As I’ve mentioned, the Conciergerie was a major center of power during the French Revolution. In March 1793, the Revolutionary Tribunal took over. In July, Robespierre joined the Committee for Public Safety with a program based on virtue and terror. The “Law of Suspects” ordered the arrest of anyone presumed to be an enemy of the Revolution or who confessed to being so. Between 1793 and 1794, more than 2,700 people appeared before the tribunal’s public prosecutor, including Robespierre himself. Numerous people were guillotined each day until the Tribunal was dissolved in May of 1795.

Even though it had the reputation for being the toughest of all prisons, don’t forget the Conciergerie started as a magnificent royal palace. While on your educational tour, stop and take a minute to remind yourself of the historical importance of this truly mesmerizing building. That’s one of the benefits of traveling on a student tour. You can see thousands of history right before your eyes!

Until next time,

Kate.