It is said that the Parisians never even give it a glance, yet tourists do not fail to pose in front of it to be photographed. I am speaking of Paris’s oldest clock: erected in 1370 and believe me at 643 years of age it still keeps time. And chimes beautifully on the hour. […]


Paris's oldest clock ...after latest restoration

Paris’s oldest clock …after latest restoration

It is said that the Parisians never even give it a glance, yet tourists do not fail to pose in front of it to be photographed.

I am speaking of Paris’s oldest clock: erected in 1370 and believe me at 643 years of age it still keeps time. And chimes beautifully on the hour.

The clock on the north-east corner of the façade of the Palais de Justice building on Boulevard du Palais on the Ile de la Cité, one of the two islands on the River Seine in central Paris, was an idea of John the Good  – Jean le Bon, King of France from 1350 to his death in 1364 in London at the age of 45. He had surrendered willingly to the English enemy who was keeping his son and Dauphin (heir) hostage until he gave himself up.  Apart from the clock John the Good also created the Franc, but that is another story.

Documents of the time tell us that the purpose of the clock was so that the inhabitants of Paris would be able to regular their affairs day and night.

The clock has in the past 643 years undergone several restorations. The first was in 1418 and the one after that was in 1472. In 1585, sculptor Germain Pilon added the two sculptures on each side of the clock. One represents Justice and the other Law. In 1849 another restoration was undertaken because of damage done to it during the Revolution. For example the two sculptures had been ripped down and had to be replaced.  It was also during this restoration that the time-keeping mechanism was replaced: this is the one which still keeps time today after 164 years.

The newest restoration was last year (2012) and finished just before the summer tourists arrived.  Therefore, today, it is beautifully blue and gilded, the long arm of the clock representing an arrow and the shorter with a fleur de lys at its tip.

Oldest clock in Paris (before cleaning)

The clock’s restoration was part of a restoration of the Palais de Justice building which comprises the Sainte-Chapelle chapel and the Conciergerie. The latter is where Marie Antoinette was imprisoned and from where she was taken, standing on a cart, to be guillotined on what is today Place de la Concorde.

The Conciergerie ... after current restoration

The Conciergerie … after current restoration

The restoration of the building which took several years and millions of Euros has also been completed.

Once this was where France’s monarchs lived. The first French King to have done so was Clovis in the 6th century.

The royal palace was then known as the Palais de la Cité.  The last French King to have lived there was Charles V, son of John the Good, and who is now known as Charles the Wise. He moved from it to the nearby Louvre: that was in 1358. The Louvre would also be replaced and by the Palace of Versailles because it was cold and drafty.

In 1391 a wing of the palace was turned into a prison while another part of the building became the seat of Paris’s parlement.  The prison remained until the start of the First World War in 1914 when it was declared an historical monument.  Marie Antoinette was its most famous prisoner, but not, alas, the only famous one.  Another was Robespierre.

I quote now from the official brochure supplied by the Centre des Monuments Nationaux when visiting the Conciergerie:

The Conciergerie had a reputation for being the toughest of all prisons. During the Reign of Terror its cells accommodated several hundred prisoners kept in terribly unhealthy and crowded conditions. On the eve of their court appearance, prisoners were notified that their trial was to begin and of the charges brought against them by the ‘evening journal’ or bill of indictment. Once the verdict had been given, prisoners sentenced to death were allowed to enjoy a final feast.

Prisoners were guillotined every day by Monsieur de Paris, as all executioners were called and so up to the last execution in France in 1977.

You will see Marie Antoinette’s cell, her chapel, the women’s courtyard and several other cells.

Marie-Antoinette in her cell

Marie-Antoinette in her cell

You may associate the name ‘concierge’ with the information desk in a five-star hotel or the old lady who put out the bins and distributed the mail in a Paris apartment building, but the name derives from the Latin conservius or conservus which means fellow slave. The French corruption of the Latin – concierge – was therefore the title Charles V bestowed on the man he appointed keeper of the palace he had abandoned for the Louvre.

I highly recommend a visit to the Conciergerie. It is open daily from 9.30a.m. to 6p.m. and a ticket costs 8.50€ ($11 / £7) If you go before Monday February 25 you will be able to see the temporary exhibition  Rêve de Monuments of paintings of both real and imaginary castles and chapels.

You are allowed to take photos.

Conciergerie during latest renovation.

Conciergerie during latest renovation.


Conciergerie before latest renovation

Conciergerie before latest renovation




Marilyn Z. Tomlins

3 Responses

1-25-2013 at 16:43:44

A Henry V. Lewis left me this comment : Three things should be noted about the Sainte Chapelle. (1) It is a chapel, not a church ; therefore it consists (practically) of a choir alone, without nave or transepts. (2) It is the domestic chapel of the royal pal-ace. (3) It is, above all things, the shrine of the crown of thorns. These three points must be constantly borne in mind in examining the building.

Thank you Henry V. Lewis. I did not go into any details about the Sainte Chapelle as this article was about the Conciergerie and the Clock.

2-13-2013 at 15:22:05

While the inside is beautiful, the exterior is basically functional. The muscular buttresses hold up the stone roof, so the walls are essentially there to display stained glass. The lacy spire is neo-Gothic — added in the 19th century. Inside, the layout clearly shows an ancien régime approach to worship. The low-ceilinged basement was for staff and more common folks — worshipping under a sky filled with painted fleurs-de-lis, a symbol of the king. Royal Christians worshipped upstairs. The paint job, a 19th-century restoration, helps you imagine how grand this small painted, jeweled chapel was. (Imagine Notre-Dame painted like this….) Each capital is playfully carved with a different plant’s leaves.

12-29-2014 at 09:13:24

[…] the Conciergerie, Paris’s oldest clock: erected in […]

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