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  • Writer's pictureCharlotte Alcock

A Brief History of the Grand Palais in Paris

What is the Grand Palais?

The Grand Palais des Champs-Élysées (Great Palace in English) is a beaux-Arts style exhibition hall originally built for the 1900 Paris Exposition that remains one of Paris’ largest and most prestigious places for events.

Grand Palais in Paris

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Grand Palais History

International exhibitions, or World’s Fairs as they were known, were commonplace in 19th-century Europe. They acted as platforms to encourage innovation in business, industry and the arts. Every ten years or so, leading innovators from around the globe would gather to display their cutting-edge technological advances, which included everything from the telephone to the world’s first public toilets.

In 1900, Paris held the Exposition Universelle, the apotheosis of industrial endeavour set in a cluster of iron and glass buildings that were lit by electricity. It had become common for host cities to build impressive and daring structures to host their World’s Fair; sadly these were mostly pulled down following the exhibition. The magnificent Grand Palais was one such structure – luckily, however, it was allowed to remain standing and today continues to be one of the most visited landmarks in Paris.

It’s hard to miss this majestic building, embodying the Belle Époque with its Beaux-Arts style architecture and immense glass ceiling. The architectural design was confirmed following a competition launched in 1894. It was decided that rather than choosing a single design, there would be numerous winners who would together create a collaborative meld of their combined entries.

The winning architects – Henri Deglane, Albert Louvet, and Albert Thomas – were thus chosen to lead the project. Each was assigned a different portion of the building on which to work. The final prizewinner, Charles Girault, was then selected to oversee the entire project. With the help of over 1,500 workers, it took three years to construct the Grand Palais.

In order to make sure the palace was built in time for the World’s Fair, they used revolutionary new construction techniques, such as rail and gantry cranes and steam engines. Amazingly, the architects used more steel for the framework of the building than was required for the Eiffel Tower. The plan for the glass roof was inspired by London’s temporary Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, the venue of the first World’s Fair in 1851, and was designed to provide diffuse natural light for the large exhibition space below.

After the completion of the Grand Palais for the World’s Fair, the space continued to be used for exhibitions, hosting large-scale expositions of products ranging from automobiles to aeroplanes, and even household appliances. Today, it still remains one of Paris’s largest and most prestigious places for events, staging exhibitions, performances, concerts and renowned fashion shows.

The Grand Palais has also had other prominent roles in French history, aside from playing host to cultural events. During the First World War, the building was used as a military hospital, while in the Second World War it was occupied by the Nazis and was used as both a truck depot and a space for Nazi propaganda exhibitions.

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