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  • Writer's pictureTer Hollmann

A Brief History of the Palais de l’Élysée in Paris

What is the Palais de l’Élysée?

The Palais de l’Élysée, or Élysée Palace in English, is an imposing 18th-century town house in Paris and is the official residence of the French President.

Palais de l’Élysée

Palais de l’Élysée History

Since 1873, and the early years of France’s Third Republic, this heavily guarded mansion has been the official residence of the nation’s President. Considered a fine example of the French Classical style, the building started life in the early 18th century as the Hôtel d'Évreux, a lavish aristocratic palace greatly admired across the city. So much so, in fact, that it was purchased in 1753 by King Louis XV for his mistress, Madame de Pompadour: on its gates the king’s critics and opponents hung anonymous signs that read ‘Home of the King’s whore’.

The Duchess of Bourbon bought the mansion in the late 18th century for the princely sum of 1.3 million livres, equivalent to about $10 million today, and gave it the name Élysée. When the revolution began, she fled the country and the palace was confiscated. It was leased out and became a gambling den, its formal gardens repurposed for eating, drinking and dancing. At the turn of the century, the building was sold to Napoleon who (with a certain lack of self-deprecation) renamed the mansion Élysée-Napoleon. Sadly for him, however, it was here that he signed papers for his own abdication on 22nd June 1815. The property was then returned to the Duchess, who promptly sold it to Louis XVIII a year later.

When Napoleon III became emperor, he moved his official residence to the Tuileries Palace. Yet he continued to use the Palais de l’Élysée as a convenient rendezvous for his mistresses, visiting them by means of a secret underground passageway, which has since been demolished.

From 1959 to 1969, Charles De Gaulle occupied the building as the first President of the Fifth Republic, under whose constitutional system France continues to exist today. De Gaulle was said to be upset at the lack of privacy in the building: ‘I do not like the idea,’ he reportedly said, ‘of meeting kings walking around my corridors in their pajamas’. To remedy this, he oversaw the purchase of the Hôtel de Marigny next door so that foreign dignitaries could be accommodated separately.

As the Palais de l’Élysée is not open to the public except on European Heritage Days, it is not easy to get a look inside this well-guarded building, but if you can there are some wonderful delights including a lavish ballroom decked with enormous chandeliers, exquisite, gilded meeting rooms, and beautiful gardens.

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