Place des Victoires & Jardins du Palais Royal
1st & 2nd Arrondissements
M° Palais-Royal, Etienne Marcel
Begin at M° Etienne Marcel. Try and visit the recently re-opened Tour de Jean-Sans-Peur (20 Rue Etienne-Marcel), the tower where the Duke of Burgundy hid in 1407 after sparking off a war with the Armagnacs (he was the one who arranged for the assassination of the King’s brother, Louis d’Orléans). Continue along the upscale shopping street Rue Etienne-Marcel to the Place des Victoires, dominated by a statue of the Sun King Louis XIV on horseback. Turn right down the small Rue Vide Gousset to Notre-Dame-des-Victoires Basilica (Place des Petits-Pères), a popular pilgrimage site with over 40,000 ex-voto offerings dedicated the Virgin on the walls. The basilica also has seven paintings by Van Loo.
Follow the Rue des Petits-Pères to the Rue des Petits-Champs. Immediately on the right is the entrance to one of the city’s most beautiful covered passages, the Galerie Vivienne, with its mosaic tiled floor and glass-domed rotunda. It connects at the back to the equally beautiful Galerie Colbert (now housing university classrooms, no public entry).
The Passages The city’s covered passages were built in the early 1800s as pedestrian shopping galleries offering protection from the rain and dangerous carriage wheels (there were no sidewalks yet). Over 140 of these refined passages were originally built, but today only a few dozen remain, primarily in the 2nd and 9th Arrondissements.
Exit the passageways onto the Rue Vivienne, behind the 16th-century Bibliothèque Richelieu (entrance at 58 Rue de Richelieu). This ancient library houses the National Library’s specialized collections of prints and photographs, manuscripts, maps, medals and sheet music. It’s not really possible to just wander around without a library card.
Cross back over the Rue des Petits-Champs to the Rue de Beaujolais, and pass through the gates of the Jardins du Palais Royal. Completely cut off from the outside world, this peaceful formal garden is bordered on three sides by a series of arcades with unique shops selling antiques, art, vintage fashions and upscale fashion. Peek inside the windows of the Grand Véfour (on the right when entering the gardens), a historic restaurant whose décor dates back to the pre-Revolution Ancien Régime. Just beyond is the Théâtre du Palais-Royal (entrance at 38, rue de Montpensier), opened in 1784. Its restaurant overlooks the gardens.
The Palais Royal was originally built in 1642 for Richelieu, and then passed around the Royal family for a few generations (Louis XIV spent his childhood here) until it deteriorated into a gambling hall and place of ill-repute. After being burned down by the Paris Commune, it was restored and taken over in 1875 by the current residents, the Ministère des Affaires Culturelles and the Conseil d’Etat (the highest level of the French legal system, visits not allowed). Be prepared for a visual shock upon entering the main courtyard, where a series of black and white striped columns of differing heights were installed by the artist Daniel Buren in 1980. Just outside to the right of the gates is the theatre where Molière died on stage during a performance in 1673. In 1799 it became the permanent home of the national theatre troupe La Comédie-Française, created by Louis XIV in 1680.
Métro Art The entrance to the Métro Palais-Royal on Place Colette was transformed (in 2000) into the Kiosque des Noctambules, a whimsical cage of colored glass beads by the French artist Jean-Michel Othoniel.
The Place du Palais Royal is a popular place for freestyle skaters and street performers (if the recent trend of imitating a statue can be considered a performance). On the left is the entrance to the Louvre des Antiquaires, a sort of luxury shopping mall which brings together 250 professional art and antique dealers.