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The Palais-Royal is a palace and garden north of the Louvre in the Ier arrondissement of Paris. Opposite the north wing of the Louvre, its famous forecourt (cour d'honneur) screened with columns (since 1986 containing Daniel Buren's site-specific artpiece) faces the Place du Palais-Royal, which was much enlarged by Baron Haussmann after the Rue de Rivoli was built for Napoleon.
Never for long a royal palace, despite the misleading name, it was the home of Richelieu, begun in 1629 (its architect, Jacques Lemercier) and known as Palais Cardinal. Richelieu bequeathed it to the French Crown. After Louis XIII died, it housed the Queen-Mother Anne of Austria, and Cardinal Mazarin and the young Louis XIV. Later the Palais-Royal became the Paris seat of the dukes of Orleans, the cadet branch of the ruling House of Bourbon, beginning with Louis XIV's brother Philippe.
During the minority of Louis XV, the regent of France was Philip_II,_Duke_of_Orléans, ruling from the Palais-Royal (See Régence.) His great-grandson, Louis Philip II, Duke of Orléans, who would become known known as "Philippe-Egalité" during the more radical phase of the Revolution, made himself popular in Paris when he opened the gardens of the Palais-Royal to all Parisians and employed the neoclassical architect Victor Louis to rebuild the structures around the palace gardens, which had been the irregular backs of houses that faced the surrounding streets, and to enclose the gardens with regular colonnades (above, right) that were lined with smart shops (in one of which Charlotte Corday bought the knife she used to stab Jean Marat). Along the galeries ladies of the night lingered, and smart gambling casinos were lodged in second-floor quarters. There was a theatre at each end of the galleries; the larger one has been the seat of the Comédie-Française, the state theatre company, since Napoleon's reign. The very first theatre in the Palais-Royal was originally built by Lemercier for Cardinal Richelieu in 1641 (?). Under Louis XIV, the theater hosted plays by Molière, from 1660 to Molière's death in 1673, followed by the Opera under the direction of Jean-Baptiste Lully.
From the 1780s to 1837 the Palais Royal was once again the centre of Parisian political and social intrigue and the site of the most popular cafés. The historic restaurant "Le Grand Vefour" is still there. In 1786 a noon cannon was set up by a philosophical amateur, set on the prime meridian of Paris, in which the sun's noon rays, passing through a lens, lit the cannon's fuse. The noon cannon is still fired at the Palais-Royal, though most of the ladies for sale have disappered, those who inspired the Abbé Delille's lines;
- "Dans ce jardin on ne rencontre
- Ni champs, ni pres, ni bois, ni fleurs.
- Et si l'on y deregle ses moeurs,
- Au moins on y regle sa montre."
("In this garden one encounters neither fields nor woods nor flowers. And, if one upsets one's morality, at least one may re-set one's watch.")
On July 12, 1789 a young firebrand, Camille Desmoulins, leapt on a café table an annouced to the crowd that Necker had been dismissed. "This dismissal," he cried, "is the St. Bartholome's tocsin of the patriots." Drawing two pistols from under his coat, he declared that he would not be taken alive. "Aux armes!" He descended amid the embraces of the crowd, and his cry "To arms!" resounded on all sides. Two days later, the Bastille was taken.
After the Restoration of the Bourbons, at the Palais-Royal the young Alexandre Dumas obtained employment in the office of the powerful duc d'Orléans. In the Revolution of 1848, the Paris mob trashed and looted the Palais-Royal.
Today it houses the Conseil d'État, the Constitutional Council, and the Ministry of Culture. At the rear of the garden was the Bibliothèque Nationale, the national library of deposit, with a collection of more than 6,000,000 books, documents, maps, and prints; while the library retains the use of the buildings, most of the collections have been moved to more modern settings elsewhere.
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