Elysee palace symbolises grandeur of presidency

15th May 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 15, 2007 (AFP) - The Elysee palace, where Nicolas Sarkozy starts work Wednesday as France's new president, has all the trappings of monarchy: a triumphal arch, guards with plumed helmets, manicured gardens and fawning servants.

PARIS, May 15, 2007 (AFP) - The Elysee palace, where Nicolas Sarkozy starts work Wednesday as France's new president, has all the trappings of monarchy: a triumphal arch, guards with plumed helmets, manicured gardens and fawning servants.

The 365-room Elysee, on the fashionable rue du faubourg Saint-Honore, will also be Sarkozy's official residence for the next five years, where he will be looked after by a personal staff of nearly 1,000 people.

The 18th-century palace, whose vast reception rooms are replete with Louis XV furniture and Gobelins tapestries, has a cinema, a four-star kitchen and a cellar containing thousands of bottles of fine wine.

Like the nearby Champs Elysees avenue, the palace is named after the Elysian fields of Greek mythology which were the final resting place for the souls of the heroic.

It also has the costs that go with regal living.

Officially, the palace's annual budget is 32 million euros. But a Socialist member of parliament who carried out his own audit says this is only a third of the real figure, because various government ministries are called upon to cover presidential costs.

The budget has soared by nearly 800 percent since Jacques Chirac took power in 1995, according to defeated Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal.

This prompted Royal, who was defeated by Sarkozy in the May 6 presidential vote, to warn that it was time to "end the monarchical drift."

She said if she got to move into the Elysee, in whose gardens the president hosts the annual July 14 Bastille Day party, she would dramatically down-scale the luxuries on offer there.

She did not get in, but the successful candidate Sarkozy, who has vowed that the presidency will be more transparent during his term, will likely be under pressure to keep costs down.       

Sarkozy's arrival will send a blast of modernity into the Elysee after 12 years of the Chiracs, whose bourgeois respectability sat well with the ornate decor.

A devout Catholic, Bernadette Chirac performed the role of "first lady" to perfection -- setting up her own charity for Paris hospitals, meeting dignitaries, but resolutely playing no part in her husband's political career.

But Cecilia Sarkozy, a fiercely independent former model and PR executive with whom the new president has had a passionate but troubled marriage, is unlikely to fit easily into the discreet role of first lady.

"I don't see myself as a first lady. It bores me. I prefer going round in combat trousers and cowboy boots," the elegant 49-year-old brunette has said.

If Elysee does not provide enough variety for the Sarkozys, they can always head off for a weekend in one of the president's several other official residences.

These include the 14th-century Rambouillet Chateau near Paris, the Hotel Marigny, a townhouse just down the road from the Elysee, and the Bregancon Fort on a tiny island in the Mediterranean.


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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