Will Paris rebuild the Palais des Tuileries?
Could Paris's new 'grand projet' be the reconstruction of the last home of French kings? A new plan that could transform the capital's tourist and historic centre is based on exactly this suggestion.
The Rue de Rivoli view of the Tuileries gardens
Burned in the 1871 Commune uprising and demolished 11 years later, the Tuileries palace seemed destined to disappear into oblivion. Though it played a pivotal part in events from the Revolution to the fall of the second empire, few today could place it precisely on the map.
But earlier this year Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres set up an official committee to study the reconstruction idea, and a lobbying effort is under way to raise the necessary EUR 500 million from private industry and donations from benefactors.
An error of history
"President (Jacques) Chirac himself wrote to me saying he wants an official report before he makes a decision," said Maurice Druon, the 88-year-old historian and writer who is the committee's chairman.
"This is not some fantasy. It is very, very serious," he said. "All the reactions we are getting are favourable. It fits with the national mood."
"Many public buildings were destroyed in the Commune — like the Hôtel de Ville, part of the Louvre itself. They were all rebuilt except the Tuileries — despite a promise from the government of the day," said Alain Boumier, 68, a civil engineer and second empire enthusiast who is the plan's prime mover.
"We are trying to correct an error of history," he said.
First built in the 16th century then radically altered in the 17th, the Tuileries stood some 500 metres to the west of the Louvre, with which it was gradually connected over the years by the long galleries that today still run parallel to the river Seine.
There was a courtyard in the interior — the Cour du Carrousel — and on the other side the Tuileries gardens opened the perspective onto what was to become the Place de la Concorde and the Champs-Elysées.
The palace, which included a theatre and a long gallery for receptions, was mainly ignored by the royals until the dramatic events of 1789 when Louis XVI was forcibly brought back to Paris from Versailles.
Three years later it saw some the bloodiest events of the Revolution, when hundreds of the king's Swiss guards were massacred there during the fall of the monarchy.
The palace — renamed the Palais de la Nation — then became the seat of the revolutionary Convention through the Terror; after that it was the home of Napoleon, the kings that followed him, and finally the emperor Napoleon III whose reign ended in humiliation and war in 1870.
Picking up the tab
Members of the ministerial committee believe the palace can be rebuilt easily with private funds if the state leases the land as a concession. "This kind of money is gettable. It'll cost a quarter of what François Mitterrand spent renovating the Louvre, and the state won't pay a sou," said Druon, referring to the late president.
The building — more or less identical to the original from the outside — would include a museum, large spaces for conferences and prestige events and offices for the foreign ministry. The Cour du Carrousel would be used for "son et lumiere" (sound and light) and other displays.
But why would anyone take on such a mammoth task of historical recreation? Objectors may dismiss it as the pipedream of a handful of reactionaries, but for Druon the appeal is three-fold.
"First of all architecturally: the Louvre as it stands is a great gaping hole. It was made to be enclosed. Second, the Tuileries palace will give the French a sense of historic pride. This was the scene of all our grandeurs and all our horrors too.
"And third the reconstruction will give a huge boost to those arts and crafts in which France used to excel, but which are overlooked in this era of glass, steel and concrete," he said.
Druon's committee is to report on December 15 and they hope that within a few months the minister will issue a decree declaring the project to be of national interest, in which case it can begin in earnest.
In everyone's minds is that the end of Chirac's rule is fast approaching. He will almost certainly leave office in May. The moment, maybe, for a dramatic architectural bequest? Supporters of the Tuileries renascent dare to believe.
Subject: Living in France, Palais des Tuileries, Paris urban planning