A couple of days ago, I wrote about visiting the gardens of the Élysée Palace in Paris. Another unusual place that is now open to visit is the palais Bourbon, home of the Assemblée Nationale, France’s parliament. Four guided tours are available every Saturday, for a maximum group of 50 per visit. Your tour will be led by a French-speaking employee of the Assemblée, but audio guides are available in English, German, and Spanish. Self-guided visits are available every weekday as well as Saturday. You need to reserve your visit in advance by calling 01.40. 63.56.00 or by e-mailing your request to email@example.com. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to see one of the particularly spirited question and answer sessions.
The palais Bourbon was built for Louise Françoise de Bourbon, the legitimated daughter of Louis XIV and his mistress (and probably his secret wife) Madame de Montespan. Construction started in 1722 finished six years later. It passed into the hands of the prince of Condé, who made it even larger. At the time of the Revolution, it was appropriated by the state and a semicircular chamber, known as the hémicycle was created to house political debate. The palais was returned to the prince during the Restoration of the monarchy, but he was required to lease it back to the Chamber of Deputies. The State officially became the owner in 1827. The new owner engaged an architect to redo the interior, including the construction of a new hemicycle, the same one you will see on your visit, as well as a magnificent library, decorated by Delacroix. It has remained substantially unchanged since then, but for minor modifications.
The façade that looks like a Greek Temple on the opposite bank of the Seine from la Place de la Concorde is hard to miss. You should show up fifteen minutes prior to your appointment with photo identification for the inevitable security checks. If you want to try your luck without a reservation, you may simply show up and see if there is a spot available. All the visits are free of charge. Go to 33 Quai d’Orsay, and be properly dressed because une tenue correcte est exigée (oon tenoo koreckt et ex-ee-zsay). While the correct form of dress that is required is never specified, you’ll see this phrase other places in France – casinos, nightclubs, and cinemas are some of the usual places. Basically, dress as though you were going to a reasonably nice restaurant, and you’ll be fine.
- Journées Européennes du Patrimoine 2012 (maximebf.com)