Place de la Concorde has a storied history in Paris. It was built between 1757 and 1772 in honour of King Louis XV. However, it later found infamy as the primary location of public executions during the early years of the French Revolution. Thousands of people, including King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Robespierre, Danton, and Desmoulins, died in what was then called Place de la Révolution. It was renamed Place de la Concorde in 1795, and today, it is the largest public square in Paris. On the north side of the square, two palatial buildings with very impressive facades have stood watch over the centuries of history that have occurred in this square. The west side is home to Hôtel de Crillon, a five star luxury hotel. And on the east, you have the magnificent Hôtel de la Marine.
A Brand New Historic Site in Paris
Never heard of Hôtel de la Marine? Don’t worry. Not many people have. This is because it only opened to the public in 2021, making it one of the more recent historical sites in Paris. But the building itself dates back to the 18th century when it was built as part of what is known today as Place de la Concorde. The King’s architect, Ange-Jacques Gabriel, lined the north side of the new city square with two buildings, both sporting large scale facades of neoclassical columns. These facades were inspired by the nearby Louvre, and they created an impressive backdrop for what was named Place Louis XV at the time of its construction.
The building on the northwest side of the square was built to house members of the nobility, and the building on the northeast was used as the royal Garde-Meuble, meaning the royal depot. Possessions of the crown, including artwork, furniture, armour, fabrics, and decorations, were all stored in this building, as well as the Crown jewels. Understandably, the Garde-Meuble was one of the institutions that was quickly abolished during the early days of the French Revolution. The royal objects in its care were either sold or melted down, and the Crown jewels were stolen in 1792. The Garde-Meuble was eventually resurrected as the Mobilier National in the 19th century. However, this institution never returned to its former home on Place de la Concorde.
The Garde-Meuble Becomes Hôtel de la Marine
When King Louis XVI was forced to leave Versailles and return to Paris, all of the royal institutions went with him. The Royal Navy was installed in the recently vacated Garde-Meuble, and the building was renamed Hôtel de la Marine. Hôtel de la Marine proceeded to be the home of the French Navy right up until 2015, at which time France decided to consolidate all military headquarters into a single site in the 15e arrondissement. After 226 years at Place de la Concorde, the Navy had a new home in Paris. The government briefly considered renting out the now empty Hôtel de la Marine. Thankfully, however, it was decided to bring the building under the care of the Centre for National Monuments. The Hôtel de la Marine was finally going to be a public building.
A massive restoration project was undertaken between 2017 and 2021 to ready the building for its grand opening to the public. The rooms were fully restored to their 18th century design and appearance, including the former apartments of the Intendant of the Garde-Meuble, as well as the grand salons of the Navy. I had the good fortune of being invited on a private tour of Hôtel de la Marine shortly after it opened to the public in 2021, and my personal favourite room was the Salon of Diplomats. This room was used for meetings that required high levels of discretion, so naturally, there was a secret listening post behind one of the walls. Gotta love diplomacy!
An Old Building Made New to the Public
Today, Place de la Concorde is featured in countless movies, television shows, and artworks, with the Hôtel de la Marine often a steady presence in the background. And now, it’s finally open to the public after 247 years. I can assure you that this building was well worth the wait.
Laura Moore is a professional storyteller who loves history and the many stories that make Paris one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Join one of her signature tours to learn the story of a city.