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The history of the Île de la Cité is fascinating. Inhabited since before Roman times, it was in the 6th century that the first King of France, named Clovis and founder of the Merovingian dynasty, decided to take up his royal residence in this area.
The Palais de la Cité was the very first royal Parisian palace and was one of the most impressive palaces of the Middle Ages. Five centuries after Clovis, the Capetian King Hugh Capet decided to set up his council and government within the Palais de la Cité, making it a royal seat of France. The structure that we know today as the Conciergerie dates back to the year 1200, when the building itself was known as the Palais de la Cité.
During the first half of the 12th century, King Louis VI, the Fat, constructed a tower in the residence named the Grosse Tour (the Big Tower). His son, Louis VII, the Young, continued work on the site. It was during the reign of Louis VII that goldsmiths and jewellery boutiques became common on the Pont au Change bridge. In 1163, construction of the Notre Dame Cathedral began.
Under Louis IX, commonly known as Saint-Louis, the palace grew quickly. The king purchased holy relics from Baldwin II in Constantinople, demolished the Chapelle Saint-Nicolas, and built the Sainte Chapelle to house the relics between 1242 and 1248 as a flamboyant Gothic church in the heart of the palace. Saint-Louis also built the Tour des Réformateurs (the Reformers’ Tower), which served for a time as a torture location. However, the torture was later ceased and the tower was renamed the Tour Bonbec.
When King Charles V decided to move his residence to the Louvre Palace, the Conciergerie served as an administrative hub, which included the chancellery and the French Parliament. Soon, part of the building was turned into the first Parisian prison, and Charles V renamed the building La Conciergerie.
In 1792, after the fall of the monarchy during the French Revolution, the building began to be transformed into a prison for political and common criminals. During the two years that followed, more than 2700 people were sentenced to death, and lived their last moments at the Conciergerie.