Guard room in La Conciergerie de Paris

© RicardMN Photography

© RicardMN Photography

La Conciergerie is a former royal palace and prison in Paris, France, located on the west of the Île de la Cité (literally island of the city), near the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. It is part of the larger complex known as the Palais de Justice, which is still used for judicial purposes. Hundreds of prisoners during the French Revolution were taken from La Conciergerie to be executed on the guillotine at a number of locations around Paris.

The Conciergerie prison, also known as the “antechamber to the guillotine”, became the central penitentiary of a network of prisons throughout Paris, and was the final stop of over 2,700 people who were summarily executed by guillotine. The dank dungeons were a stark contrast to the beautiful architecture of the palace above. The quality of life of the prisoners was based mainly on their personal wealth, and the whims of the jailers who watched over them. The revolutionary period continued the prison’s tradition of interning prisoners based on wealth, where the wealthier prisoners could rent a bed for 27 livres 12 sous for the first month, then down to 22 livres 10 sous for the subsequent months. Even when the price was lowered to 15 livres, the commanders of the prison made a fortune: as the Terror escalated, a prisoner could pay for a bed and be executed a few days later, opening the bed for a new inmate who would pay in turn. One memoirist called the Conciergerie “the most lucrative furnished lodgings in Paris”. Only celebrity prisoners got cells to themselves. Most of the pistole inmates were stuffed into a single room which abutted a local hospital, making disease an inevitability. The cramped cells were infested with rats, and the stench of urine permeated every room.

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