Église de la Madeleine – Napoleon & The Last Kings Of France

Église de la Madeleine owes its existence to France's last kings and to its first emperor — but few churches in Paris have had such a stormy history. When Place Louis XV (known today as Place de la Concorde) was built in 1755, a suitable monument was needed at the north end of Rue Royale — where there was a slight hill perfectly viewed from the place. Therefore, in 1764, under the auspices of Louis XV, an architect drew up plans based on the domed church of Les Invalides. But, that architect died in 1777.

The architect who took over, a student of the former, decided to start anew, and razed what had already been built, starting with an empty piece of land. The idea now was that the new church should resemble the Panthéon. The new work proceeded slowly so that by 1789 only the foundations had been completed — just in time for the French Revolution.

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La Madeleine – Back to Square One with Napoleon

La Madeleine Historic photo of Église de la Madeleine, 50 years after completion

The French Revolution — Revolters. Church-destroyers. Burning. Riots. Swimming Pools. Movie Stars…

Okay, we know we're wrong about that last part. But during the revolution most churches became warehouses or "Temples to Reason" or things like that. Worked stopped on the new church at the top of Rue Royale. Even after Napoleon Bonaparte came to power, the site sat dormant while various projects were considered. Use of the site was debated and a library and a market were suggested. But in 1806 Napoleon, by then emperor, decreed that a memorial to the Grand Army would be built on the site, modeled on Greek temples of antiquity.

So once again the site was cleared back down to earth and the new structure was begun. However, work was not completed while Napoleon reigned and it was Louis XVIII, the restoration monarch, who declared that the building would be completed and become a church dedicated to Mary Magdalene. In the tradition of the grand churches of Paris, it had taken nearly a century from initial planning to completion in 1842. (Even so, during that period, in 1837, the site was nearly selected for use as the city's first railway terminal!)

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This day trip from Paris gets you inside the royal estate without waiting in the long lines. Included is a 3-course traditional lunch by the Grand Canal.
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Classical Music at La Madeleine

Classical Music at La Madeleine

Today masses and other religious services are celebrated daily, as are funerals, weddings and other church rites. Just as interesting, there are classical music concerts performed at La Madeleine on a regular basis. You'll need to reserve your tickets online, in advance.

Place de la Madeleine

Flower seller on Place de la Madeleine Flower merchant on Place de la Madeleine

The church sits in the middle of a grand place that shares its name. Place de la Madeleine is one of the centers for gourmet food in Paris, being the location of Hediard, Fauchon, caviar specialists Prunier and Caviar Kaspia, truffle experts La Maison de la Truffe, and the Maille mustard boutique. But, as years have gone by, it also became well known for a huge amount of automobile traffic circling the church.

In 2019 Place de la Madeleine was renovated to make more of a human scale space. The French word for this, réaménagé, manes "redeveloped, but it has a happy ring of reimagined about it. The pedestrian space has been vastly enlarged, with 4,500 m² of area returned to pedestrians. There are more trees, new benches, and expanded bicycle facilities. And, the amount of space dedicated to automobile traffic has been reduced.

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