Hotel de Ville – The Grand City Hall In The Center Of Paris

The Hotel de Ville — that is, the Paris city hall — is one of the most enduring landmarks in a city that's full of great things to look at — and it's been that way since the mayor of Paris first moved to the site in 1357. Initially, the seat of Paris city government was in the house owned by whoever was mayor. It wasn't until 1533 that the French king Francis I decided to grace the city with an Hotel de Ville that suited the capital of France.

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History & the Hotel de Ville

Hotel de Ville Paris

In the 14th-century, the Parvis de l'Hôtel de Ville (the courtyard in front of the building) became execution central, the place crowds would gather to watch those gory spectacles. In 1792 a guillotine was installed here, one which would get a lot of use during the Terror phase of the French Revolution. (Luckily, the last execution took place in 1830.)

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Hotel de Ville Paris after the Paris Commune, by Marville

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Over the centuries the building was expanded and improved. Until 1871, that is, which is when the Hotel de Ville Paris was set afire during the Paris Commune — a result of a clash between Communards and the central government. All that remained after the fire was the stone shell. (Like Notre Dame more recently, the walls remained standing after the fire.) It took twenty years, but the city hall was rebuilt inside of the original shell. This, then, is the version of the city hall we still see today.

The Hotel de Ville is the official office of the Mayor of Paris and of local government. In case you're wondering, the current mayor is Spanish-born Anne Hidalgo, the first woman ever to hold the office, who's making innovative proposals like curtailing automobile traffic in the heart of the city and creating better access for bicycles and pedestrians.

Activities at Hotel de Ville Paris

Hotel de Ville Paris

We always pay a visit to the parvis of the Hotel de Ville, whatever the season — it's one of those places in Paris where there's always something happening. The large place in front of the building (built by Baron Haussmann, is spacious enough to hold the seasonal patinoireChristmas in Paris is made even more magical with this outdoor skating rink right in the middle of Paris!

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Noel village at Hotel de Ville

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In some years a complete Noel village is created in the parvis. When our son was little he loved to ride on the turn-of-the-century children's carrousel that is permanently set up on the place. It has horses and lovely deep booths.

That's not to say that the parvis de l'Hôtel de Ville has always been a pedestrian paradise. (Remember the guillotine?) In that car-crazy urban planning era of the the 1950s to the 1970s the space in front of Hotel de Ville was a parking lot, surrounded by a circle of busy traffic. Pedestrians who wanted to enjoy the small park risked life and limb to get there!

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Traffic on the parvis

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These days there's often an interesting exhibit inside the city hall itself. For instance, when Les Halles are was undergoing its twenty-first century reconstruction, the city hosted an exhibit of the photographs Robert Doisneau shot when Les Halles was the Paris central market. During important national sporting events large screens are often set up in the parvis for public viewing.

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Hotel de Ville interior

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Being in the center of the city, the area around Hotel de Ville is filled with many interesting buildings and quartiers including the Pompidou Center, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Islands of the Seine, the Marais, and the book merchants (les bouqinistes) that line the banks of the Seine river.

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Night Walking Tour

Night Walking Tours

The Hotel de Ville is included in a small-group walking tour that takes you on a nighttime journey to hidden Paris. We love this sort of guided tour, where you discover off-the-beaten-path streets, narrow alleyways, and tucked-away buildings, while learning about the violent and dark history that lurks beneath the City of Light.

It's the darker side of the history of Paris that's featured on this tour — the plague, the French Revolution, the Paris Commune, and the Nazi Occupation. On this sort of guided tour you really get a feel for the icons that shaped the city, from early French kings Chlothar the Old and Clovis the Lazy to Napoleon and Marie Antoinette.

Ghosts, Mysteries and Legends: A Night Walking Tour of Paris also visits the Hotel de Concierge, where Marie Antoinette was imprisoned, and travels to the Hotel de Ville, site of executions and hangings. It even takes in the Rat Trap Shop featured in the movie Ratatouille.

Hotel de Ville Resources

  • 1 Place de l'Hotel de Ville, 75004
  • Metro – Hotel de Ville, Line 1
  • Open: Monday to Saturday, 10 AM to 6 PM
  • Closed: Sundays and public holidays
  • All temporary exhibitions are free of charge

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