Anyone looking for the Elysee Palace directly on the Champs Elysees would be wasting their time. The residence of the President of the French Republic stands to the side, its official address is 55, rue Faubourg Saint-Honore in the 8th arrondissement. But even when you get there, you won’t see the palace. On three sides it is surrounded by a four-meter stone wall, and the fourth side is decorated with a blind gate. When they are opened to let some car in, you can see the courtyard (just a little bit): a little sidewalk and a lot of pebbles. It’s terribly uncomfortable for heels.
There is another gate at the Elysee Palace. They overlook Avenue Gabriel on the Champs-Elysées side. This is the so-called ceremonial “Rooster Gate” which is only opened on one occasion: the ceremonial entry of the newly minted president.
It is said that of all the palaces in Paris, this, not the most distinguished, was chosen as the residence of the head of state precisely because it is hidden from view. To disconcert the irascible people, who, at the slightest opportunity, immediately organize a revolution and storm the royal residence. Remember Versailles, or better still, the Tuileries, which the rebellious Communards burned to the ground. Now in its place is the garden of the same name.
Elysée Palace was built for Count Evreux at the beginning of XVIII century practically on a wasteland. In the documents, it was then called a “mansion”. “It became a palace much later, after the death of the count in 1753 when Louis XV bought it for his official favorite, the Marquise de Pompadour. And she ordered to dig an underground passage to enter and exit the mansion unnoticed, which she and her supreme patron repeatedly used.
Yes, the residence of French presidents was a love nest! And more than once.
Napoleon Bonaparte’s nephew Louis-Napoleon (he became the first president of France in 1848, but then, in 1852 he was unexpectedly crowned emperor) made Elysee Palace the main palace of France. He often used the secret loophole for completely non-state purposes. History even preserves the names of his lovely female visitors. The passage was then walled up, but it kept the first ladies of the republic busy for a long time. It is said that Madame de Gaulle, upon entering the palace, first asked about this underground passage.
But the most remarkable story happened to the 7th president of the republic, Felix Faure (1841-1899). Faure was a great lover of women, but taking care of the country took a lot of energy, so he had to resort to more and more powerful aphrodisiacs, excitatory drugs. On February 16, 1899, he took such a drug in the morning in anticipation of a meeting with one of the most daring and extravagant Parisians of the time – Marguerite Stenel (there is a version that the date was with another lady – the actress Cecile Sorel). However, the important visits dragged on one after another, distancing and alienating the sweet moment. When Faure was finally released and sequestered in his chambers with Madame Stenel, his excitement had reached such a limit that the body of a 58-year-old man could not take it. At the scream of the beauty the guards ran away. The president was lying on the floor, his clothes, like those of his guest, were in great disarray. Marguerite tried to cover him. She was hurriedly led out through the wicket at the Rooster’s Gate. Faure died the same day. The circumstances of his death were tried to be hushed up, but someone arranged for the information to be leaked. Despite mourning, the opposition newspapers printed caustic caricatures.
A nude statue of Madame Stenel stands in one of the halls of the Elysée Palace. She was not a beauty by today’s standards, but she was very pretty in marble.
In the spring of 1814, when the Russian Cossacks were sightseeing in Paris and getting acquainted with the local population, mainly women, Alexander I, the Russian Emperor, was quartered at the Elysee Palace. Interestingly, on the eve of his arrival, the Paris police received an anonymous tip that the palace had been mined. The detectives searched all the corners, but they did not find a bomb.
In the summer of 1815, after the famous Battle of Waterloo, which put an end to Napoleon, Alexander I lived at the Elysee Palace again and even, curiously enough, hosted Louis XVIII there. The Russian tsar was waiting for the French king, who was rushing to him with the honorary award – the Order of the Holy Spirit for services to France – on the porch, or, as the French say, on the platform of the Elysee Palace. That started a tradition. Similarly, the French president now stands there awaiting his most important guests. From the door, a red carpet runs up the steps and over the pebbles. On either side of it stand the guards of honour with swords and shiny helmets with long horses’ tails. Only a closer look reveals that there are women among the guardsmen. But they are almost indistinguishable from the men.
In the Elysee Palace the president of France lives and works. Under his personal apartments allotted about 250 square meters in the farthest part of the building, closer to the Champs-Elysees. The windows of the presidential apartments overlook the garden. It is very beautiful there with its fountains, flower-beds and picturesque meadows. But one cannot see all this beauty from the street.
It is said that the previous mistress of the Elysee Palace, Bernadette Chirac, loved the official apartment as her own, and knew every napkin there, every plate. And there were cellars of this stuff in the palace. She personally decided what service to put for one or another reception. When the time came to leave the residence, Madame Chirac even cried. But it was the President’s dog, Sumo, who had the hardest time saying goodbye to the palace. The dog became depressed, aggressive and even began to attack the owner: he bit her three times until she bled. The Shirakas had to part with Sumo. What happened to him, history is silent.
The current first lady of France refused to live in the Elysee Palace, keeping her private office. Carla Bruni-Sarkozy has her own mansion in Paris in the quiet 16th arrondissement: 400 square meters, furnished with antiques rather than government furniture.
Needless to say, it’s cramped in the Elysée. Narrow little rooms for the presidential staff, thin, one-plank walls, flimsy doors. Marble, stucco and gilding are only in the front rooms. For journalists there is a small room for five people, but during important events about 50 people manage to fit in. The rest have to crowd into the courtyard…
Once a year, on Heritage Day, the Élysée is opened to the public. The crowds gather to take a single peep at the place where French and world politics are made. But only the front part is accessible. And the various closets and the holy of holies – the presidential chambers – are for the select few.
This text is an introductory fragment.
Continued on LitRes
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The Presidential Palace on the Champs-Elysées (Palais de l’Élysée) is an iconic state landmark, available for viewing only one day a year, to French citizens and visiting tourists alike. This single day occurs every year in September. During this time it is possible to visit several halls, offices, receptions, where the President of France, his spouse, close aides and servants live and work.
Location and history of the Presidential Palace in Paris
The Presidential Palace is located near the famous Champs-Elysées of Paris. Like the world-famous thoroughfare, the palace is a municipal property and a state landmark. The official address of the palace is 55 rue Saint-Honoré, which is located in the VIII district of Paris. You can get to the Champs-Elysees by more than 30 buses, but it is best to choose a tourist bus with the route of interest. The fare will range from 2 to 5 euros. If you buy a ticket +, for this amount you can travel on all forms of public transport all day.
The history of the palace begins in 1718, when by order of the Count of Evreux, the construction of the mansion was begun under the direction of the architect Armand-Claude Mollet. The construction lasted four years, the result of which was a majestic building in the style of the French Regency. On the side of the Champs-Elysées a large garden was laid out with a variety of trees, shrubs and flowers, while the other side of the palace is enclosed by a street.
After the death of the Count of Evreux, the mansion was bought by King Louis XV as a gift to his favorite, Madame de Pompadour. She, in turn, bequeathed it to the King’s relatives. It passed to them in 1764. Louis XVI, together with his entourage, used to hold séances of black magic and communion with spirits here. After the king, it was owned by the banker Beaujon (he carried out some transformations, the most important of which was a gallery of paintings) and then by the Duchess of Bourbon, but the last private owner of the palace was Marshal Murat.
As a result of the coups d’état, when Napoleon I was in power, the mansion began to be used specifically for governmental purposes. But the mansion began to be officially considered a government residence in 1848 under Louis Napoleon Bonaparte. But Emperor Napoleon III neither lived nor worked in the palace, as he preferred his apartments in the Tuileries. But it was he who initiated the great changes and alterations in the palace, which were carried out from 1853 to 1867, the architect being the famous Lacroix. The overall style of the palace became more reminiscent of the French classics than that of the Regency. In this form the palace is at the present time and periodically carries out its restorations, repairs, introduced some new elements in the interior of the palace, respecting the general style of decoration.
Premises of the Presidential Palace
The huge area of the residence of the French presidents allows to accommodate several dozen living rooms, offices, reception halls, personal apartments and offices, salons, galleries and other rooms. Here is a list of the palace’s most chic and interesting “rooms”:
- The private presidential garden;
- the first entrance hall;
- the anteroom of the Legion of Honor;
- Fetes Hall;
- Golden Drawing Room;
- Salon Murat;
- Napoleon III;
- Pompadour Salon;
- Green Room;
- Silver Salon;
- Ambassadors’ Salon;
- Salon of Assistants;
- Salon of Tapestries;
- Pauline’s dining room.
Peculiarities of the palace’s interiors
The main room of the palace that visitors want to see first is the president’s private office, which is located in the Golden Salon. It is a really interesting room with solemn tapestries, furniture and carpets in the luxurious Baroque style, floral paintings on the ceiling and walls. Special attention should be paid to the presidential chair. This office is worthy of a king with its chic decorations.
In the Salon de la Pompadour hangs a portrait of the King’s favorite, in the Salle Fetes there are enormous tapestries, and in the Salon Murat there is a lion. The Silver Salon has an antique bureau; it was here that Emperor Napoleon signed his abdication. Madame de Pompadour’s Salon is now the seat of the Council of Ministers, which takes place every Wednesday.
In the salons of the palace, the president receives foreign representatives, ambassadors and other important guests. All the dishes for state receptions are kept in special chests, and the chef keeps records of dishes and guests in order to vary the menu. The security of the palace and its inhabitants is the responsibility of the soldiers of the Republican Guard.