Palace of Justice (Palais de Justice)
The Palace of Justice is part of the architectural ensemble that also includes the famous Sainte Chapelle and the Conciergerie, a former prison. The entire complex occupies the western part of the Île de la Cité between the Quai des Orfèvres, the Quai de l’Horloge and the Boulevard du Palais. The main entrance to the Palace is currently from the Cour du Mai (May Courtyard).
It was a center of administrative and military power from the times of Roman Lutetia and then was used as a royal residence. After 1358, Charles V moved the King’s residence to the Louvre and the Palace became, and long remained, the seat of the Parlement of Paris, the supreme court of the Kingdom which was established in the 13th century. In the early 18th century, the courtyard could be reached through the gates from a narrow street (Rue Saint-Barthélémy) that ran along the today’s boulevard. The Grand Hall was on the right side of the courtyard (closer to the Conciergerie), the Sainte Chapelle was on the left, and the main building of the Palace was between the two, opposite the gates. All the buildings still had a medieval appearance.
On the next to last day of his stay in Paris, in the morning of June 8/19, Peter I attended a court hearing at the Parlement of Paris in order to see “how the supreme tribunal of France administers justice”. His visit had been agreed in advance. The court session was convened out of hours, specially for the Tsar. The tribunal members wore red robes trimmed with ermine and velvet caps. In the summertime, they only wore those dresses when the Parlement was visited by a monarch. The Grand Hall was specially decorated for the visit of the honored guest. The Tsar came with his entourage and Marshal de Tessé. The President of the Parlement Jean-Antoine de Mesmes was busy and asked his brothers — Jean-Jacques de Mesmes, the King’s bailli and Ambassador of the Order of Malta, and Abbot de Mesmes — to welcome the Tsar. While waiting for the hearing, the Tsar walked around the President’s apartments and the library. There he saw a globe and noticed that the outlines of the Caspian Sea were shown incorrectly. Peter corrected the mistake and this was confirmed in a special memorandum.
Then, the Tsar was led to the Grand Hall where he was seated on the podium together with Marshal de Tessé, the Mesmes brothers, Boris Kurakin, Pavel Yaguzhinsky, Savva Raguzinsky, and Ivan Buturlin. The podium was decorated with Damascus carpets trimmed with gold lace. Yakov Dolgoruky, Pyotr Shafirov, Pyotr Tolstoy, Robert Areskin and Semyon Naryshkin were seated on the other podium. The President and nine other judges entered the room, bowed to the Tsar who greeted them by standing up, and took seats on their high court benches. The trial attended by the Tsar was the case between someone named Monsieur Benard and a woodcutting company. It was an ordinary, routine case. The defense was led by lawyers Milchaut and Guérin. In his closing statement, the Royal lawyer General de Lamoignon mentioned that the sovereign of a distant and mighty power was for the first time present in their court and therefore the day was to remain in the annals of the temple of justice. After the trial, the Tsar went to the buffet where he talked to the judges and looked at their dresses. Finally, he visited the President to express his gratitude. The President and his brothers led the Tsar to the carriage.
The building of the Parlement of Paris was rebuilt in the Classicism style in the second half of the 18th century. It was also the time when the May Courtyard was created which was separated from the street by a spectacular grid. The Parlement of Paris existed until 1790 when it was replaced by the Revolutionary Tribunal. In the 19th-20th centuries, the Palace of Justice was the venue of famous trials. Currently, the Palace houses the Court of Appeal and the Court of Cassation.