Baroque architecture may have been born in Rome
but it came of age in Paris
. The style arrived on the dawn of Louis XIII’s reign in 1610 and a distinct, relatively muted form quickly emerged. Between 1643 and 1715, the Sun King
’s architects took it to its greatest heights, carving a ‘New Rome’ out of the French capital. By 1774, the end of Louis XV’s rule, Neoclassicism had taken over.
Hôtel de Soubise
We start our tour at the Hôtel de Soubise in the heart of the Marais. On March 27th, 1700, François de Rohan bought the site and employed the architect Pierre-Alexis Delamair to remodel the 14th-century manor that stood on it in the Baroque style. The works began in 1704 and were completed in 1735, long after the death of François and his wife Anne de Rohan-Chabot, whose affair with Louis XIV is thought to have provided the funds for the project. Interiors added by Germain Boffrand between 1735 and 1740 are among the finest examples of Rococo design in France.
Paroisse Saint-Paul Saint-Louis
To get to our next building, saunter down the Rue des Francs Bourgeois and turn right after the Musée Carnavalet. This will lead you to the Rue Saint-Antoine and the Paroisse Saint-Paul Saint-Louis. Constructed between 1627 and 1641, it is an excellent early example of Baroque architecture in Paris and, as such, it wouldn’t look particularly out of place in many Italian cities. Commissioned by Louis XIII, it was designed by the Jesuit architects Étienne Martellange and François Derand. Inside, you can find Renaissance sculpture by Germain Pilon and Christ in agony on the Mount of Olives by Eugène Delacroix.
Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis │© Diliff / Flickr
Hôtel de Sully
Head east just a few hundred meters and you’ll find the Hôtel de Sully on the left. The financier Mesme Gallet hired Jean Androuet du Cerceau to design his mansion on the edge of the former Place Royale. Built between 1624 and 1629, the property is a good example of the day’s luxury residential architecture, particularly the addition of a dining room and salon and front courtyard and rear garden, complete with orangery. The building now houses the offices of the Centre des monuments nationaux but you can still pass through its outside spaces during opening hours.
Hôtel de Sully │© Coyau / WikiCommons
Temple du Marais
If you wander through the Hôtel de Sully, you’ll arrive at the Place des Vosges, the oldest planned square in Paris and the former meeting place of the city’s nobility. To continue the tour, head through the southern archway onto the Rue de Birague and turn left back onto the Rue Saint-Antoine. On the right, you’ll see our next stop, the Temple du Marais. This Protestant church was built between 1632 and 1634, originally as a Catholic convent. Its architect, François Mansart, is one of the most influential figures in French Baroque architecture, having introduced its distinguishing elements of classicism.
Temple du Marais │© Miguel Hermoso Cuesta
Food stop: Île Saint-Louis
To get to the next set of baroque beauties, we suggest heading over to the Left Bank via the Île Saint-Louis. The most scenic way to get there is along the Rue du Petit Musc and Quai des Célestins. By this point, you might be feeling rather peckish. There are plenty of restaurants packed on to the island but we recommend Les Fous de L’Ile. This trendy bistro is open all day and offers several great set menus. If you’re touring on a budget, then there are plenty of quiet, picturesque spots by the river for a picnic.
A spot to picnic on the Île Saint-Louis │© Moonik / WikiCommons
After a bite to eat, you’ll want to stretch your legs. Fortunately, the walk along Rue du Cardinal Lemoine towards the Panthéon, at just over a kilometer, is the longest between any two sites on this tour. You may have noticed that this enormous mausoleum in the Latin Quarter isn’t Baroque at all. Rather, built between 1764 and 1790, it is one of Paris’ earliest examples of Neoclassicism. Louis XV and architect Jacques-Germain Soufflot’s decision to reject Baroque, the preferred style of Rome and the papacy, had a lot to do with the king’s increasing antagonism towards the Catholic church.
Panthéon │© besopha / WikiCommons
Palais du Luxembourg
From the end of the French Baroque era, we travel back to its very beginning. To get to the Palais du Luxembourg, head west along the Rue Cujas and Rue de Vaugirard. This stunning palace, surrounded by perfectly manicured gardens, was built by Salomon de Brosse between 1615 and 1645 as the residence of Marie de Médicis, the mother of Louis XIII, and his regent until 1617. It was inspired by the palaces of the queen’s native Florence as well as the innovations of the French Renaissance. Since 1958, it has been the seat of the French Senate.
Palais du Luxembourg │© Ninara / Flickr
If you head north out of the Jardin du Luxembourg, the Église Saint-Sulpice is just a few minutes away. The church measures 113 meters long, 58 meters wide, and 34 meters tall and is the second largest in Paris, just behind Notre-Dame on the Île de la Cité. Construction began on Saint-Sulpice in 1646 on the site of a 13th-century church, using plans drawn a decade earlier by Christophe Gamard. However, the project encountered financial difficulties and it took more than a century for every part of the church to be finished. Its organ is one of the world’s largest.
Institut de France
A short walk through the fashionable neighborhood of Saint-Germain-des-Prés will bring you back to the river and to the Institut de France. The society is housed in an old school, the Collège des Quatre-Nations. The estate of Cardinal Mazarin was used to fund the construction of this beautiful building between 1662 and 1688. Its architect, Louis Le Vau, had already begun work on the south wing of the Cour Carrée of the Palais du Louvre on the opposite bank of the Seine and proposed the site so the king would have something attractive to look at from his new apartments.
Institut de France │© Marc Lagneau / Flickr
South and east wings of the Cour Carrée of the Palais du Louvre
Crossing the Pont des Arts, you can fully appreciate the scale of the Louvre and the majesty of its southern baroque façade. This portion of the museum was redesigned by a committee of architects including Louis Le Vau, Charles Le Brun, François d’Orbay, and Claude Perrault. The first stone was laid in 1668 and the project was finished 12 years later. For the eastern façade, Louis XIV held a competition to decide who should win the contract. The master Italian architect Bernini, who had travelled to Paris specifically to work on the Louvre, was beaten out by Perrault’s unconventional design.
South façade of the Louvre from the Pont des Arts │© Tangopaso / WikiCommons
Click here for a map of all the above sites and a few others you should check out if you have the time.