Louis Philippe II, Duke of Orléans had Victor Louis build six-storey apartment buildings with ground-floor colonnades facing the three sides of the palace garden between 1781 and 1784. On the outside of these wings three new streets were constructed in front of the houses that had formerly overlooked the garden: the rue de Montpensier on the west, rue de Beaujolais to the north, and rue de Valois on the east. He commercialised the new complex by letting out the area under the colonnades to retailers and service-providers and in 1784 the shopping and entertainment complex opened to the public. Over a decade or so, sections of the Palais were transformed into shopping arcades that became the centre of 18th-century Parisian economic and social life.
Though the main part of the palace (corps de logis) remained the private Orléans seat, the arcades surrounding its public gardens had 145 boutiques, cafés, salons, hair salons, bookshops, museums, and countless refreshment kiosks. These retail outlets sold luxury goods such as fine jewelry, furs, paintings and furniture to the wealthy elite. Stores were fitted with long glass windows which allowed the emerging middle-classes to window shop and indulge in fantasies. Thus, the Palais-Royal became one of the first of the new style of shopping arcades and became a popular venue for the wealthy to congregate, socialise and enjoy their leisure time. The redesigned palace complex became one of the most important marketplaces in Paris. It was frequented by the aristocracy, the middle classes, and the lower orders. It had a reputation as being a site of sophisticated conversation (revolving around the salons, cafés, and bookshops), shameless debauchery (it was a favorite haunt of local prostitutes), as well as a hotbed of Freemasonic activity.
Designed to attract the genteel middle class, the Palais-Royal sold luxury goods at relatively high prices. However, prices were never a deterrent, as these new arcades came to be the place to shop and to be seen. Arcades offered shoppers the promise of an enclosed space away from the chaos that characterised the noisy, dirty streets; a warm, dry space away from the elements; and a safe-haven where people could socialise and spend their leisure time. Promenading in the arcades became a popular eighteenth century pastime for the emerging middle classes.
The Palais Royal is a historic palace in Paris, France, that is known for its significant role in the development of the decorative arts during the 18th and 19th centuries. Originally built for Cardinal Richelieu in the 17th century, the palace was later acquired by the Duke of Orleans in 1692 and became known as the Palais Royal.
Under the Duke’s ownership, the Palais Royal became a center for the decorative arts, with workshops and showrooms for furniture makers, textile designers, and other artisans. The Duke also commissioned many important artists and craftsmen to create works for the palace, including the renowned furniture maker André-Charles Boulle.
From the 1780s to 1837, the palace was once again the centre of Parisian political and social intrigue and the site of the most popular cafés. The historic restaurant “Le Grand Véfour”, which opened in 1784, is still there. In 1786, a noon cannon was set up by a philosophical amateur, set on the prime meridian of Paris, in which the sun’s noon rays, passing through a lens, lit the cannon’s fuse. The noon cannon is still fired at the Palais-Royal, though most of the ladies for sale have disappeared, those who inspired the Abbé Delille’s lines:
Dans ce jardin on ne rencontre
Ni prés, ni bois, ni fruits, ni fleurs.
Et si l’on y dérègle ses mœurs,
Au moins on y règle sa montre.
(“In this garden one encounters neither meadows, nor woods, nor fruits, nor flowers. And, if one upsets one’s morality, at least one may reset one’s watch.”)
The gardens themselves were also designed as a showcase for the decorative arts, with elaborate fountains, statues, and plantings.
Throughout the 19th century, the Palais Royal remained an important center for the decorative arts, with many notable artists and designers exhibiting their work there. Today, the Palais Royal is a popular tourist destination and continues to be a site of cultural significance in Paris.
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