Visit the French National Assembly
The Palais Bourbon is a government building located in the 7th arrondissement of Paris, on the left bank of the Seine, across from the Place de la Concorde. It is the seat of the French National Assembly, the lower legislative chamber of the French government. The Palace was originally built beginning in 1722 by Louise Françoise de Bourbon, the duchess of Bourbon, the legitimized daughter of Louis XIV, as a country house, surrounded by gardens. It was nationalized during the French Revolution, and from 1795 to 1799, during the Directory, it was the meeting place of the Council of Five Hundred, which chose the government leaders. Beginning in 1806, Napoleon Bonaparte added the classical colonnade, to mirror that of Church of the Madeleine, facing it across the Seine and the Place de la Concorde. The Palace complex today includes the Hôtel de Lassay, on the west side of the Palais Bourbon; which is the official residence of the President of the National Assembly who, as we go to press, is Monsieur Claude Bartolone. In a short preface to the English version of The French National Assembly, the official guide book, we find these opening words: «The Palais Bourbon which is the beating heart of our democracy, brings together, through its architecture and its exceptional artistic heritage, nearly three centuries of the political and cultural life of our country.» François de Rugy, who wrote the preface, is a former President of the French National Assembly and currently head of the Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy. He is also married to a funny, sassy and sometimes pungent journalist Séverine Servat. But we stray from our subject …. Monsieur de Rugy admirably sums up in just one sentence why the Palais Bourbon should be on everybody’s list of monuments and institutions to visit one day. The rub, however, is that touring the Palais Bourbon is no mince affaire (small matter). Security measures have eliminated individual visits; the only way to take a tour is with a group invited by a député or parliamentary member. This can take weeks or months to arrange.
Meanwhile there is a fabulous and moving way to introduce yourself to the French National Assembly. Start at the beginning. And the beginning is in Versailles in what is known as la salle du Jeu de Paume, the hall of the tennis court. You’ll recall from your history books that on 17 June 1789, one month after the Estates-General met at Versailles, the members of the third estate declared themselves to be the “National Assembly”, since they represented at least 96% of the nation. They decided to frame a constitution restricting the powers of the king and not to disband until the thing was done. This is the tennis court oath – Le serment du Jeu de Paume. Henceforth, sovereignty was to reside not in the person of the monarch but in the nation, which would exercise it through the representatives it elected. The Oath is a key moment of the French Revolution. This is where the boogie ends and the woogie begins… Visiting the Jeu de Paume is facile comme bonjour (easy as pie). Take an RER C train to Versailles and walk 8 minutes to 1 Rue du Jeu de Paume. It’s open every afternoon except Monday from 2pm to 5.45pm. Free admission. Emotions guaranteed.