Our first Saturday morning was initially spent at the Palais-Royal, situated in the 1st arrondissement of Paris near the Louvre. Originally named the Palais-Cardinal, it served as the home and palace of Cardinal Richelieu, but upon his death was donated to the king in 1642 and acquired its new name of the Palais-Royal. Today, the Palais-Royal houses the highest constitutional authority in France, the Constitutional Conseil.
The Fifth Republic of France was founded in October 4, 1958, and with it came into existence the Constitutional Conseil. The main activity of this authority is twofold. Firstly, the conseil ensures that elections in France, whether they are elections for the Assemblee Nationale or for the office of President of the Republic, are carried out fairly and with all rules and regulations followed. This also means that the conseil observes closely any referendum issued by the French Government. Secondly, and more importantly, the Constitutional Conseil acts as the highest judicial power in the context of laws passed by the legislative branch in France. This means that the job of the conseil is to ensure that laws passed by the Assemblee Nationale and the Senat conform to the fundamental meaning and interpretation of the Constitution of the Fifth Republic. In many ways, the Constitutional Conseil is similar to the Supreme Court in the United States.
Due to the incredible power and importance that the French political system places in the hands of the Constitutional Conseil, it is strictly important that it remains independent and non-partisan. This is accomplished by the methods used to appoint and maintain this nine-member council. Three members each are appointed by the President of the Republic, the Assemblee Nationale, or the Senate to form the principle nine-member council. Also, former Presidents including Jacques Chirac and Valery d’Estaing have membership, bringing the total number of members to eleven.
Sophie de Loubens gave us an excellent tour of the Palais-Royal. We walked through many rooms in the palace, and then arrived at a reception room adjacent to the main offices or the conseil members. The walls had beautiful tapestries and were decorated in a style reminiscent of the splendor of the ancienne regieme in France.
After learning about the history of the palace itself, we had the incredible opportunity to see the main meeting room of the Constitutional Conseil itself! Needless to say, we had to sit around the table that the conseil members themselves work at. What an amazing experience!
After leaving the Constitutional Conseil, we stopped for a quick crepe break!
Following our delicious lunch , we rode on the 1 Metro to the Etoile Station. Here, we got to see the amazingly large and impressive Arc de Triomphe. One of the most famous monuments in Paris, this enormous structure is located at the western end of the Champs-Elysees. Construction originally began in 1806, but the monument wouldn’t be finished until thirty years later in 1836.
Triumphant arches date back to Roman times, when armies returning from war would pass under these large monuments to officially cleanse themselves of war and return to the cities. Many different armies have marched through and around the Arc de Triomphe since its construction, but the monument mainly serves as a memorial now to soldiers who have lost their lives fighting in wars since 1840. We climbed the steps of the arc, and from it had a breathtaking view of Paris.
Finally, we finished our day with a trip down the 1 Metro again to La Defense. While Paris mainly operates as a historic city filled with incredible museums and monuments, it is also a financial capital of the world, serving the business needs of many large corporations. Here, you can see La Defense, or the business district, from on top of the Arc de Triomphe. Notice that at the end of the Champs Elysees, there is a huge arch, in line with the Arc de Triomphe. This is called the Grande Arche.
While I thought that the Arc de Triomphe was large, it pales in comparison to the size of the Grande Arche! When we arrived, I was stunned at the immensity of this incredible structure! After an exhausting but very satisfying day, we left La Defense and returned to the FIAP.