No, it’s not a hotel. This enormous neo-Renaissance wedding cake is Paris’s city hall, and the only way to see the inside is to make friends with the mayor, though it does host regular art exhibits on subjects linked to Paris’s history, usually for free (access is through the back entrance on rue Lobau). Even if you can’t get inside, you can feast on the lavish exterior, which includes 136 statues representing historic VIPs of Parisian history. Since the 14th century, this spot has been an administrative seat for the municipality; the building you see before you dates from 1873, but it is an accurate copy of an earlier Renaissance version that was burned down in 1870 during the Paris Commune. The vast square in front of the building, formerly called the place du Grève, was once used for municipal festivals and executions. It was also the stage for several important moments in the city’s history, particularly during the Revolution: Louis XVI was forced to kiss the new French flag here, and Robespierre was shot in the jaw and arrested here during an attempted coup. Today the square is host to more peaceful activities: There’s usually a merry-go-round or two to captivate the little ones, and in winter an ice-skating rink is sometimes set up.
- Anna Brooke