As you peer up the rue Royale from the Place de la Concorde, you’ll see something that very closely resembles a Roman temple. It is in fact a church, one that owes its unusual form to its equally singular history. In 1763, architect Pierre Constant d’Ivry laid the first stone of a church that would include a neoclassical facade with multiple columns. He didn’t get very far. First the architect died, and then the Revolution broke out, during which construction ground to a halt. No one knew what to do with the site until Napoleon finally strode onto the scene and declared that it would become the Temple de la Gloire, to honor the glorious victories of his army. He wanted something “solid” because he was sure that the monument would last “thousands of years.” Unfortunately for him, military defeats and mounting debt would again delay construction until Napoleon decided that maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to make it a church after all—that way Rome would foot the bill. Once Napoleon was out of the picture for good, inertia took over the project again, and it wasn’t until 1842, under the Restoration, that La Madeleine was finally consecrated.
The inside of the church is pretty dark, thanks to a lack of windows, but there are actually some interesting works of art here, if you can make them out in the gloom. On the left as you enter is François Rude’s Baptism of Christ; farther on is James Pradier’s sculpture La Marriage de la Vierge.