I was so fortunate, dear hearts, to visit the Conciergerie this past May. The Conciergerie, you know was the former home to French kings in the 14th century. That is until they decamped for Versailles in the 1600s. Years passed and the massive space with its cavernous halls was turned into a prison that eventually held the enemies of the French Revolution.
I confess that I had not been before (can you imagine) and I took the pilgrimage seriously.
Of course, should you go now, you will have more than I did — it seems that there is now a special app and tablet (charmingly called the ‘Histopad’) that will help you view the Conciergerie as no one has been able for centuries. Through augmented reality, you can now view this space where our Marie held her last days.
Until now, to really understand how our girl lived her last weeks, you had to both take a leap of faith and swallow your giggles. Her actual cell was turned into a Chapel in the 19th century but a replica was built nearby. That replica is odd, friends. It is the room you’ve read about — small bed, a table with guards, a makeshift altar. But our girl is reduced to a stiff stiff mannequin in a bonnet kneeling not far from some fake soldiers’ eyes. It’s a little odd.
The new technology helps do what mannequins can’t. With it, we can better understand how the room truly looked, where she sat, where the window was, how low the screen that gave her that illusion of privacy was. This was, of course, her second room. But we can see that that was little natural light. We can get a sense for the dampness of the stone and the prison walls — a dampness that would eventually rust the bottoms of her shoes.
Of course, nothing can prepare us for how it felt to live in that room. And not because the guards were with her day and night.She’d long ago learned to live a public life. The Conciergerie was a waiting room for death in those days. Our girl by then had gotten wary of footsteps in the night and guards who could pull her from her bed in the dark of night. And while she understood that her life had always been in France’s hands, she had two small children to worry over, children she couldn’t protect. Should she be taken, as she most certainly would, what would happen to them? The Histopad cannot prepare us for that.
Still, I think it’s quite wonderful and I’m sorry I didn’t get to experience it firsthand. The tool allows a visitor to follow a prisoner from trial to execution, to truly walk the footsteps of the doomed. Its media helps you access areas that are not available to common visitors. It seems well worth the 6.50 Euro extra they are charging.
It’s the sixth historical monument to have access to the technology. For a better look, watch this sample video. If you have the chance to visit Paris, don’t miss out on this special opportunity to realize a real historical truth.
Tell me — have you been to the Conciergerie? What did you think of it?