Elysée Palace, or the French White House

Elysée Palace, the courtyard of honor | Courtesy of Europe 1

The Élysée Palace is the presidential house in France, the equivalent of the American White House. Synonym of power, the Palace has been the home of kings and presidents of France one after the other. From its construction to present day, the Elysée has been the witness of dramas, romantic affairs, political betrayals, and comical anecdotes. History has been made between its walls. The Elysée Palace has seen everything, from state visits by foreign leaders to salacious scandals: this is why it is so fascinating. It is also a window into French culture.1

Map of the Hotel of Evreux in 1737 | Courtesy of Wikimedia Common

At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the Elysée Palace began as the Faubourg Saint-Honoré on a grassy hill in the country surrounded by a few farms. As Paris grew, it became located between the street Faubourg Saint-Honoré and the Big Courts along the Champs-Elysées Avenue.2

The architect Armand-Claude Mollet possessed land that he sold in 1718 to Henri-Louis de la Tour of Auvergne, count of Evreux.3 The contract stated that Armand-Claude Mollet would be in charge of building a hotel there; it was intended to be the residence of the count of Evreux. The Hotel was built and decorated between 1718 and 1722. The gardens of the Elysée is a shaded and flowery two hectares of countryside. When the count of Evreux built the courtyard in 1718, he installed formal French gardens characterized by symmetries and perspectives. The gardens were meant to demonstrate the power and fortune of its owner.4 At his death in 1753, the count of Evreux left the most famous hotel of its time. It was admired by all, including Blondel, considered the best French architect of the eighteenth century, who described it as, “the most beautiful country cottage of the Paris’ neighborhood.”5 

The love letter by François Boucher | 1750 | Courtesy National Gallery of Art

The decoration of the Palace started with the women, mistresses, and wives of kings and presidents, who contributed to the embellishment of the property. Before the Elysée was home to presidents of the Republic, it belonged to France’s kings, starting with King Louis XV, who gave the Hotel of Evreux—ancient name of the Élysée Palace—to his mistress, the Marquise de Pompadour, Jeanne Antoinette.6 The Marquise was very interested in the gardens of the property, because she had a little girl and she made a playground out of them that was something of an ancestor to Disneyland. Because of her young spirit, it was a playground for the Marquise as well. As the fashion was to play at being a shepherd, the Marquise had a herd of sheep. One day she tried to let them in her apartment, where the walls were covered with mirrors. The poor animals, terrified, found themselves lost, and destroyed the place, causing a scandal.7

Le mouton, sculpture by François-Xavier Lalanne | Courtesy of Parcs et Jardins de L’Oise

The sculpture in one of the gardens made by François-Xavier Lalanne reminds us of the affection that the Marquise had for the small animal. She also gave luxurious dances in her gardens. The parties reflected the image of the owner of the place: extravagant, luxurious, and sophisticated. 8

The Elysée Palace will be long remembered as a place of reception, culture, and pleasure for Parisians and for the many visitors who come each year to see it.

  1. Véronique Rampazzo and Patrick Lesueur, L’Elysée (Le Cherche Midi, 2010), 6.
  2. Véronique Rampazzo and Patrick Lesueur, L’Elysée (Le Cherche Midi, 2010), 8.
  3. Georges Poisson, L’Élysée: histoire d’un palais (Pygmalion, 2010), 523.
  4.   Jacques Santamaria Duhamel, L’Élysée, coulisses et secrets d’un palais (Plon, 2012), 395.
  5. Présidence de la République, Le Palais de L’Élysée et son histoire (www.elysee.fr, 2015).
  6. Evelyne Lever, Madame de Pompadour: a Life (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002), 35, 37.
  7. C. Leroux-Cesbron, Le palais de l’Élysée, chronique d’un palais national (1925), 44.
  8. Claire Bommelaer, Visitez les jardins de l’Élysée (www.lefigaro.fr, Le Figaroscope,2012).

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This Post Has 26 Comments

  1. Avatar

    This was hands down an amazing article that introduced me to a culture I never would’ve dreamed of wanting to study! Like many other people I didn’t know that the Elysee palace was even a thing and I especially didn’t think that France would have a building equivalent to our own White House! The visuals and other information in this article really brought all of this home, even making me want to study this palace even more!

  2. Avatar

    This was a very interesting article that gave me a bit of an insight into French culture and history. I found the story about playing shepherd really interesting because she was playing with an actual herd of sheep which is pretty close to an actual shepherd. It seems so weird that someone had the resources to play shepherd by actually having sheep. It was also interesting to see how the history of this place has evolved.

  3. Avatar

    A nice brief article telling the story of one of the most beautiful buildings in France. The pictures in the article make the read so much better. I never knew any of the details about the palace. In fact, I knew nothing more than the fact that it existed. Learning all about its origins was fascinating and I’m glad I was able to take the time to read it.

  4. Avatar

    I had never heard of the palace, so it was really interesting to read about its significance. The images that are used in the article do a great job of showing how beautiful the palace really is. I also enjoyed the part about the animal sculptures in the gardens. The article does a great job of putting all of the information and still make it enjoyable to read.

  5. Avatar

    The images used in the article really do allow the reader to see just how beautiful the Elysee Palace is. I had never really pictured it to be so eye catching. It really was nice to read about the other, “White House” and how it came to be. I like the small dose of humor you included because it made the article more enjoyable to read. Great article!

  6. Avatar

    Interesting article! I never knew that the Elysee palace existed until reading this article, although I guess It makes sense since the president has to live somewhere. Its really amazing how much history lives inside that palace. Its also interesting how even today the palace is housing the country’s leader, only instead of being a king its a president. I really enjoyed the pictures used in this article and thought that they added an extra layer to the article. Overall I really enjoyed reading this article and loved the amount of detail put into it.

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