When a Hôtel is not a Hotel

If you are like me, an initial visit to France can leave you quite confused what the meaning of the word hôtel denotes in French. I felt encouraged my first short vacation to Paris when I seemed to be picking up on a few French words. I got off the line 1 metro stop at Hôtel de Ville, looked in amazement at the building in front of me, and turned to my husband asking, "Wow, how much do you think it costs to stay there?" Then I looked across rue de Rivoli and saw a department store called BHV (Bazaar de l'Hotel de Ville). And a little later I found that many museums in the Marais neighborhood are housed in hôtels. It appeared that the French just called anything a "hotel" in the city.

Turns out that there are various meanings of the word. It is used like we know it to mean in English, as a type of lodging. But it also can denote big estates - my definition is something much grander than a general house but not as immense as a château. Similarly along those lines, anytime the term Hôtel de Ville is used, it means town hall.   

Paris' Hôtel de Ville

Each arrondissement, or district, in Paris has its own town hall (mairie), and then there is Hôtel de Ville. This is where the mayor of Paris sits along with the city's administration. After moving to Paris, I've passed by this building many times catching glimpses through the windows of the grandeur hidden within and have always been intrigued to see what lies behind this grand facade. 

I finally did get to see some of the inside of this enormous building during Les journées du patrimoine. This event takes place each September over a weekend and it is celebrated not just throughout France but in other participating European countries as well. It is a time to celebrate European heritage and many historical monuments and important buildings open their doors to the public, usually free of charge. Hôtel de Ville was one of these buildings that is usually closed to the general public but welcomes visitors on this special weekend.

If I've learned one thing about French architectural style, the decoration of any official buildings is anything but plain. Hôtel de Ville did not disappoint.

There was even an opera singer performing as I visited this room! Nothing but class here!

And then it was on to the Salle des fêtes (room of parties): 

The mayor's office

The interior of the formal rooms was stunning, as I've had a hunch for all these months. But the added bonus of Hôtel de Ville? A sweet library. (Yup, the English major in me loves me a good library.)

If you are in Paris in September, look up which weekend Les journées du patrimoine fall on and take advantage of getting to go behind the scenes of some important buildings. In the meantime, at least check out the outside of this grand building. And look into the free exhibitions often offered here - right now I am looking forward to getting to see the expo that just opened feauturing the photography of Brassaï. 


Place de l'Hôtel de Ville 75004 Paris