The original Temple was a fortress built by the Knights Templar in the twelfth century in Le Marais, and it owes it name to the Knights Templar. It was replaced with a grander and larger fortress in the thirteenth century in what is currently the third arrondissement, an administrative division within France. This medieval fortress, called enclos du Temple, originally had a number of buildings that included a small tower called Tour our de César (Caesar’s Tower) and a massive turreted keep, known as Grosse Tour (great tower), which combined is usually referred to as the Temple.
Despite the Temple being considered a massive structure, at least once it was unable to accommodate those who came calling. This occurred in 1254, when Henry III of England passed through France while returning from Guyenne. He and his entourage wanted to stay at the Temple, “but with so imposing a suite…[the] great enclosure could not accommodate them all.” However, the Temple did host at least one of Henry III’s constant successions of feasts and revels: One of its great halls was used to host a feast, which was considered one of the King’s most magnificent and successful events during his visit.
Over the years, the Temple enclosure underwent a complete metamorphosis in both habit and appearance. Some of the towers and walls of the Temple were left standing, but since the time of Henry IV of France, when it began to fall into ruins, instead of being repaired, parts were pulled down and the Palace of the Grand Prior and a number of other hotels were built in its place. The Temple enclosure also lost its warlike traditions and became a peaceful retreat where neither the crown or the Paris municipality could interfere. This meant that within the Temple enclosure not only was there no interference from the Crown or the municipality but also complete freedom and no taxes.
Because of the freedom and lack of taxes three classes of people lived within the Temple enclosure. There was the wealthy, “seeking either to economize or to enjoy its free manner of life; second, debtors to whom it offered a safe asylum; and, third, all manner of tradespeople and artisans who went there to escape from the tyrannies of the trade corporations and the heavy taxes imposed in the city.” Additionally, a thriving trade called the bijoux du Temple (jewelry of the Temple) sprang up. There was also a number of quacks with false claims who could not be arrested for selling drugs, panaceas, or deleterious mixtures.
During the time of the Templars, the great tower had been used as a treasury, but by the time of the French Revolution, it was a prison, along with the adjacent smaller tower. At the time, the tower was 150 feet in height, with an interior of from 30 to 35 feet either way. It also had small windows and walls nine feet thick, which made the chambers within it extraordinarily gloomy. There were also four floors, accessed by a staircase that wound up one of the four turrets at angles. It was into this gloomy, smaller tower the following people were imprisoned beginning on 13 August 1792:
- King Louis XVI was removed on 21 January 1793 and guillotined the same day.
- Marie Antoinette was removed on 1 August 1793 and guillotined on 16 October 1793.
- Madame Élisabeth was removed on 9 May 1794 and guillotined a day later.
- Louis XVII remained imprisoned until his death from tuberculosis on 8 June 1795.
- Princess Marie-Thérèse (Madame Royale) was incarcerated three years and four months before being sent into exile.
- Princess de Lamballe was removed 19 August 1792 and died on 3 September 1792.
- Madame de Tourzel was removed on 19 August 1792, taken to La Force prison, and eventually smuggled out of jail.
Sometime after the royal family was executed and during the time of Napoleon, royalists began conducting pilgrimages to the Temple. This grated on Napoleon, and, so, in 1808, he ordered its demolition. It took two years to demolish it and even then remnants of the Temple remained. Near the remnants, a wooden structure was erected as a permanent market called the carreau du temple (covered market). In 1860, the remaining remnants of the Temple were demolished under Napoleon III, and, in 1863, the wooden structure of carreau du temple was replaced by a cast iron, brick, and glass structure. That structure still stands today, and that area were the Temple originally stood now serves as a Paris Metro station.
- Davis, Graeme, The Knights Templar, 2013
- Lansdale, Marla Hornor, Paris; Its Sites, Monuments and History, 1899
- Morris, Mrs. C. O’Conner, The Prisoners of the Temple, 1874