The first and tallest skyscraper of Paris


In 1781, New York was still a British settlement and Sydney, Australia had not yet been founded. These two great cities, known for their skyscrapers were preceded by a few cities in Europe, and particularly Paris. Yes, the tallest skyscraper of Paris dates back to the 18th century! Let’s learn where to find it…

The first and tallest skyscraper of Paris

Head to the first arrondissement, the central district of Paris. There, in the vicinity of the Louvre and Palais-Royal you may think I’ve gone crazy as to suggest there is a hidden skyscraper.

You will find it at 48 rue de Valois.

The best view to enjoy it is from the start of Rue Vivienne as you exit from the Gardens of the Palais Royal.

48 rue de Valois, Paris in the 19th century

48 rue de Valois, Paris in the 19th century

The history of 48 rue de Valois

Entrepreneur François Guiraud de Talairac built it in 1781, under the reign of Louis XVI (1754-1793) on the site of the palace of the Radziwill, Polish princes.

In fact, the building is quite impressive, even today. It has a total of nine levels under the eaves. It was at the time (and for many years to come) the tallest building of Paris… and should we say the tallest skyscraper of Paris!

According to my estimates, the tower would be 30 meters high.

This height had both a speculative and advertising purpose because it was to attract the attention of visitors to the Palais-Royal.

In addition, Guiraud de Talairac was keen to pack as much rental accommodation as possible into a minimum of floor space.

The building had two doors opening into a public passage: one in rue de Valois and the other in the dead-end street of Rue Radziwill (owned by the Banque de France).

The passage (one of the first created in Paris) had elegant shops at the time when the Palais-Royal was a popular place to be.

48 rue de Valois, Paris © French Moments

48 rue de Valois, Paris © French Moments

What was inside the building?

The regular dressed stone facade (pierre de taille) is quite sober as it has no moulding.

Inside, the building housed apartments as well as a hotel on the upper floors.

On the ground floor and on the mezzanine was a clandestine gambling den with 19 rooms, hidden under a respectable business.

Then, the Banque de France bought the building at the end of the 19th century to house its staff and then offices.

A double staircase

Inside is a fabulous double staircase, based on the one found in Chambord.

Double spiral staircase, Chambord © Hélène Rival [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Double spiral staircase, Chambord © Hélène Rival – [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

It is lit by a circular glass roof on the roof.

The double staircase (escalier à double révolution) was designed so that two people could take it simultaneously without crossing each other.

Both tenants and clients of the little Hôtel Radziwill appreciated these two peculiarities, conducive to discreet dodging.

Today the Banque de France owns the building and therefore you won’t get access to admire it.

Imagine how the staircase can be a puzzle for the bank’s employees: they must carefully calculate which stairway entrance to take depending on the floor (even or odd) they want to go.

Today’s tallest skyscraper of Paris and France

You may ask: What about today’s tallest skyscraper in Paris?

The tallest skyscraper of Paris is Tour Montparnasse (210 m) which should be the subject of a restoration campaign.

Montparnasse Cemetery

Montparnasse Tower seen from the eponymous Cemetery © French Moments

In 2021, the tallest skyscraper of France is Tour First (231 m). You can see it rising above the esplanade of the business district of La Défense.

La Défense 21 © French Moments

The First Tower in La Défense © French Moments

About rue de Valois

Rue de Valois is 377 m long. It borders the Palais Royal complex between rue Saint-Honoré and rue de Beaujolais.

It takes its name from Louis-Philippe I (1773-1850), duke of Valois and King of the French from 1830 to 1848.

Discover the beautiful and secretive Place de Valois.

Place de Valois

Place de Valois © French Moments

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About Author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. He has a background teaching French, Economics and Current Affairs, and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations, and a degree of Economics and Management. Pierre is the author of the Discovery Course on the Secrets of the Eiffel Tower and the Christmas book "Voyage au Pays de Noël".

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