The Greek temple just north of the Place the Concorde is known as ‘La Madeleine’ or ‘L’église de St-Marie-Madeleine’.
The large building is actually a church, dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene. In French, Magdalene is known as Madeleine, hence the name of the building.
When construction of the church started in 1764, the plans made by architect Pierre Constant d’Ivry called for a design similar to that of the Invalides church. When d’Ivry died in 1777 his designs, which can be seen in the Musée Carnavalet, were dismissed
by his successor, Guillome-Martin Couture. He decided to raze the unfinished building and start with a new design, this time based on the Panthéon.
design by d’Ivry
A Temple becomes a Church
Construction halted during the French Revolution until 1806 when Napoleon decided to build a temple in honor of his army. He appointed Pierre-Alexandre Vignon who razed the structure yet again and started with the construction of a temple based on the ‘Maison Carrée’, an ancient Roman temple in the French city of Nîmes.
With the construction of the Arc de Triomphe, which honored the French Army, the new temple was looking for a new function.
Some of the suggestions included using the temple as a parliament, a bank or even a train station. Finally in 1842 the building was consecrated as a church, a function it still holds today.
No less than fifty-two Corinthian columns surround the temple, each of them twenty meter high (66 ft). At the front, the columns are topped with a sculpted frieze. The bas reliefs on the bronze doors are by Henri de Triqueti and represent the Ten Commandments. The temple’s facade acts as a great architectural counterbalance to the colonnaded facade of the Palais Bourbon across the river.
Inside, behind the altar is a large statue depicting the ascension of Mary Magdalene. It was built in 1837 by Charles Marochetti. The church also boasts a pipe organ, built by Cavaillé-Coll in 1846. The organ is still used for concerts nowadays.