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Tue 15 Sep 2009 08:38 PM

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Qatari prince ordered to suspend Paris palace work

Fears previously raised that proposed works would mar listed national monument.

A French judge ordered a Qatari prince on Tuesday to suspend some modernisation work on a 17th century palace in central Paris, pending a decision on objections to the plans by conservationists.The plans to add modern comforts to the Hotel Lambert, which once belonged to the Rothschild banking dynasty and where Chopin and Voltaire both stayed, have roused fears among associations for the protection of historic Paris that they will irreparably mar a listed national monument.

The Paris administrative court judge suspended authorisation to carry out the work, which had been granted by the culture ministry in June, until a full decision can be reached.

The judgment said the plans as presented did not contain a sufficiently complete assessment of the work and did not allow a full appreciation of the likely consequences.

Eric Ginter, a lawyer for the owner said he was "surprised" by the ruling but the conservation group that mounted the court challenge hailed the decision.

Located on the Ile Saint Louis in the heart of old Paris, the Hotel Lambert, with its magnificent ceiling paintings and its distinctive curved gallery is considered among the finest structures of its period.

The brother of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, emir of Qatar, acquired the building in 2007 for between 60 and 80 million euros ($86-$115 million), according to French media.

His planned renovations include an underground car park beneath the building's paved courtyard, an elevator and new bathrooms in the living quarters.

There have been dark suspicions among many traditionalists that the changes would sacrifice the building's unique character to flashy cars and modern conveniences and the decision was welcomed by conservation association Paris Historique.

"This is an historic decision which has been won thanks to a monumental effort," the association's lawyer Michel Huet told Reuters. "It's really enormously satisfying for us and for Paris Historique, which no one took seriously at first".

But the prince's lawyers say the plans will actually revive the building, which was split up into separate apartments by a previous owner and which they say is in serious need of restoration.

"The owner risks becoming annoyed by all these sticks being put in the wheels when he wants to create something beautiful," Jean Barthelmy, a lawyer for the culture ministry, said. "If he gives up on it, the building is likely to fall into ruin."

The culture ministry noted the decision only related to parts of the restoration plans like the room that would be affected by the new bathroom or the courtyard.

It did not affect planned restoration work on the celebrated "Gallery of Hercules" painted by Charles Le Brun, the artist who also painted the spectacular Galerie des Glaces at the Palace of Versailles.  (Reuters)

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John 11 years ago

A few loos and a place to park the Bentley fleet are hardly going to compromise the overall character of this building, which would have fallen apart if left to the impoverished Parisian snobs to save. That a Gulf prince is prepared to spend his people's money on restoring a place of historic beauty to be enjoyed, from the outside at least, by the citizens and tourists of Paris is a noble gesture. Off their THEIR heads, I say!

rasha 11 years ago

who will compensate the prince on all time lost? why arent those history lovers paying for this delay or even buying the place up, is it because it's arabian money, is this a continuation of French discrimination. One authority says "yes" the other says "no" and those objecting have nothing to lose just talking here and there and filling their time with an unfair cause to feel important.

Serge 11 years ago

Sad if the building does fall into ruin, but as the article says it is only the Court yard (Garage) and a bathroom. In the end it all boils down to retaining the old features. We purchased an old 200 year plus property 7 years ago and had the same problem, because we were within view of an ancient monument. With a little give and take we ended up with the required result for all. This was in a village of only 350 people! I did not disagree with the advice given, but I did take steps to consult the authorities before I started and did in return receive a great deal of help. Europeans have a great deal of commitment to conserving their historic past and take the appropriate steps. I wonder how many locations dear to Qataris were just bulldozed away in the quest for modernity? Dubai is one such example. Do you realise that at one time most of the beaches in Dubai were at the disposal of the residents??

Reda 10 years ago

We should let the innovative Arabs do their Job. They have high appreciation of the Culture and Traditions and they will just add value and sustainability to a building that is collapsing. The world is changing. and the french authorities have to accept that.