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Pau’s town hall, or hôtel de ville in French, is a surprising but charming structure. It is a former entertainment and performance space from the mid-19th century, as evidenced by the allegorical sculptures depicting theatre and music on its façade.
It was built where the Church of Saint-Louis used to stand, a location that had remained a construction site for more than 150 years.
To use this prominent location to its full potential, architect Jean-Baptise Lefranc drew plans for a cultural space in as early as 1839. It took 15 years for the project to be launched, after which time a private company was given permission to build and exploit the facilities. The building opened its doors in 1862 and was bought by Pau four years later, as the premises for its town hall.
The Italian-style theatre across 4 floors was kept. The town hall’s appearance was changed as part of an extensive renovation project in the 1890s, particularly by decorating the centre stage with terracotta sculptures made by Virebent, a company from Toulouse. The current painted décor dates from 1983.
The buildings are arranged around an inner courtyard covered by a glass roof. The brightness of this space can be fully appreciated from the balconies on the second floor. A column-lined gallery, called a peristyle, serves as a passageway between the courtyard and the theatre entrance. A stunning monumental staircase that seamlessly combines straight and curved lines provides access to the different floors.
The impressive council chamber, under a coffered ceiling and its large chandeliers, has kept its former ballroom layout, with a balcony for the orchestra musicians. Mirrors built into semicircular faux bay windows are positioned symmetrically to the outside bay windows. They are all framed by decorative pilasters and capitals.