Today was arguably one the busiest day we have had in Paris. We were to visit and have tours of the two bodies that comprise France’s bicameral legislature, the Assemblée nationale (National Assembly) and Sénat (Senate). Before delving into photos and giving a personal analysis of the experience, I believe it imperative that I give some background information about the two bodies.
The National Assembly is called the “lower house” of the bicameral legislature and is comprised of 577 members who are elected by direct universal suffrage amongst the people in their respective constituency/district. They meet in Palais Bourbon in Paris and their meetings are presided over by a president who is aided by six vice-presidents. The Assembly can be dissolved by the President and, likewise, the Assembly can pass a “vote of no confidence” and take over the executive. Something interesting about the Assembly’s weekly agenda is a session that takes place at 3pm every Wednesday where members of the Assembly can ask “questions to the Government”. These sessions are broadcasted on national TV and are opportunities for the opposition party to challenge the majority. If it’s anything like the British parliament, it’s probably very entertaining.
The Senate, also known as the “upper house” of the legislature, is comprised of 348 members who are elected indirectly by various political officials like mayors, city councilors, members of the National Assembly, etc. The Senate, like the Assembly, is presided over by a president and is the first in line for succession to the Presidency of the Republic. Senators meet in the Luxembourg Palace and houses the most impressive hallway/room I’ve ever been in (pictures can be scene below).
Background info out of the way, now for today’s venture. We started out with a tour of the National Assembly and were given ample time to gaze upon the magnificence of its interior.
The sheer magnitude of the Roman columns and decorative, rotunda ceilings was awe inspiring. The various symbols of law and liberty covering the chamber and number of statues and busts throughout the building, pay homage to the liberal ideas of the once great Roman Republic/Empire. France, a formerly known as Gaul in Roman times, over the last millennium has grown from a territory of Rome, to one of the last surviving enclaves of Roman power. From the structure of the architecture and decoration of government buildings, to their legal system of Napoleonic Code or Civil Law derived from Roman Law, France has become one of the many countries attempting to claim the inheritance of the Roman Empire.
Our next stop would take us to the Senate at Luxembourg Palace where we would have another guided tour by a Senator and then have our visit capped off with a peak into the main chamber to watch these politicians in action. Like the previous stop, the Senate was also adorned with symbols of liberty and democracy. Paintings and statues illustrated famous philosophers and popular myths, but the most impressive part of the entire visit came when we walked into this massive room decorated top to bottom in gold and priceless works of art.
If there ever was a room that could manage to put on such a display of power, I have yet to see it. The room is covered in gold and velvet, two symbols of wealth, power over consumption. The walls are covered in drapes and paintings of religious figures and depictions of myths, a display of supernatural power. Finally, in the center of the room, rests the throne of Napoleon, a symbol of power over man. The fact this room is housed in the same place as the Senate is symbolic in that it represents that all the power of the state, rests in the hands of the Republic.
The weather may have been brutal with temperatures in the upper 90s and I may have been coughing up a storm, but the sight of that one room made the entire trip worth it. I am immensely grateful to have had the opportunity to visit the legislative branch of the French Republic and I am looking forward to sharing my experiences with those less fortunate.