Secure Paris attacks courtroom nestled within storied site

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Reporters focus on the special courtroom built for the 2015 attacks trial, Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021 in Paris. In a custom-built secure complex embedded within a 13th-century courthouse, France opened the trial of 20 men accused in the Islamic State group's 2015 attacks in Paris that left 130 people dead and hundreds injured. Nine gunmen and suicide bombers struck within minutes of each other at France's national soccer stadium, the Bataclan concert hall and Paris restaurants and cafes on Nov. 13, 2015. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

PARIS – The November 2015 Paris attacks trial is taking place in the Palais de Justice, a national monument whose walls date back to the 13th century and King Louis IX.

In the heart of Paris, on the same island that holds Notre Dame Cathedral and the city's police headquarters, it has been a center of power for France for generations and was built on ancient Roman ruins. It also is home to Louis' famed Gothic Sainte-Chapelle.

The palace was expanded through the ages by French kings, many of whom lived in the same wing that now houses the secure complex of rooms specially constructed for the nine-month terror trial. The wing has a statue of Louis IX, known as Saint Louis, standing beneath an oak tree administering justice.

According to historians Hélène Bellanger and Marc Renneville, at the end of the 13th century, King Philippe the Fair remodeled the palace to also host courts.

The palace then hosted the Revolutionary Court during the Reign of Terror, and in 1793 famously tried Marie-Antoinette and others before they were guillotined.

It has burned repeatedly, most notably during the “semaine sanglante” (bloody week) of 1871, when the Versailles government repressed the Communards and a fire ravaged most of the court buildings.

French novelist Emile Zola also faced trial in the building during the Dreyfus affair at the end of the 19th century. And the walls still bear scars from bullets fired in street battles to retake Paris from the Germans in World War II.

Paris moved the bulk of the court proceedings to a more modern building in the city's north in 2018. In January 2020, the French government decided to use the structure's cavernous side hall for the exceptional needs of the November 2015 Paris attacks trial, the biggest trial in French history.

Working with cultural authorities and the architect in charge of protected national monuments, construction finished over the summer.

Twenty men are accused in the Islamic State group’s 2015 attacks on Paris that left 130 people dead and hundreds injured. The new chamber, which has pale wood and enormous screens, can house 550 people, all the defendants and multiple cameras. Overflow rooms carry live broadcasts of the proceedings.

Among the plantiffs are nearly 1,800 victims, including survivors and families whose loved ones died that night. A total of 330 lawyers are representing them and the defendants.