Palais and palazzo


When you study the history of the word palace, you will note that the French term, 'palais' has retained its original meaning more than the Italian one, 'palazzo'. Indeed, PALACE, first spelled paleis, comes from the Latin word palatium, which refers to the Palatine Hill, one of the seven hills of Rome. Through the use of metonomy, this word then came to refer to the residence of emperor Augustus, which was built on the Palatine Hill, and later to palaces of governors.

That is how Jean Nicot puts it in his Thresor de la langue française tant ancienne que moderne(Paris, Dav. Douceur, 1606), as do many other authors including Antoine Furetière in his Dictionnaire Universel.

« Palais, m. ac. Est proprement (comme dit l'Empereur Constantin en la loy unique Depalatiis et domibus dominicis, au 12. l. du Code) l'hostel Royal, ou Imperial, Domus Regia Augustana. L'origine du mot vient d'un des principaux monts de la ville de Rome, dit Palatium, auquel estant posée la premiere situation de ladicte ville: Romulus premier Roy d'icelle, establit son auberge Royal, où depuis habiterent grande partie de ses successeurs Roys. Finalement fut en ce mont establi le siege de l'Empire, & l'hostel Imperial; Si que depuis Auguste tous les Empereurs Romains y habiterent. Et à cause de ce est venu l'usage, que toute maison de Roy estoit anciennement appelée palais. »

Yet, the author then points out that unlike France, the term was popularized in Italy and Spain.

« L'Italien & l'Espagnol retiennent cet usage encore; mais ils communiquent aussi ce mot à toutes grandes maisons d'edifice somptueux, ores qu'elles soient à seigneurs particuliers, inférieurs à Monarques, & autres seigneurs souverains : ce que le François ne fait pas. »

However, the Italian meaning of the word is not totally absent from the French language, since in the 17th Century the word palace likewise started referring to a minister's residence. Indeed, Cardinal Richelieu ordered the construction of the Palais Cardinal, which became the Palais Royal when Anna of Austria moved in. This evolution of the term may be linked to the identification of royal residences as castles, notably from the moment Charles V changed the Hôtel Saint-Pol into Château du Louvre, thus leaving this inner-city palace, where kings had dealt out justice until then, to magistrates.

Nevertheless, as the Dictionnaire Historique de la Langue Française points out, in France, the extensions of meaning of this word do retain the solemn character which characterizes a sovereign, either by designating buildings where some power is actually carried out (as in 'palais de justice', i.e courthouse) or institutions ('palais de l'Otan', i.e. NATO, or 'palais de l'Unesco') or various events ('palais des sports', 'palais des congrès').