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Qatari prince ordered to suspend Paris palace work

By Elizabeth Pineau
/ Source: Reuters

By Elizabeth Pineau

PARIS (Reuters Life!) - A French judge ordered a Qatari prince on Tuesday to suspend some modernization 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 authorization 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.