Qatari prince faces battle over Paris palace plans

Fri Aug 21, 2009 1:38pm EDT
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By Estelle Shirbon

PARIS (Reuters) - A plan by a Qatari prince to bring modern comforts to his 17th century palace in the heart of Paris was attacked in court Friday by critics bent on stopping it.

Eminent academics and architects, well-heeled neighbors and even an elderly film star who lived in the riverside mansion for two decades have risen up against the project, alleging it will cause irreversible damage to a listed national monument.

Under scrutiny are moves to dig a car park beneath the paved courtyard of the building, which is called Hotel Lambert, and to build elevators and new bathrooms in the gilded living quarters.

"It's as if you had a magnificent horse-drawn carriage and you wanted to convert it into a standardized limousine," Jean-Francois Cabestan, an architecture professor, told Reuters before a legal hearing on whether to ban the works.

Cabestan belongs to an association for the protection of historic Paris which has gone to the courts to try and reverse official approval for the renovation project. It is a race against time, with building work scheduled to start in November.

Set at the tip of the Ile Saint Louis, an island in the Seine, the mansion has a distinctive facade with a semi-circular gallery, and was once home to the Rothschild banking dynasty.

The brother of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, emir of Qatar, acquired it in 2007 for a price of between 60 and 80 million euros ($86-$115 million), according to French media.

The Ile Saint Louis is a stomping ground for artists and intellectuals, and the arrival of a Gulf millionaire sparked rumors of flashy cars and marble bathrooms.   Continued...

<p>A general view of the Hotel Lambert in Paris, August 21, 2009. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier</p>