In French contexts, an hôtel particulier (French pronunciation: [otɛl paʁtikylje]) is a townhouse of a grand sort. (In mediaeval English, hôtel was rendered as "inn", the townhouse of a nobleman, now surviving only as used in Inns of Court. Particulier meant "personal" or "private"). Whereas an ordinary maison (house) was built as part of a row, sharing party walls with the houses on either side and directly fronting on a street, an hôtel particulier was often free-standing, and by the 18th century it would always be located entre cour et jardin, between the entrance court, the cour d'honneur, and the garden behind. There are hôtels particuliers in many large cities, such as Paris, Bordeaux, Albi, Aix en Provence, Avignon, Caen, Lyon, Montpellier, Nancy, Rouen, Rennes, Toulouse and Troyes. The term is comparable to the townhouse which housed the British nobleman in London.
The word hôtel represents the Old French hostel, from Latin hospes, hospitis, a stranger, foreigner, thus a guest. It thus appears that the city townhouse of the French nobleman was used by him not as a home but as a private place of temporary lodging, perhaps with a permanent staff, where he was treated as an occasional guest. The term had exactly the same equivalent in mediaeval London as "Inn", of which almost every great nobleman possessed one, generally within the City of London. The English word "hotel" developed a more specific meaning as serviced rooms for rent, as did the word "inn", when replaced by the suffix "house", for example the mediaeval townhouse of the Earl of Northumberland would have been known as "Northumberland's Inn", but a later version was called "Northumberland House" . Cognates can be confusing: the modern usage in English of hotel denotes a commercial building accommodating travellers, a hostelry that is more ambitious than the modern meaning of inn. Modern French also applies hôtel to commercial non-private hotels: confusingly the Hôtel de Crillon on the Place de la Concorde was built as an hôtel particulier and is today a public hotel. The Hôtel des Invalides retains its early sense of a hospice for war wounded.
In French, an hôtel de ville or mairie is a town hall (and not a hotel), such as the Hôtel de Ville, Paris or the Hôtel de Ville de Montréal. Other official bodies might give their name to the structure in which they maintained a seat: aside from Paris. several other French cities have an Hôtel de Cluny, maintained by the abbey of Cluny. The Hôtel de Sens was built as the Paris residence of the archbishop of Sens.
Some Parisian hôtels particuliers with individual entries:
- Hôtel de Soubise
- Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild
- Hôtel Lambert
- Hôtel Matignon
- Hôtel de Sens
- Hôtel de Rambouillet
- Hôtel Biron
- Hôtel d'Evreux
- Hôtel de Cluny
- Hôtel Carnavalet
- Hôtel de Salm
- Hôtel Grimod de La Reynière
- Hôtel Jacquemart-André
- Hôtel de Marigny
- Hôtel de Lauzun
- Hôtel de Beauvais
- Hôtel de Boisgelin
- In Toulouse
- In Rennes
- In Blois
- Collins Robert French Dictionary
- Michel Gallet, Les architectes parisiens du XVIIIe siècle, Paris;
- Cassell's Latin Dictionary
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- Monographs have been published on some outstanding Parisian hôtels particuliers.
- The classic photographic survey, now a rare book found only in large art libraries, is the series Les Vieux Hotels de Paris by J. Vacquer, published in the teens and twenties of the 20th century, which takes Paris quarter by quarter and which illustrates many hôtels particuliers that were demolished during the 20th century.
- Blanc, Olivier, Hôtels particuliers de Paris (1998)
- Caylux, Odile et al. Les Hôtels particuliers d'Arles (2000)
- Cros, Philippe,Hôtels particuliers de France (2001)
- Naudin, Jean-Baptiste et al., Hôtels particuliers de Paris: Visite privée (1999).
- Papillault, Remi Les hôtels particuliers du XVIe siècle à Toulouse (Serie Memoires des pays d'Oc)