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Paris- Around Town : Ile de la Cité and Ile St-Louis (part 1)

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Paris was born on the Ile de la Cité. The first settlers came to this island on the Seine in 300 BC  and it has remained a focus of church and state power through the centuries, with the great cathedral of Notre-Dame and the law courts of the Palais de Justice commanding the island. This tiny land mass also has the honour of being the geographical heart of the city – all distances from Paris are measured from Point Zéro, just outside Notre-Dame. While the Ile de la Cité seems overrun with tourists, the smaller Ile St-Louis, connected to its neighbour by a footbridge, has a village-like feel and has been an exclusive residential enclave since the 17th century. Its main street is lined with shops, galleries and restaurants and is a wonderful place for a stroll.

The Guillotine

Dr Joseph Guillotine invented his “humane” beheading machine at his home near the Odéon and it was first used in April 1792. During the Revolution some 2,600 prisoners were executed on the places du Carrousel, de la Concorde, de la Bastille and de la Nation, after awaiting their fate in the Conciergerie prison.



Sights
  1. Notre-Dame

    Notre-Dame
  2. Sainte-Chapelle

    Sainte-Chapelle
  3. Conciergerie

    This imposing Gothic palace, built by Philippe le Bel (the Fair) in 1301–15, has a rich history. Parts of it were turned into a prison, controlled by the concierge, or keeper of the king’s mansion, hence the name. Ravaillac, assassin of Henri IV, was tortured here, but it was during the Revolution that the prison became a place of terror, when thousands were held here awaiting execution at the guillotine. Today you can see the Salle des Gardes and the magnificent vaulted Salle des Gens d’Armes (Hall of the Men-at Arms), the medieval kitchens, torture chamber, the Bonbec tower, and the prison. The cell where Marie-Antoinette was held and the history of other famous Revolution prisoners is on display. Outside, look for the square Tour de l’Horloge, erected in 1370, which houses the city’s first public clock, still ticking away.

    • 2 blvd du Palais, 75001

    • Open Mar–Oct: 9:30am-6pm daily; Nov–Feb: 9am–5pm daily

    • Admission charge

    Conciergerie
  4. Marché aux Fleurs

    One of the last remaining flower markets in the city centre, the beautiful Marché aux Fleurs is also the oldest, dating from the early 19th century. It is held year-round, Monday to Saturday, in place Louis-Lépine, filling the north side of the Ile de la Cité with dazzling blooms from 8am to 7pm. There is also a bird market here on Sundays .

  5. Crypte Archéologique

    Fascinating remnants of early Paris dating back to Gallo-Roman times were discovered in 1965 during an excavation of the square in front of Notre-Dame in order to build an underground car park. The archaeological crypt displays parts of 3rd-century Roman walls, rooms heated by hypocaust, as well as remains of medieval streets and foundations. The scale models showing the evolution of the city from its origins as a Celtic settlement are particularly interesting.

    • Place du Parvis-Notre-Dame, 75001

    • Open 10am–6pm Tue– Sun

    • Admission charge

    Crypte Archéologique
  6. Pont Neuf

    An incongruous name (New Bridge) for the oldest surviving bridge in Paris. Following its completion in 1607, Henri IV christened it by charging across on his steed; the bronze equestrian statue of the king was melted down during the Revolution but replaced in 1818. Decorated with striking carved heads, the bridge was unique for its time in that it had no houses built upon it. It has 12 arches and a span of 275 m (912 ft) extending both sides of the island.

    Pont Neuf and Square du Vert-Galant
  7. Palais de Justice

    Stretching across the west end of the Ile de la Cité from north to south, the Palais de Justice, along with the Conciergerie, was once part of the Palais de la Cité, seat of Roman rule and the home of the French kings until 1358. It took its present name during the Revolution and the buildings now contain the city’s law courts. You can watch the courts in session from Monday to Friday and wander through the public areas, with their many ornate features. The Cour du Mai (May Courtyard) is the area through which prisoners passed during the Revolution on their way to execution.

    • 4 blvd du Palais, 75001

    • Open 9am–6pm Mon–Fri, 9:30am–6pm Sat

    • Free

  8. Place Dauphine

    In 1607 Henri IV transformed this former royal garden into a triangular square and named it after his son, the Dauphin and future King Louis XIII. Surrounding the square were uniformly built houses of brick and white stone; No. 14 is one of the few that retains its original features. One side was destroyed to make way for the expansion of the Palais de Justice. Today this quiet, charming spot is a good place to relax over a drink or meal (see La Rose de France).

  9. St-Louis-en-l’Ile

    This lovely Baroque church on Ile St-Louis was designed between 1664 and 1726 by the royal architect Louis Le Vau. The exterior features an iron clock (1741) at the entrance and an iron spire, while the interior, richly decorated with gilding and marble, has a statue of St Louis holding his Crusader’s sword.

    • 19 bis rue St-Louis-en-l’Ile, 75004

    • Open 9am–noon, 2–7pm, Tue–Sun

  10. Square du Vert-Galant

    The tranquil western tip of the Ile de la Cité, with its verdant chestnut trees, lies beneath the Pont Neuf – take the steps behind Henri IV’s statue. This king had a notoriously amorous nature and the name of this peaceful square recalls his nickname, meaning “old flirt”. From here there is a wonderful view of the Louvre and the Right Bank. It is also the departure point for cruises on the Seine on Les Vedettes du Pont-Neuf .

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