Ile de la Cite Walk
Explore the city’s cradle
The symbol of Paris is a ship, and the boat-shaped lie de la Cite is the city’s ‘cradle’, where the Parisii, a Bronze-Age tribe, built their camp on an island in the Seine. Start At the Pont-Neuf Metro station. Henri IV’s Pont Neuf (‘New Bridge’) is in fact the oldest bridge in Paris. Built between 1578 and 1604, it spans the Seine from Right Bank (Metro Pont-Neuf) to the Left across the tip of the island. Henri surveys his handiwork (and the clientéle of the Taverne Henri IV) from place du Pont-Neuf. Locate the steps down to 1 square du Vert Galant and descend. The tree-shaded western tip of the island is beloved of sun seekers and smooching couples. Opposite Henri, rue Henri-Robert cuts through to 2 place Dauphine, a delightful triangular oasis hemmed in by 17thC buildings, chestnut trees and restaurants.
The monumental 3 Palais de Justice complex entails a detour via 4 quai des Orfevres, where Simenon’s Inspecteur Maigret mulled over his investigations. Then turn north on boulevard du Palais, and take the left-hand archway off the courtyard to reach 5 Sainte-Chapelle. Consecrated in 1248, Saint-Louis had the church completed in less than three years to house his collection of holy relics. It is one of the great treasures of Gothic architecture; small, but perfect in every detail, with two chapels, one above the other. The upper chapel, reached by a spiral staircase, is lit by sublime stained glass windows 16 m tall and adorned with a total of 1,134 luminous biblical scenes. Impossible to describe as an attraction, the other main sight in the Palais complex is La Conciergerie, a former prison. At the height of the Revolutionary ‘Terror’, 1,200 prisoners were housed here, including Marie-Antoinette, as they awaited their fate at the guillotine.
Now take 6 Rue Lutece down the centre of the island to 7 place Louis-Lepine, famous for its Sunday caged bird market. On other days of the week there is a gorgeous flower market. Look out for the Art Nouveau entrance to Métro Cité as well, one of Hector Guimard’s rare and wonderful creations. A great swathe of old streets and houses was demolished in the 19thC to make way for the 8 Hôtel-Dieu, which also had the effect of opening up the huge square in front of the 9 Cathedrale de Notre-Dame (see below). Teeming with tourists and coaches, the square (place du Parvis-Notre-Dame) is still a spectacular introduction to the Gothic leviathan which dominates the skyline from vantage points all around the city.
Take rue du Cloître Notre-Dame down the side of the cathedral to the eastern tip of the island where a small park conceals the moving 10 Memorial de la Deportation. A stark cell honours the 200,000 French victims of the Second World War Nazi concentration camps. You can circle back to Métro Cité (place Louis-Lépine) via quai aux Fleurs, where a plaque at No. 9 is dedicated to the teacher Abelard and 17-year old Héloise who became lovers on this site in around 1117. Or cross Pont Saint-Louis on to the Ile Saint-Louis, a grand old neighbourhood.
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