Ile de la Cité

The most emblematic monuments are without doubt Notre-Dame and the Sainte-Chapelle. We will walk around them before continuing our walk on one of the two river banks.

Stroll in old medieval Paris Ile de la Cite detailed itinerary


Notre-Dame de Paris

Fortunately saved and now secure, its restoration is now under way. Shortly after the fire, the writer and academician François Cheng, had the following words of simple and profound humanity:

«This cathedral, which has existed for 850 years, despite its wooden frames, has not really experienced a fire. And all of a sudden, this April 15, 2019 at 6:30 p.m., it happened. History will never forget this flame that springs from her womb and rises to the sky with astonishing fury. It will remember this date. But at a higher level, there is this intense emotion that takes hold of everyone. And everyone in the night, stunned, desperate, feels that this emotion is shared by others, and then by a whole people and then by the whole world. At that time we are irresistibly drawn into a universal communion ... We must never forget it.

If you allow me, I add a very brief intimate remark. Let’s not forget that it’s Our Lady so it’s a maternal presence. We know what maternal love is, something natural, normal: we enjoy it, we take advantage of it, we abuse it often, but without worrying too much about it. One day, suddenly, this maternal presence is torn from us. So, we are immersed in infinite sadness, in infinite regret. We say to ourselves: there are so many things we could have told her and we never did. We never told her, "I love you." Now it's too late. This feeling of "too late" grabbed us as the spire turned into a torch and broke. So a cry of terror seized us ... Our Lady is going to leave without us having time to say goodbye. Fortunately, the next day we were reassured ... She is saved. In this case, let's not be forgetful. Let us be full of gratitude and be faithful to this common good. ”

Notre Dame
Notre-Dame Atget - 1922 (MoMA)

Atget - 1922

Notre-Dame was extensively restored in the 19th century through Victor Hugo's engagement and novel  The Hunchback of Notre-Dame  in 1831:

"The church of Notre-Dame de Paris is still no doubt, a majestic and sublime edifice. But, beautiful as it has been preserved in growing old, it is difficult not to sigh, not to wax indignant, before the numberless degradations and mutilations which time and men have both caused the venerable monument to suffer, without respect for Charlemagne, who laid its first stone, or for Philip Augustus, who laid the last.”
The Hunchback of Notre-Dame –Victor Hugo (1831)

His Gothic novel generated indeed a broad interest in the cathedral. It was then in a very poor condition and he largely contributed to the major renovations led by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, a brilliant thirty years old architect at the time the renovation started in 1844.
The degradation caused by men that Victor Hugo refers to, are for example the ones made mainly during the 18th century: hence, the replacement of the medieval Gothic altar with a new one ordered by Louis XIV. Though splendid , it was ill-suited to the 12th century church. The destruction of the 13th century stained glass panels replaced in 1752 by clear glass; the enlargement of the central portal by Soufflot in 1771.

Many of the exterior sculptures were badly damaged by the effects of time and ready to collapse when the Revolution completed their destruction.

The Gallery of the Kings of Judas, wrongly thought to be French kings were beheaded by the revolutionaries. Fragments of these statues were found by chance a long time after, in 1977 when works were done in a private mansion, 20 rue de la Chaussée d'Antin. They can be seen today in the Cluny Museum.
The statues that we see today on the facade of the church, such as this large statue of the Virgin, were redesigned by Viollet-le-Duc  who was inspired from those of other cathedrals like Reims and Amiens.

Notre Dame
Notre-Dame Atget - 1907 (Mission du Patrimoine Photographique)

Atget - 1907
(Mission du Patrimoine Photographique)

Notre-Dame de Paris  - Pentures Atget - 1908(BnF)

Notre-Dame de Paris - Hinges
Atget - 1908

The doors, as well as those of the Virgin Gate, are covered with hinges that have always been admired. The perfection of these fittings made people think that the locksmith Biscornette could only be assisted by the devil. They were destroyed in 1771 with the new gate built by Soufflot. The wrought iron craftsman directed by Viollet-le-Duc succeeded in making them almost similar to the medieval ones.

Rue du Cloître-Notre-Dame :

Let's continue along the Rue du Cloître-Notre-Dame which runs along the northern façade of the church.
The Portal of the Cloister built by Jean de Chelles around 1250 was connecting the cathedral with the cloister.
The street, so little medieval today as it is invaded by souvenir shops, is situated on an old path alongside the cloister of which nothing remains. At the time, it was like a small city of houses and gardens enclosed by a wall. Their school, which trained priests and monks, had famous teachers such as Maurice de Sully and Abelard. The school declined with the departure of Abelard and closed in 1200 when Philip Augustus created the University.

At nr 18, among the souvenir shops, an old house, one of few not destroyed by Haussmann.

Old house rue du Cloitre Notre dame
Old house rue du cloitre notre-dame Atget

Old house
Rue du cloître-Notre-Dame.
Atget - 1924
(Musée Carnavalet)

Quai aux Fleurs et rue des Ursins

We walk along the Quai au Fleurs to the corner of Rue des Chantres and Rue des Ursins, where a house with a medieval appearance stands. If clothes don't make the man, the same is true of the façade of this house built in 1958. It is in reality a pastiche of a medieval house made up of old architectural elements of various origins.

quai aux fleurs and rue des Ursins
details pastiche medieval house quai aux fleurs
Quai aux Fleurs et rue des Ursins Atget

Quai aux Fleurs et rue des Ursins
1902 Atget -
(Mission du Patrimoine Photographique)

Rue des Chantres

Inhabited in the past by the monks and canons of Notre-Dame, such as Fulbert, strict uncle of Héloïse, who lodged Pierre Abélard, master of rhetoric and dialectics at the Cloister-Notre-Dame school, around 1115. We all know the passionate love of Abelard and Heloise, who fled to Brittany where they had their son Astrolabe. Back in Paris, Abelard established a school of philosophy on the Montagne Sainte-Geneviève. But animated by a nasty bitterness, old Fulbert, with the help of accomplices, avenged his niece's honour by castrating the poor Abelard. From that moment on, the lovers pronounced their respective vows in 1119, and a long correspondence in Latin began between them.
When Abelard died in 1142, Heloise had his body buried in the abbey of Le Paraclet, which Abelard had founded in Champagne near Nogent-sur-Seine and of which she was the first abbess. She was buried with Abelard until 1630 when a prude abbess decided to separate their remains.
In the 19th century, more charitable souls managed to get them back together and their ashes now lie in the Père Lachaise cemetery, in a monument that is a replica of the Paraclete's. As symbols of absolute love, they were among the first to be buried in this cemetery. In fact, it was a publicity stunt conceived by the prefect Frochot with the help of Alexandre Lenoir to attract the Parisians to this new cemetery outside the walls of Paris at that time.
From this street, which hardly seems to have changed, I zoomed in on the Notre-Dame spire rebuilt by Viollet-le-Duc. All the skill of M. Georges, a master carpenter who knew how to pursue the tradition of cathedral builders, was required to rebuild the spire's roof structure to support the colossal weight of the spire. In the centre is the statue of Viollet-le-Duc, represented as the patron saint of architects, Saint Thomas, turned towards the spire, contemplating his work and making the salute of the companionship.

Gros plan sur la flèche
rue des chantres
rue des chantres atget

Rue des Chantres
Atget - 1923
(Musée Carnavalet)

Let's continue by the Quai aux Fleurs and walk through the Marché aux Fleurs. Boulevard du Palais, the Sainte-Chapelle, a pure gem of Gothic Art commissioned by Saint-Louis to Pierre de Montreuil in order to protect a fragment of the cross of Christ and the crown of thorns. If the Sainte-Chapelle and the Conciergerie, have been preserved from the Middle Ages, there is nothing to remind us of the medieval narrow streets and of many churches destroyed by Haussmann.
The Tour de l'Horloge, installed in 1371, is the oldest public clock in Paris. At the top of the tower was the bell that together with those of Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois announced the beginning of Saint-Bartholomew's Day. It was melted down during the Revolution.
On Quai de l'Horloge, we follow the Conciergerie with its three round towers: the César Tower, the Silver Tower and the Bonbec Tower, which is named for the fact that prisoners were tortured there to make them talk. At the end of the island, we reach the Pont-Neuf, which we take to reach the left bank.

Two options to reach the right bank. Either by the Pont-Neuf and then taking the quai de l'Hôtel de Ville. Or by the Ile Saint-Louis, which is reached by the Pont Saint-Louis, and then by the Pont Louis Philippe. It can depend on whether you prefer bouquinistes or an ice cream at Berthillon !

Texte / Photos : Martine Combes

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