Paris Camino - Part 2

From Saint-Jacques Tower to Porte d'Orléans

13 min reading - Stroll 4 kilometers

Map stroll Paris Camino from Saint-Jacques Tower to Porte OrléansD

We now follow the road traditionally used by the pilgrims from the middle ages, from the Tour Saint-Jacques and along the Lutetia's oldest axis named the cardo maximus: today rue Saint-Martin, rue de la Cité and rue Saint-Jacques.

Tour Saint-Jacques

Tour Saint-Jacques

We continue along the rue Saint-Martin to the rue de Rivoli, where we stop at the Tour Saint-Jacques, historic meeting point for the pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela.
Once a bell tower, the tower is the only vestige of the Saint-Jacques de la Boucherie church, destroyed during the Revolution. The church got this name of la Boucherie, because it was the church of the wealthy Guild of butchers. The church had also two famous donators, the so–called alchemist, Nicolas Flamel and his wife Pernelle, as reminded by the two streets bearing their names, behind rue de Rivoli, opposite the Tower. As Flamel was buried in the church, there were many occult theories around Saint-Jacques de la Boucherie. But while the transformation of lead into gold requires some spiritual elevation, the tower was transformed into a lead tower in 1824 by a manufacturer of hunting shots using its perfect fifty-metre height. 

Paris Camino credential

As the Tour Saint-Jacques was on a small hill, this created a problem for Haussmann during the extension of the rue de Rivoli requiring a flat path. As the ground level went down, the tower was maintained on stilts and a new pedestal was built in order to maintain the original elevation of the tower. The public garden around the Tower was  created at this time.

Let's enter the garden and visit the Tower, open to guided tours generally between May and November.

Pilgrims can get their Camino credential at the Tower tour kiosk. 

At the top of the tower, Saint James the Greater has his statue with the evangelists represented by their symbol: the eagle for Saint John, the lion for Saint Mark and the bull for Saint Luke, and the angel for Saint Matthew.

View of Paris from Tower Saint-Jacques
View Paris from Tower Saint-Jacques
Tower Saint Jacques Pascal

The mathematician and physicist Blaise Pascal would have use the place for barometric experiments, according to conflicting accounts. The tower has also been used as a meteorological station since 1891, and more recently as a measuring station for atmospheric pollution.

shell garden tour saint Jacques

Let’s now cross the garden to the right, towards the Place du Châtelet, and as you leave, see the shell carved on the pillar of the gate.

Rue de la Cité

Notre Dame de Paris

Now let's cross the Avenue Victoria and return to the Rue Saint-Martin. We take the Pont Notre-Dame and follow the Rue de la Cité across the Ile de la Cité.

Just before the bridge, we can have a glimpse over the spire of the Sainte-Chapelle, behind the Conciergerie. The Sainte-Chapelle was built in 1246 in the palace of king Saint-Louis, to contain relics of the Passion of Christ. Such a marvel of Gothic architecture.  Badly damaged during the Revolution, it was restored in the 19th century and its spire completely rebuilt.

On our left, Notre-Dame de Paris, another marvel also completely restored in the 19th century, was almost destroyed by fire in April 2019 and is currently being rebuilt.

Marché aux Fleurs

On our right, the Marché aux Fleurs with its small pavilions from the 1900s.

We cross the Seine again via the Petit Pont.

Camino nail shell Petit Pont Boulevard Saint Michel

Between the Petit-Pont and Boulevard St-Michel, have a look at your feet and see the nail shell alongside the pavement. There will be more than twenty of these along the even-numbered side of rue Saint-Jacques.

Rue du Petit Pont

Across the boulevard is the rue du Petit-Pont, which later becomes the rue Saint-Jacques, one of the oldest streets in Paris as a former Roman north-south road.
Since the middle ages, it is traditionally used by pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostella via Orléans and Tours. 

Old buildings, some with fine ironwork, have only been preserved on the left odd-numbered side of rue du Petit Pont.

Balcony 15 rue du Petit Pont Atget

Balcony, 15 rue du Petit-Pont
Atget – 1913

15 rue du Petit Pont

Rue Saint-Jacques

Now in the Rue Saint-Jacques, we see the back of the Church of Saint-Séverin. In the past, the church was hidden by houses and shops until their demolition at the beginning of the 20th century. The photo taken by Atget in 1899 shows it hidden by old houses covered with adverts.

Church of Saint-Séverin Corner rue Saint Jacques Atget

Church of Saint-Séverin 
Corner rue Saint-Jacques

Atget- 1899

(Musée Carnavalet)

Church of Saint-Séverin

Church of Saint-Séverin

Pillar church of Saint-Séverin

It looks like the church has been the same since the 13th century. In reality, except the bell tower and a part of the nave, it was modified over the 15th and 16th centuries Even the 13th-century portal is that of an other church demolished in the 19th century, re-assembled stone by stone. I have a special feeling for this beautiful church and I always like to stop here. The twisted pillar is of infinite beauty; it is like a palm tree spreading its stone vegetation against the ceiling.

Rue Saint-Jacques

Sundial Dali 27 rue Saint-Jacques

At 27 rue Saint-Jacques, the adverts on the wall have been replaced by a sundial made by Dali in 1966. Its shape of both a smiling face and a scallop shell is an obvious reference to the Camino de Santiago that Dali depicted in a famous lithograph, Santiago El Grande.

A comparison with the photo taken by Atget clearly shows the widening of the rue Saint-Jacques after the demolition of the houses on the even-numbered side of the street.

Rue Saint-Jacques between boulevard Saint-Germain and ur du Petit Pont Atget

Rue Saint-Jacques
between boulevard Saint-Germain
and  rue du Petit-Pont


Rue Saint-Jacques Church of Saint Séverin Dali sundial

Musée Cluny

Musée Cluny

The Musée Cluny, dedicated to the Middle Ages, recently renovated is a short walk from the rue Saint-Jacques (after the boulevard Saint-Germain, turn right into the rue Du Sommerard). 
Although its walls  display a large number of shells, it is mainly in honour of the abbot of Cluny, Jacques d'Amboise, who had the Hôtel de Cluny rebuilt.

Rue Saint-Jacques

A little further on, at 67, rue Saint-Jacques, the listed house caught Atget's eye, himself observed from behind the parted curtain, like  perhaps the few pilgrims passing by...

67 rue Saint-Jacques Atget

67, rue Saint-Jacques
Atget - 1913
(Musée Carnavalet)

67 rue Saint Jacques

We are now entering the student neighborhood. It is also from here that a large number of shell nails have been placed along the even-numbered side of rue Saint-Jacques. 

First on our left is the prestigious Collège de France, founded by King Francois I, at the initiative of the humanist Guillaume Budé, a contemporary of Erasmus. It was established as a new school where languages other than Latin, such as Greek and Hebrew, and disciplines like science and mathematics, excluded from the Sorbonne, would be taught. To this day, it remains open to all, free of charge, with no age or diploma requirements and no need to register in advance.

Cupola astronomical Sorbonne rue Saint-Jacques

On our right, we walk along the back of the Sorbonne. Created in the 13th century, the university was named after its founder Robert de Sorbon, confessor to King Louis IX and became the main institution where theology was taught.
When he became his headmaster, Richelieu decided to rebuild the Sorbonne which was spread over several buildings. The only building remaining from this time is the Chapel that Cardinal Richelieu chose for his tomb. The buildings we see today were rebuilt at the end of the 19th century. The cupola topped tower is an astronomical building.  

Just beyond the Collège de France is the prestigious High School, Lycée Louis Le Grand.

We now cross rue Cujas. On our left we can see the church of Saint-Etienne du Mont in the distance. Then we reach rue Soufflot, with the Panthéon in view.

At 151, rue Saint-Jacques, this is the 18th century town house of Lepas Dubuisson. The area was once occupied by the Porte Saint-Jacques, a large gate of the fortified walls built by Philip Augustus.

Door 151 rue Saint-Jacques Atget

Door, 151 rue Saint-Jacques
(Musée Français de la Photographie)

151 rue Saint-Jacques

Opposite, at 172, the plaque on the wall evokes this gateway, which in the Middle Ages was the route outside the city to the countryside with many monasteries.

Many shells can be found here ...

On the door of 169,

on the pavement in front of 177, a small pastry shop with a large selection of travel cakes including  small cakes in the shape of shells ... 

169 rue Saint-Jacques
Camino nail shell rue Saint-Jacques
177 rue Saint Jacques Pastry

Then we pass in front the Institut de Géographie and the Institut Océanographique, with a wreath of shells above a beautiful octopus on the door. They are both part of the small Curie Campus, built at the beginning of the twentieth century after the demolition of a convent. Atget's photo shows the chapel before its demolition and its replacement by the Institute of Geography. 

In fact, we are now entering in an area where there were many convents and monasteries, marked of course with shell nails on the pavement.

Former convent Visitation Sisters Atget

Former convent of
Visitation Sisters

Atget – 1900

Institut Géographie Océanographie

Church of Saint-Jacques du Haut Pas

At 252, rue Saint-Jacques, the church of Saint-Jacques du Haut Pas. The name Haut-Pas is the translation of Altopascio in Tuscany from where several brothers came to settle here in 1180. They were taking care of the poor, the sick and were offering shelter to the pilgrims on their way to Compostela.
The current church dates from 1685 and its simple style is quite inspired by the austere nearby Port-Royal abbey.   In the 18th century, Jean-Denis Cochin, a priest of the church, founded a hospice for the poor in the faubourg Saint-Jacques, opposite the Observatoire. After the revolution his name was given to his hospital which is today the Cochin Hospital.  

Saint Javques du Haut Pas Atget

Saint-Jacques du Haut Pas
Atget – 1927

Saint-Jacques du Haut Pas

Immediately after the church, at number 254, the Institut des Jeunes Sourds de Paris (National Institute for Deaf Children of Paris), originally founded in 1760 by Charles Michel de l'Epée, whose name was given to the street we have just crossed. The school was established on the former hospital of Saint-Jacques du Haut Pas.

Rue Saint-Jacques

How many of the unhabitants of 262 are aware that there was a  farm  at the beginning of the 20th century?  
Actually, for a long time, there were meadows and fields in the Faubourg Saint-Jacques, with several religious communities that expanded in the 17th century: Carmelites, Ursulines, Feuillantines, Visitandines, Bénidictines du Val de Grâce, English Benedictines.

Old Farmhouse 262 rue Saint-Jacques Atget

Old farmhouse
262, rue Saint-Jacques


262 rue Saint-jacques

NB: A terrible explosion on 21 June 2023 destroyed a former listed pavilion of the Val de Grâce Abbey, causing it to collapse and damaging the neighbouring buildings.

At 269 is the Schola Cantorum, a famous school of music, dance and drama located in the former convent of the Benedictines. Opposite, a modern building hides an old stone gateway once entrance of the Carmelite convent.

The first stone of the church of Val de Grâce was laid in 1645 by the six-year-old Louis XIV. His mother, Anne of Austria vowed to build a magnificent church if God granted her a child. This happened after twenty-two years of marriage when she was thirty-six. 

During the French Revolution, the Benedictine nuns of the Val de Grâce were forced to leave their convent transformed into a military hospital. It kept this vocation until 2016.

Church of Val de Grâce
Church of Val de Grâce

The last of the more than twenty nail shells along rue Saint-Jacques is at the junction with boulevard de Port-Royal.

We continue along rue du Faubourg Saint-Jacques, we cross Boulevard Arago and continue to Place Saint-Jacques, starting point of the stroll along the meridian line.

We continue along rue de la Tombe Issoire. After the Place des Droits de l'Enfant, turn right into Rue du Père Corentin.  Opposite numbers 63-65, we take the small cobbled street, Villa Virginie, which leads into Avenue du Général Leclerc and to Porte d'Orléans.  

Our stroll is ending here, whilst pilgrims on the Camino continue towards Orléans for another very long journey.

Texte / Photos : Martine Combes

Contact / newsletter: