Île de la Cité

I’ve been to Paris so many times that I don’t think I could hazard a guess at the amount, unless I was to sit down with the Eurostar Frequent Traveller app and physically tick off the trips. To readers in the North of England, or in America that statement will, I know, sound annoyingly flash, but London-Paris, when the Eurostar is working, is only a 2.5hr journey, and St Pancras Station is ten minutes from my London flat. It’s often cheaper than a return ticket to Manchester.

But the thing that I am embarrassed about is that I never do any sightseeing, bar cursory trips to Les Arts Decoratifs in between meetings and endless walks. I love the walking (my post on the Tuileries to St Germain here, and from the Palais Royal to Place St Michel here) but because I usually only have time for the walking OR going inside to look at something, I always choose the walking.

Last month I was whisked to Paris for forty-eight hours by my friends at Diptyque for the launch of their new fragrance Eau de Sens. After visiting the Diptyque mothership on Boulevard St Germain, I had a few hours before my train departed. So, of course, I decided to do the walking. Always the walking.

Ile de la cite notre dame

I headed north with a plan of walking to my hotel, about forty-five minutes away in the 1e. Heading over the Pont de l’Archevêché onto the Île de la Cité, past the Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation, towards Notre Dame, I intended initially to just keep on going, but then I saw a small line of people waiting to go into Notre Dame,

Ile de la cite notre dame

and realised that, whilst I may have driven or walked across the the Île de la Cité numerous times, the last – and only – time I have been inside was when I was maybe eight years old. In fact that’s pretty much the last time I went inside any Parisian place of interest bar museums or galleries.

Ile de la cite notre dame

Even with only twenty minutes or so to spare, it was a good decision.

Ile de la cite notre dame

Ile de la cite notre dame

Ile de la cite notre dame

Ile de la cite notre dame

Ile de la cite notre dame

Ile de la cite notre dame

Exiting, I headed west across the island, heading for the Pont au Change to cross north to the Rive Gauche.

Ile de la cite notre dame

And then I saw a sign – one of those brown Parisian ones that marks a site of historic importance. It marked the entrance to Sainte-Chapelle. I’m afraid to say that whilst I knew the name, I had no idea what it actually meant. So I took a spur of the moment decision, handed over some euros and went to explore.

Ile de la cite sainte chapelle paris

Sainte-Chapelle is a very small church – it really is a chapel, sitting in the courtyard of what was once the royal palace, surrounded by buildings belonging to what became part of a later administrative complex known as La Conciergerie, and which is now part of the Palais de Justice complex. The first thing I noticed were these splendid gargoyles. (Always look up! is one of my mottoes.)

You turn a corner, and enter Sainte-Chapelle on the ground floor. It’s very dark inside, with a beautiful vaulted ceiling, painted midnight blue and gold and, of course, stained glass diffusing the light.

Ile de la cite sainte chapelle paris

The painting was designed to emulate Limoges porcelain.

Ile de la cite sainte chapelle paris

Ile de la cite sainte chapelle paris

Ile de la cite sainte chapelle paris

It’s exquisitely beautiful, but I did momentarily think – oh – is that it? Then I noticed the two stone staircases in the far corners leading up the first floor:

Ile de la cite sainte chapelle paris

Nothing quite prepares you for this as you round the corner having climbed up the stairs

Ile de la cite sainte chapelle paris

It’s a visual thwack to the head – I took several deep breaths as I tried to process what I was seeing.

Ile de la cite sainte chapelle paris

The Sainte-Chapelle was built between 1242 and 1248 to house Louis IX’s collection of relics of Christ, although much of the chapel as it appears today is a re-creation, (although nearly two-thirds of the windows are authentic), with the worst destruction happening during the French Revolution in the late eighteenth century.

Ile de la cite sainte chapelle paris

The lower chapel, where we entered the building, served as parish church for all the inhabitants of the royal palace, and this ravishing upper floor was for the king’s especial use.

Ile de la cite sainte chapelle paris

There are fifteen huge mid-13th-century windows, whilst a large rose window (added to the upper chapel c.1490) dominates the western wall. The chapel’s design starts to make sense when you think of it as King Louis’ huge architectural reliquary casket – the highly decorated box that would house the relics of a saint or martyr.

Ile de la cite sainte chapelle paris

Although it’s easy to be mesmerised by the stained glass with the light pouring through it, do look out for the small details too. The beautiful floors…

Ile de la cite sainte chapelle paris

These slightly bawdy looking cherubs

Ile de la cite sainte chapelle paris

The glorious carvings

Ile de la cite sainte chapelle paris

Ile de la cite sainte chapelle paris

Slightly punch drunk from the stained glass overload, I descended into the courtyard to admire Sainte-Chapelle from the courtyard of the Palais de Justice to its right.

Ile de la cite sainte chapelle paris

Ile de la cite sainte chapelle paris

And then I got distracted again – this time by the Conciergerie, with another of those alluring brown historical Paris signs. More Euros were handed over, and I was inside.

Ile de la cite conciergerie paris

This the Grande Salle, one of the largest rooms in the 13th century in Europe, and this lower story was known as La Salle des Gens d’Armes (The Hall of the Soldiers). It was used as a dining room for the 2,000 odd staff members who worked in the palace, and was also used for royal banquets and judicial proceedings until Charles V abandoned the palace in 1358, moving across the river to the Louvre.  In 1391, part of the building was converted for use as a prison.

Ile de la cite conciergerie paris

Fishing bits of history from the depths of my brain, I knew that the Conciergerie was a former prison and had played a pivotal role during the French Revolution, housing several notable figures including Marie-Antoinette and hundreds of prisoners, who weret taken from here to be executed on the guillotine. I have an over-active imagination and I found the atmosphere lowering in the extreme. Too many people were held here in abject misery, and the Revolutionary Tribunal sat in the Great Hall between 2 April 1793 and 31 May 1795, sending nearly 2,600 prisoners to the guillotine.

Ile de la cite conciergerie paris

The Conciergerie was decommissioned in 1914 and opened to the public as a national historical monument, although only a relatively small part of the building is open to public access; much of it is still used for the Paris law courts.

Ile de la cite conciergerie paris

Upstairs are monuments to those who were executed in The Terror, lists of names, from woodsellers to countesses, dressmakers to journalists. Having recently visited the Genocide Museum in Rwanda, it was yet another reminder of man’s inhumanity to man.

Ile de la cite conciergerie paris

Ile de la cite conciergerie paris

Down a corridor, past the cells where the wealthy were kept, is a recreation of the cell of Marie Antoinette.

Ile de la cite conciergerie paris

I was thankful to escape outside to the sunshine and to continue my walk across the city.

Ile de la cite conciergerie paris

Conciergerie. 2 Boulevard du Palais, 75001 Paris, France. monuments-nationaux.fr
Open everyday : 9.30 am to 6 pm. Closed on January 1, May 1 and December 25
Prices: Adult rate : 8,50 € Reduced rate : 6,50 €. Carte Paris Museum Pass accepted.

Sainte-Chapelle. 8 Boulevard du Palais, 75001 Paris, France. monuments-nationaux.fr
Open every day, 1 March to 31 October : 9:30 am to 6 pm. 1 November to 28 February : 9 am to 5 pm. Open in the evening on Wednesdays 15 May to 15 September
Prices: Adult rate : 8,50 € Reduced rate : 6,50 € Carte Paris Museum Pass accepted.

Notre Dame 6. Parvis Notre-Dame – Pl. Jean-Paul II, 75004 Paris, France monuments-nationaux.fr
Open every day. 1 April to 30 September : 10 am to 6:30 pm. open until late in July and August, Fridays, Saturdays, 10 am to 11 pm.
1 October to 31 March : 10 am to 5:30 pm (4:30 pm 2nd October 2012). Closed on January 1, May 1 and December 25

Paris Museum Pass: With the Paris Museum Pass, you gain free entry, without queuing and as many times as you wish, to 60 museums and monuments in and around Paris.

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8 comments

Reply

Gah! I totally missed those steps to the first floor in Sainte-Chapelle. It’s such a little jewel box of a chapel, that I still thought it gorgeous, but it did feel like there should have been more to it. sigh. Well, next time.

But I was utterly fascinated by the Conciergerie. I always find it so interesting to see how the different classes co-existed in limited spaces. I found this similar to the Titanic exhibition I once viewed in Las Vegas. It seemed to me that, while Marie Antoinette had the largest chamber, this luxury was almost completely offset by an almost equal lack of privacy. If the exhibit is true to life, she was constantly monitored by two guards who were only separated by a flimsy decorative screen, over which they could observe her every move.

Anyway, between the plaques of information on the walls next to the rooms and the article on Wikipedia that I accessed while I was there, I was too amused by the colorful context to think of the actual suffering. But I understand what you mean. I had a similar experience looking at instruments of torture at the Tower of London. Once you let yourself imagine exactly what it must be like, the horrors can hit very close to home.

I remain, as always, envious of your photos. Considering buying a better grade of point and shoot, but doubt it will help much. In any case, I loved this post. Thanks!

Reply

oh no! How annoying! At least you can now justify a return visit. I don’t think that it helped that when I was in the Conciergerie I was the only visitor, which made it incredibly eerie and very easy to set one’s mind off in all sorts of unwanted directions…

BTW all these photos, which you were so lovely about, were taken on my iPhone6 – I don’t actually use a DSLR out of the studio these days, as I like the freedom of just using my phone.

LLGcc

Reply

Wow Wonderful Places,Great Historical Places To See,Really Best Photo shots,thanks for sharing..

Reply

LOVED this post, fascinating.

Reply

Saint Chapelle is one of my favourite memories from Paris. I saw it on a beautiful sunny day – the light through the beautiful windows was amazing. We were able to attend a concert there in the evening. Nice to see it again! Thanks.

Reply

Hi, I’m so glad I have find your blog, we are heading to Normandy from Cornwall next Friday, this is with a view to visit Paris… We will have a whole day there and thought eiffel tower and a trip down the river whilst having lunch!! Is this a good way to spend the day or have you got any other suggestions.. You sound very knowledgeable about the area and your photos are amazing!!

Thanks

Lee-Ann

Reply

Hi Lee-Ann, I love the Ile St Louis, and I think it’s def worth exploring – you could do Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle and the Conciergerie in a couple fo hours if you got a wiggle on – do buy the museum pass tho, as it will save you a LOT of money.

I’m sure you’ve done your research but, just in case, do make sure you book your Tour Eiffel tickets way in advance, as it gets very very booked up. (Might be pushing it a bit for this Friday,)

You could also head to the Marais (hotel de Ville metro). I absolutely love the Musee Carnavalet in the Marais, and it’s a lovely part of town to walk around. You could sit in the Place des Vosges (even on the grass!) and admire the view, and nearby also is the rue de Rosiers where you can buy the most delicious falafel I have ever eaten to have as a picnic if the weather is nice.
http://www.libertylondongirl.com/2012/10/25/llg-eats-falafel-at-chez-hanna-the-marais-paris/

http://www.libertylondongirl.com/2012/10/11/a-day-in-paris-with-my-best-friends/

Bon voyage! LLGxc

Reply

Hi Sasha, thank you so much for all of your advice, it’s very helpful and I look forward to our visit to Paris this week!!

Many thanks

Lee-Ann

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