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Ile de la Cité

The Ile de la Cité is the historical and geographical center of Paris. Here, on the little island protected by two arms of the Seine, a Celtic tribe, the Parisii, established a settlement in the third century B.C. Here too the Romans built the Gallo-Roman city of Lutetia, and here the inhabitants of the city sought refuge during raids by Germanic tribes, Norsemen and Huns. It was only in the High Middle Ages that the city was able to establish a durable presence on the two banks of the Seine and a center of power and authority.

Notre-Dame de Paris

Notre-Dame de ParisNotre-Dame de Paris View slideshow
One of the most famous Cathedrals in the world, Notre-Dame de Paris was built in the 12th C, but took over 150 years to complete. It considered a masterpiece of Gothic architecture.

Sainte-Chapelle

Sainte-ChapelleSainte-Chapelle View slideshow
Considered one of Paris's finest pieces of Gothic architecture, Sainte-Chapelle is often used to host concerts. It was built in the mid 13th C but restored in the 1800s.

Ile Saint-Louis

Ile Saint-LouisIle Saint-Louis View slideshow
Ile Saint-Louis, long home to aristocracy and writers, is a quaint area of 17th C buildings, with cafes and restaurants.

Institut de France

Institut de FranceInstitut de France

The Académie Française, founded by Cardinal Richelieu in 1635 to foster the French language, is the oldest of the five learned academies of the Institut de France which have their headquarters in the Palais de l'Institut de France. The members of the Academy, the "quarante Immortels", who are appointed for life, decide whether a word should be admitted into their authoritative Dictionnaire de la Langue Française and thus officially recognized as a French word.

On the 350th anniversary of the Academy's foundation President Mitterand was presented with one of the first copies of the ninth edition of the Dictionary, which contains 45,000 words (the eighth ediion of 1935 had only 35,000).

The other academies carry out and promote research in the fields of classical history and archaeology (Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres, founded 1664), the natural sciences (Académie des Sciences, 1666), the humanities, law and the social sciences (Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques, 1832) and art (Académie des Beaux-Arts, 1816).

Address: 23 quai de Conti, F-75006 Paris, France

Paris Council Chamber

The main feature of interest in the interior of the Institut de France is the Council Chamber under the dome, in which is the tomb of Cardinal Mazarin (by Antoine Coysevox, based on a design by Jules Hardouin-Mansart).
Cardinal Mazarin's private library, the Bibliothèque Mazarine, in the east wing of the Palais, contains more than 450,000 volumes, manuscripts and valuable incunabula.

Conciergerie

ConciergerieConciergerie View slideshow

The Conciergerie in Paris, originally part of the medieval palace of the Capetian kings and later a prison which achieved a melancholy fame during the French Revolution, is now a museum and also a popular venue for concerts. Part of the building is used as a remand prison attached to the adjoining Palais de Justice.

The three High Gothic halls of the Conciergerie were built around 1300, in the reign of Philippe le Bel, and these are the only parts of the original palace that survive. In those days the castellan of the palace and the head of the royal household was known as the Concierge (a term which has come down in the world to mean the caretaker of a block of flats). Presumably he also had some kind of judicial authority, since the building soon became the palace prison and later a state prison. Among those confined here were the murderers of Henri IV and the Duc de Berry, Charlotte Corday (who killed Marat), Marie-Antoinette, Danton and Robespierre.

From the Quai de la Mégisserie on the opposite side of the Seine there is a good view of the Conciergerie, with its 19th century neo-Gothic facade, its three round towers and the Tour de l'Horloge (Clock Tower), in which Paris's first public clock was installed around 1370 (destroyed in 1793 and restored in the 19th century). The entrance to the Conciergerie is on the Quai de l'Horloge, to the right.

Visitors first enter the 14th century Salle des Gardes (Guard Room), with heavy vaulting borne on massive piers, the capitals of which are richly decorated (animal fights, etc.). The adjoining Salle des Gens d'Armes (Hall of the Men-at-Arms), the dining room of the palace's armed guard, is a jewel of Gothic secular architecture (by Philippe de Bels, 1285-1314). Measuring 70 by 30 meters (230 by 100 feet), it has ribbed vaulting supported on three rows of pillars.

The kitchens, dating from around 1350, were equipped to cater for banquets with two or three thousand guests and drew their supplies directly from boats on the Seine, since in those days there was no quay. The open fireplaces were large enough to roast oxen whole.

The Rue de Paris, a passage separated from the Salle des Gens d'Armes by a grating, was so called after the executioner, known as Monsieur de Paris, to whom the condemned prisoners were handed over here. The Salle des Girondins, originally the palace chapel, was used during the Revolution as a special prison for supporters of the Girondist party (opponents of the Jacobin dictatorship). In this room are displayed a variety of relics of the bloody days of the Terror, include a guillotine blade, prison regulations and a facsimile of Marie-Antoinette's last letter. The Rue de Paris continues to the prisons, including the cell in which Marie-Antoinette was confined after an unsuccessful attempt to rescue her. Here, after a trial lasting 20 hours, she awaited execution, like thousands of other prisoners of the Revolution. Visitors are also shown the cell in which Danton and later Robespierre were imprisoned before going to the guillotine.

Address: 1 Quai de l'Horloge, F-75001 Paris, France

Palais de Justice

Palais de JusticePalais de Justice View slideshow

On the site now occupied by the Palais de Justice, on the Ile de la Cité, the Gauls, followed by the Romans and later the Merovingians, built their fortified settlements and strongholds. This was the cradle of French royal authority. In the reign of Louis IX (St Louis; 1226-70) the royal residence, with the newly built Sainte-Chapelle, reached the peak of its magnificence. After the storming of the palace in 1358 by the rebellious merchants of Paris under the leadership of Etienne Marcel, however, the court moved to the Louvre. From the 16th century onwards the palace was the seat of the Parlement de Paris, the highest French court of justice, whose assent was necessary for all laws promulgated by the king. This privilege was abolished by the young king Louis XIV after the Fronde (1648-52), a revolt against the royal authority. The French Revolution later removed both the king and the Parlement, sending all its members to the scaffold. The new citizens' courts moved into the old palace, which now became known as the Palais de Justice. Thereafter the building suffered much damage and destruction by fire and in the course of time was much altered, until finally at the turn of the century the Palais de Justice took its present form. The south wing was added in 1911-14. The Palais houses the civil and criminal courts, with the criminal investigation department in the south wing on the Quai des Orfèvres.

At the entrance to the Palais de Justice, in the Cour de Mai (where the maypole used to be set up), is a magnificent wrought-iron gate dating from the time of Louis XVI (1787). From here a flight of steps leads up to the Galerie Marchande (Merchants' Hall), which in the time of Louis IX was a passage between the royal palace and the Sainte-Chapelle; before the Revolution it was crowded with merchants offering their wares. This leads into the Salle des Pas Perdus ("Hall of the Lost Steps") - an allusion to the time wasted here by hopeful litigants. The hall is situated directly above the Salle des Gens d'Armes in the Conciergerie, the old Grande Salle of the royal palace, in which the king signed important treaties and held official receptions. The neo-classical decor is a reproduction of the original decoration by Salomon de Brosse, restored after a fire in 1871. From the Galerie Duc, named after the architect and restorer of ancient monuments Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc (1814-79), there is a view of the Sainte-Chapelle and, at the other end, of the Cour des Femmes of the Conciergerie. In the Vestibule de Harlay are statues of Charlemagne, Philippe Auguste, Louis IX and Napoleon, monarchs who were particularly concerned with law-making.

Opening off the Salle des Pas Perdus is the Chambre Dorée, the Première Chambre Civile, which was originally Louis IX's bedroom and in 1793 became the Salle de la Liberté, seat of the revolutionary tribunal which passed over 2,000 sentences of death, including that of Marie-Antoinette. The neo-Renaissance decor dates from the 19th century.

Address: 4 boulevard du Palais, F-75001 Paris, France

Place Dauphine

Southeast of the Square du Vert-Galant, beyond the Pont Neuf, is Place Dauphine, which dates from the time of Henri IV - one of the finest architectural ensembles of that period in Paris. In 1607 the wealthy Président (Chief Justice) Achille de Harlay was given the site by the king with instructions to build a complex of houses with uniform facades. He built 65 terraced houses of light-colored stone and red brick, with two storys over an arcaded ground floor. The square, named after the Dauphin, the future Louis XIII, soon became the resort of actors, quack doctors, strollers and the merely curious. In 1872 the whole of the east side of the square, on Rue de Harlay, was pulled down and replaced by houses in Neo-Classical style. The only houses which survive from the original square are Nos. 14 and 26.

Rue des Ursins

The little streets to the north of Notre-Dame have retained some flavor of the past. Among them is Rue des Ursins, which was largely spared by Haussmann's transformation of Paris. From the Quai aux Fleurs, where the flower market is held, there is a view of the ivy-clad front of No. 21 (La Colombe restaurant), with a small plate giving the original name of the street, Rue d'Enfer (Hell Street) - so called because of the tunnel-like character of the narrow little street. The adjoining building (No. 19) is all that is left of the Romanesque chapel of Saint-Aignan, which along with Notre-Dame and the Sainte-Chapelle is one of the last three of the 23 churches which once stood on the island.

Mint

The Mint (Monnaie de Paris, Hôtel des Monnaies), built between 1771 and 1777, is one of the few buildings in Paris in early Louis XVI style. Begun at the end of Louis XV's reign to the design of Jacques-Denis Antoine, it is notable in lacking the elaborate decoration of Baroque and Roccoco. The doorway in the 117m/384ft long facade has allegorical representations of Trade and Agriculture.
Since 1973 French coins have been minted at Pessac (Gironde). The workshops on the Quai de Conti, which are open to the public, still mint special silver and gold coins. The Museum illustrates the history of coinage from the Renaissance to the present day.
Address: 11 quai de Conti, F-75006 Paris, France

Hôtel-Dieu

Windows of the Hotel Dieu in Paris.
The barrack-like Hôtel-Dieu in Paris, a hospital, was built in 1868-78 on the site of a seventh century convent whose nuns were dedicated to the care of the sick and the needy. The Hôtel Dieu can thus claim to be one of the oldest hospitals in Europe.
Address: 1 place du parvis de Notre Dame, F-75004 Paris, France

Square du Vert Galant

The little garden at the northwestern tip of the island commemorates Henri IV, who was known as the Vert Galant ("Lusty Gallant"). There is an equestrian statue of the king on the terrace above the garden, a place frequented by lovers and street entertainers.

Marché aux Fleurs and Marché aux Oiseaux

The flower markets are the most famous markets in Paris. They offer a wide range of flowers. On Sundays the market sells caged birds.

Mémorial de la Déportation

This monument, at the southeastern tip of the island Ile de la Cité, commemorates those who were deported to German concentration camps during the Second World War.
Address: Square de l'lle de France, F-75004 Paris, France

Notre-Dame-des-Blancs-Manteaux

This church was built in 1685. It has a magnificent 18th C Rococo Flemish pulpit and the organ is best appreciated at one of the concert.
Address: 1, rue de l'Abbé Migne, F-75004 Paris, France

Square Charlemagne

Statue of Charlemagne in Paris.
In front of Notre-Dame, at the end of the Pont au Double, is the little Square Charlemagne, with a statue of Charlemagne.

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