Posted by: reecejharley | January 5, 2010

Ile de la Cite

Boy is it cold today!!! A bunch of fresh parsley placed on the window sill a few nights ago in a glass of water now finds itself more akin to a floral display on top of an ice-block… The poor little things feet are frozen!

So, what did I get up to yesterday? A day spent on two little islands in the middle of the river… Conveniently, the first Sunday of the month = free entry to most of Paris’s museums… So I made good use of the offer!

The Ile de la Cite is not just the geographic centre of Paris… it is the historic heart.  Floating in the middle of the Seine, the Ile de la Cite is connected to the city on either side of the river by five bridges, four which run straight across the island, and the fifth (the  pont l’Archev), connecting to the left bank.

The Ile de la Cite contains four of Paris’s most famous buildings:

  1. The Notre Dame – The pride of medieval Europe;
  2. The Palais de Justice – Paris’s central court buildings, steeped in history;
  3. The Conciergerie – The former palace of the Capetians and central prison (Marie Antoinette it’s most famous inmate); and
  4. Sainte Chapelle – Jewel box of Paris, a high Gothic chapel with a ceiling which seems to float atop walls of bejeweled windows.

The two islands are very different from each other, in fact, it’s not too much to say that they are quite opposite. The Ile de la Cite is grandiose while the Ile SaintLouis is more residential. The Notre Dame is imposing, the Conciergerie is monolithic and slightly intimidating, the Palais de Justice is imposing and the long banks of apartments are lofty.

In this restricted space stood the whole of the primitive town and it is here that logically a visit to Paris should begin. The stone ship with the tapering prow, moored by its bridges, encloses the cathedral.

The Ile de la Cite, crowned by Notre Dame, is the cradle of Paris. Transformed too radically by the second empire and covered with great public buildings, it has not the quietness and unique charm of the Isle Saint-Louis, but it contains the finest Gothic monuments in the capital: Notre Dame and the Saint-Chapelle.  The Palais de Justice is one of the most history-laden spots in France and the circle of its quays discloses a succession of incomparable scenes. (pge 86)

Notre Dame from the left bank

The Place Dauphine

At the western-most point of the Ile de la Cite stands the Place Dauphine. Two rows of apartments opened at the end constituting an elegant triangle, much like the bow of a great stone ship. The Place Dauphine is perhaps the most intimate and residential section of the island. As I walked into the Place Dauphine I noticed a rickety little door swinging open and shut, a diminutive man stepped up and out of the shoe-box apartment at street level. Hunched over, he seemed to be having difficulty working the lock on his door and he hurried back inside once his dilemma had been resolved and hurriedly swung the drapes shut to ward off prying eyes.

The Place Dauphine

Nagel’s guide offers this:

The Place Dauphine, created in 1607 to complete the Pont Neuf and in honour of the Dauphin (later Louis XIII), extends in a triangle between the  Quais des Orfevres and de L’Horloge. First of the royal squares, conceived in the classical period, the Place Dauphine was uniformly built pf houses of brick and stone, with two identical facades, one facing the square and the other the quay. They were all of three stories, with the ground floor arcaded and crowned with large dormer-windows with curving fanlights in the slated roof. This fine ensemble has been regrettably disfigured, most of the houses having been altered, heightened or rebuilt. Only nos. 14 and 26 have preserved their original appearance.

The place Dauphine opens on the west on the place du Pont Neuf, between two attractive Louis XIII houses in stone and brick, restored. This marks the point of the Ile de la Cite and the middle of the Pont Neuf. Opposite stands the equestrian statue of Henri IV. If the merchants and ballad0singers of former days have dissapeared, the spot is lively, cheerful and always charming. Downstream one sees the Louvre, on the right bank and the Mint and the Institut on the left bank. Behind the statue of Henri IV, as a low beach, the point of Vert-Galant tapers like the bow of a ship, and bears a delightful little garden filled with ancient trees. This whole scene, viewed for example from the Pont des Arts forms one of the world’s loveliest urban sights. (pge 88)

Ile de la Cite from the Pont des Arts

From the Place Dauphine I walked east towards Notre Dame along the quay. The weather in Paris has been unexpectedly mild with cool weather, but not the biting chill I was expecting. The sun continually peeps out from the trees lighting up the facades of the buildings and basking the throngs of tourists in a warm glow.

The Palais de Justice

The Palais de justice takes up a substantial proportion of the west of the island stretching from one side to the other. This is not just a tourist attraction. It is a fully functioning government building, rimmed with guards, police vehicles, barriers and authoratative signage.  Though most of the building is off limits unless you have been accused of a crime or are on the payroll, parts of the building are open to the public, including Saint Chapelle which stands in the main forecourt of the building.

Palais de Justice

The Saint-Chapelle

The Saint-Chapelle (the steeple is viewable in the left of the photo above) is actually my favourite building in Paris, and probably the world. It is quite unimpressive when viewed from the main street and even when viewed up close. It appears diminutive, darkened by years of weathering and hidden as if somehow shameful. All of this could not be further from the truth when you step inside!

The Sainte-Chapelle, marvel of Gothic architecture (1246-48), unfortunately closed in by unpleasant surroundings, is one of the jewels of Paris. It consists of  a low and high chapel.

St Louis had this chapel built to contain the Crown of Thorns and a part of the True Cross, which had been sent to him from Constantinople by Jean de Brienne and the Emporer Baudouin II. The Saint-Chapelle was burned in 1630 and rebuilt very slowly.  The building, 117 ft. long, 55ft. wide and 136 ft. high (the spire rises a further 108 ft.) arouses admiration first by its remarkable lightness: the stained glass windows are so large by comparison with the slender framework of stone that the monument seems to stand by a miracle of equilibrium.

All parts of the upper chapel are covered by gilding and colouring: but the principal beauties are the stained-glass windows. Each of the 15 windows is a dazzling jewel-box. Scenes from the Old Testament fill seven windows in the nave and four in the apse. The great rose which dates from the time of Charles VIII is divided into 86 panels (the apocalypse). (pge 91)

The interior of Saint-Chapelle

More to come…

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