Posted by: reecejharley | January 6, 2010

Ile Saint-Louis

The Ile Saint-Louis

Well….. after the grandiosity of Ile de la Cite, we now come to the smaller, more residential and human-scale Ile Saint-Louis.

Until the 17th century Ile Saint Louis was actually just two mounds of earth in the middle of the river; uninhabited, and mainly unused. King Henri IV ordered the island to be built up and populated, and so it was… The new apartments, especially those circling the island with a view of the river, were snapped up by Paris’s most wealthy noble families. The great exodus from Paris after the Royal Palace and its courtiers moved to Versailles, saw the island transition from an upper-class enclave to a more working class, neighbourhood so much so that in Marcel Proust’s novel “À la recherche du temps perdu” his heroine is told that it would be “scandalous” to live there

Much of Paris used to resemble the tight-knit alleyways of Ile Saint-Louis prior to the city’s grand-scale redevelopments under Baron Von Haussmann in the 1860s. Baron Haussman was commissioned by Napoleon III (Nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte) to redesign (read demolish) vast swathes of old Paris. When you think of the Champs Elysee, Boulevarde Saint Germain, The Arc de Triomphe and the Paris Opera house you are thinking of Baron Haussmann’s work. He was much criticised by his contemporaries for destroying much of the historic city and forcing Paris’s poorest to evacuate their homes and relocate (often to the outskirts of the city). This was gentrification at its most ambitious.

The Ile Saint Louis is, like it’s sister island, connected to the rest of the city by a number of bridges. It’s tight and narrow streets are perfect for the pedestrian, and troublesome for the automobile. Actually, despite the fact that the Rue Saint-Louis in the island’s main traffic thoroughfare, it more closely resembled a pedestrian arcade where the car seemed out of place. Berthillon, Paris’s most famous and ice-creamerie is located here.

The Ile Saint-Louis, immediately upstream from the Ile de la Cite, to which it is linked by the Pont Saint-Louis (which collapsed in 1939 and is at present replaced by an ungraceful, temporary, metal footbridge), is today still a kind of little land independent of Paris, a realm of the past, very peaceful, which many fine scholars claim as their own. (pge 104)

Funnily enough, the ‘temporary bridge’ remains…

The 'temporary bridge'

Crossing the bridge from the Ile de la Cite a few things stood out. The man playing the piano in the open air, the exceptional view back to the right bank, and the woman throwing a ball to her little dog. A small crowd gathered to watch this energetic little hound run back and forth across the bridge chasing it’s ball. The owner? about 70 years old, she was wearing, a fur coat of course… I managed to get a shot of the dog mid-air 🙂

Doggy, doggy, doggy

Cafes, restaurants and little shops abound on Rue Saint-Louis, but the rest of the island is mostly  left to its residents.

At no. 21 stands the Church of Saint-Louis-en-Ille, the name of which has extended to the island as a whole. Preceded by a church consecrated in 1623, the present church, in what is known as jesuit style, was begun in 1644 by Le Vau and finished in 1726. A tower with perforated spire, 98 ft high, was raised in 1765, the earlier steeple having been struck by lightning. A wrought iron clock is hung from a bracket like an ancient inn-sign. (pge 104)

The Church of Saint-Louis

Island Cafe

In the 1920s this area became a favourite with the ‘Lost Generation’ including Ernest Hemmingway who wrote in his book ‘A Moveable Feast’: “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.“, Dos Passos, Nancy Cunard and Helena Rubinstein; cosmetics industrialist and publisher of ‘Lady Chatterly’s Lover.

Further down the street I came across one of those typical french cafes… All the chairs facing the street, the wait staff all in their blacks and whites. I sat down to rest my feet, take in the atmosphere and read more of Nagel’s guide over a cup of coffee. I’m not sure if it is that the milk is creamier, or just that the consumer is sitting in an idyllic setting, but the coffee was the best I’ve had in a long time…

Walking East, further down Rue Saint-Louis a succession of apartments, mostly uniform in style, but some obvioulsy older than others, stand proudly proclaiming their previous residents.

Nos. 12; where Phillippe Lebon discovered the principle of gas lighting (1799).

Nos. 7; the Hotel Bretonvilliers, built around 1640 for the Secretary to the King’s Counsel, Claude Le Ragois de Bretonvilliers, in which the famous painting the ‘Triumph of Venus’ one hung.

Hotel Lambert

Nos. 2; The Hotel Lambert which dominates the Eastern tip of the island and has been owned by the billionaire Rothschild family since the 1970’s. It was designed by the same architects who laid out the plans for the Palace of Versailles and its original owner was Claude Lambert de Thorigny, President of the Chambre des Comptes (The Court of Finances, which oversaw the kingdom’s incomes and expenditure and provided advice to the king).

Circumnavigating the island affords incredible views. I have uploaded a few more pics from the day below…

Tomorrow, Les Halles; Paris’s ancient market district!

Tight streets

The View




  1. Hey great work Reece!

  2. I love the photo of the tights treets. Great shot. I would like that one enlarged and framed. Keep up the good photography. Try and get a few shots with yourself in at some point 🙂

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