The Ile De La Cité
The Ile de la Cité is an island on the Seine situated at the heart of Paris. It is today considered as the historic center of the city. Historically, a small tribe named the Parisii lived there from the year 250 BC onwards. However, due to the lack of reliable archeological elements, ancient Gallic settlements or any proof of any anterior occupation, Historians and Archeologist agree that the Parisii lived in reality in the south-west of the actual city of Paris.
In 52 BC, after the victory of Julius Caesar over Vercingetorix, the city of Lutetia, the Roman ancestor of Paris, was created. In 508, after the fall of the Roman Empire, Clovis, the king of the Francs, made Paris the capital of his kingdom and set up his castle in the former Roman government palace. After the Christianization of the Francs, many churches were built on the island. A large basilica dedicated to Saint Etienne of Paris replaced the former Roman temple; it was built on the current location of the famous cathedral of Notre-Dame.
Throughout the Carolingian era from 752 to 987, most of the capital’s life was concentrated in the island. But, after the crowning of Charlemagne, Paris lost its capital status, and was greatly weakened by three Normand sacs in 845, 856 and 861. However, at the beginning of the 11th century, the Cité concentrated most of the royal and episcopal power. The bishop Maurice de Sully launched the construction of the Notre-Dame Cathedral, at the same time as he reformed parish organization, to secure episcopal authority, in 1163.
After the kings Louis the Saint and Philippe Le Bel, Charles the 5th decided to definitely abandon the Cité Palace, preferring to settle in the Château de Vincennes and the Palais du Louvres. The Ile de la Cité remained a very dynamic part of the capital. The Pont-aux-Changeurs sheltered a large number of sellers and merchants. A lot of bridges such as the Pont Notre Dame or the Pont Saint Louis were built in this era, between 1300 and 1500. In 1578, the Pont Neuf was constructed by the king Henri the 3rd, to bridge the two banks of Paris through the tip of the island.
During the 17th and the 18th century, the Island was subject to the new urbanism rules of the capital that rectified the alignments of buildings and roads. And at the eve of the French Revolution, 10 of the 14 parishes established in the 11th century were still on the island. During the Revolution, the Ile-de-la-Cité was renamed Ile-de-la-Fraternité, « Fraternité » (solidarity in English), was one of the three main values of the new French state along with « Liberté » (liberty) and « Egalité » (equality).
In the 19th century, during the Haussmann transformation of the capital, every building of the island between Notre Dame and the Justice Palace was teared down to build the very large Boulevard du Palais, an important road in Paris circulation. Only a few parts of the Place Dauphine and the Notre-Dame area remained. Large roads such as the rue de la Cité absorbed many narrow and sinuous streets of the island such as the rue du Marché-Palu, de la Juiverie or rue de la Vieille-Lanterne.
These works are still contested today as they simply annihilated the historic heart of the city, especially its medieval heritage that has now been lost. There remain a lot of very nice places to visit in this iconic place of the capital.
The Ile De La Cité
This very interesting little piece of history used to be the main residence of French Kings between the 10th and the 14th century. The building that can be visited now is one of the only remnants of a palace that used to cover an important part of the island.
And, as a small plot twist, this building was also an extremely important prison during the French Revolution, adding historic chills to a wonderful gothic monument. Marie Antoinette (the French queen, Louis the 16th’s wife) was locked up in the Conciergerie prison before being executed in 1793.
Original cells have been reconstructed to give visitors a glimpse into the last moments of personalities such as Robespierre or Olympes de Gouges, days and hours before their guillotine execution.
Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral
The construction of this extremely famous cathedral began in 1163, driven by Maurice de Sully and ended in the middle of the 14th century. This explains why the architectural style of the building is not entirely uniform. It contains characteristic elements of both early and late gothic architecture. It was, at the end of its construction, Europe’s largest cathedral. This cathedral is also known for its two “rosaces” (large stained-glass rose-shaped windows), that are two of the biggest “rosaces” of Europe.
This cathedral is one of the most iconic monuments of Paris. Both a religious and cultural element of the city, it has many times been at the center of French History. It also plays an important role in the very famous novel written by Victor Hugo, Notre-Dame de Paris, published in 1831.
The Palais de Justice
This Palace named « The Palace of Justice » (literal translation from French) is located on the island and hosts many important justice State institutions such as the Tribunal de Grande Instance, the Cour d’Appel and the Cour de Cassation; in other words, it is the neuralgic center of the French judiciary system. And it has been for centuries. Between 1793 and 1795, this palace became the home of the much feared Tribunal Révolutionnaire (Revolutionary tribunal), in which many people were tried in the Terreur era of the Revolution.
The Justice Palace is along with the Conciergerie and the Sainte Chapelle another remnant of the Palais de la Cité. Small historical anecdote, the south gothic façade of the Palace of Justice is still scarred by many bullet holes that were made in the fighting for the liberation of Paris in 1944.
As you can see, you will, in the Ile de la Cité be able to contemplate centuries of history of the wonderful city of Paris. Have a great visit!