Monday, 4 March 2013

Paris: Île St Louis and Île de la Cité

Notre-Dame from Pont de Sully

We are in Paris for a couple of days to see Brian, an old friend, starting with dinner this evening. First we thought we would go for a walk - no surprise there! We found this walk in our excellent book (Walking Paris by Gilles Desmons) and quickly realised that we could walk to the start point from our hotel on the South Bank. The official start point was the north side of the Pont de Sully, so we walked the mile or so along Boulevard St Germain to the south side of the bridge.

This gave us a bonus sighting of one of Paris's most wonderful modern buildings: L'Instutut du Monde Arabe (Arab World Institute). It was designed by Architecture-Studio and Jean Nouvel in the late 1980s. The river frontage is curved, but the side we approached from offers a robust rectangular glass wall. The square motifs are actually cunningly designed apertures which open and close to regulate the light and heat inside (this side faces south).

Crossing the bridge to get properly started we were rewarded with the first of many view of Notre-Dame (see the photo at the head of this post). More surprising - and a real delight - was the art deco sculpture which stands at the southern end of the bridge. The state is by Paul Landowski, whose greatest work was the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio di Janeiro. The statue depicts St Genevieve, whose prayers, legend has it, saved Paris from Attila the Hun in 451.

Once on the Isle St Louis we followed the northern quais of D'Anjou and de Bourbon. On the wall a line marks the highest point of the great 1910 flood, the worst ever. we were simply staggered by how high it was above the present level of the river.

The houses along here, as on most of the Île, are largely 17th century and the Hôtel de Lauzun is said to be the most ravishing. It was being restored, but the dolphin water pipes were rather wonderful.

Now on the right was the Pont Marie, one of Paris's oldest bridges (1618-1630). It is named after the man who built it, Christophe Marie, who did so in exchange for some land on the Île.

At the end of the two quais the tip of the island is a calm spot with the river on both sides. The route now doubles back along the central street of the island. This pleasant enough, but it's only real purpose is that its enables you to also walk along the quais of the south side of the island, where there are more substantial 17th century hôtels (mansions). Once you again reach the tip of the island, you cross the pedestrianised Pont St-Louis to enter the Île de la Cité. This a modern bridge. The story has it that the 17th century bridge was cursed by a gypsy so that it would periodically collapse, and so it has, at least seven times. It seemed pretty solid today though.

Immediately you are in the Square Jean-XXIII, with a fine view of the apse and south side of the cathedral with its flying buttresses and delicate stonework. Nearby there is a memorial to the 200, 000 French people, mainly Jews of course, sent to concentration camps during the second world war.

We walked around the south side of the cathedral and admired the rose
windows on the south transept and then sat on the raised seating in front of the cathedral to study its magnificent facade. We resisted the temptation to join the long queue of people snaking in to see the interior.
We continued along our route which quickly brought us to the northern quais of the Île de la Cité, past the Marché au Fleurs to the Concergerie just by the Pont au Change. This gothic palace, and later prison, was reconstructed in the 19th century by Joseph Duc. It is now mostly used as law courts, but parts are open and you can apparently see the cell where Marie Antoinette and others were imprisoned before going to the guillotine.

The vast tower by the bridge, the tour de César is one of the older parts of the palace and it boasts a truly wonderful clock. It was the city's first working clock when it was installed in 1371.

Now left past the Palais de Justice and the entrance to the Sainte-Chapelle, my favourite church in Paris, with another long queue outside. Then right into Quai des Orfèvres.

I am generally rather dismissive about walks which highlight places where famous film scenes were shot, but 36 Quai des Orfèvres is a constant presence in the fantastic crime series Engrenages (Spiral). There is also a film of the same title starring Daniel Auteuil and Gérard Depardieu. So today I am making an exception.

The quai continues along to the Pont Neuf: the "new bridge", built in 1605. What seem to be corbels under the parapet of the bridge are in fact sculpted heads

We had a brief look in the garden of the Square du Vert-Galant and crossed the bridge to have a quick look at the exterior of the art nouveau La Samaritaine department store. The river frontage, seen from the side on the left in the picture, is art deco, but the original store on the right is a very colourful example of art nouveau.

The name is especially lovely. We plan to do an art nouveau walk tomorrow with Brian so this was an especially apt place to end.

Conditions: sunny and quite warm in places.

Distance: 2.5 miles for the walk from the book.

Rating: four stars. It was very satisfying to really get to know the two islands and see some familiar and new sights.

1 comment:

US said...

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