Les Sites de Paris: L'Île de la Cité
L' Île de la Cité is the cradle of Paris. It is one of two islands in la Seine, the other being Île Saint-Louis. L' Île de la Cité is the center of the city and the location where the city was founded.
Its western end has held a palace since even Roman times, and its eastern end since the same period has been consecrated to religion, especially after the construction in the X ème siecle of a cathedral preceding today's Nôtre-Dame. The land between the two was, until the 1850s, largely residential and commercial, but since has been filled by the city's Prefecture de Police, Palais de Justice, Hôtel-Dieu hospital and Tribunal de Commerce. Only the westernmost and north-eastern extremities of the island remain residential today. The latter preserves some vestiges of its XVI ème siecle canonic houses. The city's marché aux fleurs is located on the western side of the island facing the rive droit, ("Right Bank"), of the river.
In 52 BC, at the time of Vercingetorix' struggle with Julius Caesar, a small Celtic tribe, the Parisii, are thought to have lived on the island, which was a low-lying area subject to flooding that offered a convenient place to cross la Seine and a refuge in times of invasion. After the conquest of the Celts, the Roman Labenius created a camp on the island. The city was given the name Lutecia, from the Latin "lutum" meaning "mud." Further Roman settlement followed.
Later Romans under Sainte-Geneviève escaped to the island when their city was attacked by barbarians. Clovis established a Merovingian capital here. The island remained an important military and political center throughout le Moyen Âge. Eudes used the island as a defensive position to fend off Viking attacks in 885.
Three medieval buildings remain on l'Île de la Cité. From east to west they are:
• La cathédrale-Nôtre-Dame-de-Paris, built from 1163 on the site of a church dedicated to Saint-Etienne, Saint Stephen, which in turn occupied a sacred pagan site of Roman times. During the French Revolution the cathedral was badly damaged, then restored by Viollet-le-Duc. A plaque in the square in front, Place du Parvis-de-Nôtre-Dame is the zeropoint from which the distance of all French cities from Paris is measured.
• Louis IX's Sainte-Chapelle (1245), built as a reliquary, enclosed within the Palais de Justice.
• la Conciergerie, where Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette awaited execution in 1793.
The oldest remaining residential quarter is the Ancien Cloître. Baron Haussmann demolished some streets here, but was dismissed in 1870, before the entire quartier was rebuilt in his modernization of Paris.
The small park at the downstream tip, the "stern" of the island-ship, is Parc Vert Galant, named for Henri IV, the "Green Gallant" king. It shows the original low-lying riverside level of the island. Nearby, a discreet plaque commemorates the spot where Jacques de Molay, Grand Master of the Knights Templar, was burnt at the stake on le 18 mars 1314.
L'Île-de-la-Cité is connected to the rest of Paris by bridges to both banks of the river and to l'Île Saint-Louis. The oldest surviving bridge is le Pont Neuf ('New Bridge'), built in the 1600s by Henri IV. Le Pont Neuf lies at the western edge of the island.
The island has one station on the Paris Métro, "Cité", and the RER station Saint-Michel-Nôtre-Dame on the rive gauche ("Left Bank") has an exit on the island in front of Nôtre-Dame.
L' Île de la Cité: from the ancient settlements on this small island sprang one of the most beautiful and greatest cities in the world.
Walking Paris : Thirty Original Walks in and around Paris