Beyond Notre-Dame: A Deeper Look at the Île de la Cité

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Beyond Notre-Dame: A Deeper Look at the Île de la Cité
Notre-Dame understandably gets lots of press and tourist attention, but the nearby area on the east end of Île de la Cité has a history that travelers who enjoy diving deep into Paris will appreciate. It’s an easy walk and provides a real sense of ancient and recent Parisian history from some of the oldest spots in the city to a modern selection of non-tourist shops and restaurants. The place to start is at the parvis in front of Notre-Dame. Watching the building stabilization and reconstruction work due to the 2019 fire damage is amazing but a real discovery awaits in the underground crypt located at the end of the parvis next to Rue de la Cité. Once down the steps, you are standing in the remains of the Gallic settlement Lutetia from the early first century AD, along with Roman baths and other vestiges of early occupation of the island. Map of the Île de la Cité. Credit: Paris 16 and OpenStreetMap contributors/ Wikimedia commons Lutetia’s docks were on the ancient bank of the Seine that was 55 meters from the current banks. The exhibit does a great job of creating the experience of standing on the old levy and looking out at the ancient dock with fishermen in their boats and seagulls flying across the sky. Imagine Lutecia’s docks on the ancient bank of the Seine © Martha Sessums There is also a parallel visual story of Notre-Dame at its lowest point of disrepair after the French Revolution and how Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel telling the story of Quasimodo and Esmeralda – with a decaying Notre-Dame as its own character – revived public interest in the cathedral. The restoration done by architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc and the popularity of the cathedral has endured to current times. Luc-Olivier Merson – Illustrations from the novel Notre Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo. Exhibition “Luc-Olivier Merson illustrator and decorator” at the Nantes Arts Museum (March 16 – June 17, 2018). Photo credit © François de Dijon, (CC BY-SA 4.0) Returning above, walk to Rue du Cloître-Notre-Dame on the north side of the parvis by the Hôtel Dieu, the oldest hospital in Paris. Founded in 651 by Saint Landry, bishop of Paris, it was famous for overcrowding, including several patients sharing a bed. The present hospital was begun by Napoleon III in 1863 and completed in 1877. For architecture fans, the Italian Renaissance style has several buildings connected by porticos. As part of the network of Paris public hospitals, it is where you can go for a Covid PCR test or breakfast if you are homeless.

Lead photo credit : Map of Lutetia. Dirck Jansz van Santen: Atlas van Dirk van der Hagen, 1657. Public domain

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Intrigued by France since her first stroll along the Seine, Martha and her husband often travel to Paris to explore the city and beyond. She lives part-time on the Île de la Cité and part-time in the San Francisco Bay Area, delighting in its strong Francophone and French culture community. She was a high-tech public relations executive and currently runs a non-profit continuing education organization. She also works as the San Francisco ambassador for France Today magazine.


  • Jana Troester
    2022-02-12 08:54:25
    Jana Troester
    This information is wonderful. It will be saved and used on our next trip to Paris. I couldn’t be happier with your magazine and all the in-line events that you offer! Merci beaucoup