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The ship-shaped island is the historical heart of Paris which was known as Lutetia (Lutèce) during the Roman era. With its banks on River Seine, it contributes to the romantic atmosphere of Paris, particularly when seen from Pont des Arts or Pont de la Tournelle.


The Île de la Cité: a bit of History

View from the towers of Notre-Dame, Paris © French Moments
The view from Notre-Dame’s towers © French Moments

The history of the Île de la Cité is closely linked to that of Paris for it was there that at the time of Julius Caesar lived a small Gallic people. Known as the Parisii, the Celtic tribe inhabited the island known as Lutetia (Lutèce in French) and eventually gave its name to the town in 360 AD.

The history of Paris is in turn closely linked to the Seine River which was at the time much wider and less deeper than it is today. The River was a communication way which allowed the emergence of a profitable trade. In addition, the island was ideally situated as it gave a convenient crossing of the Seine between the North and the South of Gaul.

From the tribe rose a powerful corporation which would play an extending role in the politics and economy of the city for many centuries to come: the Guild of the Boatmen (Nautes Parisiens). Gaining their wealth from river trade by charging tolls for the transportation of goods on the Seine, they gained so much power that the administration of the municipality of Paris was conferred to them in 1263. They gave Paris its coat of arms: a silver vessel which sails fiercely over the waters with the famous motto, “Fluctuat nec mergitur” (“She is tossed by the waves, but does not sink”).

Remains of the Roman presence in Lutetia can be seen beneath the parvis facing Notre-Dame Cathedral where a defensive Roman wall was discovered.

In the 5th century, Clovis had a Merovingian Palace built in the location of the Palais de la Cité for his royal residence. The first cathedral of Paris was built by his son Childebert I in the 6th century.

Ile de la Cité circa 1550
Ile de la Cité circa 1550

The first Kings of France contributed in making the island the home of royal authority, church and law. From the Middle-Ages, the Île de la Cité has kept three major medieval monuments: the Conciergerie, the Gothic Sainte-Chapelle and Notre-Dame Cathedral.

From the Middle-Ages until the mid-19th century, the island was a maze of muddy and narrow streets. Only a few streets are a reminder of this era which are found in the north-eastern side of the island: the Cloître Notre-Dame which includes Rue Chanoinesse, Rue des Ursins and Rue des Chantres.

Map of the Île de la Cité circa 1609
Map of the Île de la Cité circa 1609

In the mid-19th century, Baron Haussmann radically got rid off the medieval aspect of the Île de la Cité by pulling down houses, hospitals and churches and opening wide avenues. From 43 streets existing in 1300, only 20 are numbered today.

Today, the Île de la Cité remains the heart of Paris and all road distances in France are measured from the Point Zéro mark located in the Place du Parvis de Notre-Dame.


Bridges connecting the Île de la Cité

Ile de la Cité Ponts
Bridges of Ile de la Cité

The Île de la Cité and Île Saint-Louis are Paris’ two remaining natural islands in the Seine. The island is linked to the Right and Left Banks by eight bridges, and a ninth leads to the smaller Île Saint-Louis.

The Right Bank is linked by Pont-Neuf, Pont au Change, Pont Notre-Dame and Pont d’Arcole.

Pont au change, Paris © French Moments
Pont au change, Paris © French Moments

The Left Bank is linked by Pont-Neuf, Pont Saint-Michel, Petit-Pont, Pont au Double and Pont de l’Archevêché.

Pont Neuf © French Moments
Pont-Neuf © French Moments

The Île Saint-Louis is linked by Pont Saint-Louis.

Ile Saint Louis, Paris © French Moments
Quai d’Orléans, pont Saint-Louis and the St Jacques tower in the distance © French Moments

Monuments of the Île de la Cité

Ile de la Cité Monuments

The main monuments and landmarks on the Île de la Cité:

Notre-Dame Cathedral

Notre-Dame de Paris © French Moments
Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris before the great fire of April 2019 © French Moments

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Palais de Justice

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Conciergerie

Conciergerie by the River Seine © French Moments
Conciergerie © French Moments

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Sainte-Chapelle

Sainte-Chapelle interior © French Moments
Sainte-Chapelle © French Moments

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Marché aux fleurs et aux oiseaux

Marché aux Fleurs Quai aux Fleurs © French Moments
Spring flowers in Paris © French Moments

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Tribunal de Commerce

View from the towers of Notre-Dame, Paris © French Moments
The view from Notre-Dame’s towers © French Moments

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Préfecture de Police

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Old district of Cloître Notre-Dame

Ile de la Cite Walk 2015 13 copyright French Moments
The old part of Ile de la Cité © French Moments

Squares and Parks

Ile de la Cité Places et Parcs

There are a few squares and parks in the Île de la Cité worth mentioning:

Place Jean-Paul II, formerly Place du Parvis

Notre-Dame de Paris 04 © French Moments
West façade of Notre-Dame © French Moments

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Place Dauphine

Place Dauphine Paris © French Moments
Place Dauphine, Paris © French Moments

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Place Louis Lépine

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Square du Vert-Galant

Paris in Autumn © French Moments
The banks of the River Seine, Paris in Autumn © French Moments

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Square Jean-XXIII

square Jean-XXIII Paris
The Virgin Fountain and chevet of Notre-Dame © French Moments

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Square de l’Île de France

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Jardin de la Place Jean-Paul II

Benches of Paris © French Moments
A classic garden bench in the Jean XXIII garden, Notre-Dame © French Moments

Access

The Île de la Cité has one métro station called “Cité” (line 4). A number of métro stations are found on the banks of River Seine on the Left and Right Banks: Pont Neuf (line 7), Châtelet (lines 1, 4, 7, 14), Hôtel de Ville (line 1, 11), and Saint-Michel (line 4, RER B and C).


 

About the author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. He has a background teaching French, Economics and Current Affairs, and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations, and a degree of Economics and Management. Pierre is the author of the Discovery Course on the Secrets of the Eiffel Tower and the Christmas book "Voyage au Pays de Noël".

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