Ile de la Cité and the River Seine in Paris © French Moments
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Last Updated: 13 September 2023


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


The Ile 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 Ile de la Cité is closely linked to that of Paris, for it was there that a small Gallic people lived at the time of Julius Caesar. Known as the Parisii, the Celtic tribe inhabited the island 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 broader and less deep than it is today. The River was a communication way that allowed a profitable trade to emerge. 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 accumulated 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”).

The Roman presence in Lutetia remains beneath the parvis facing Notre Dame Cathedral, where a defensive Roman wall was discovered.


In the Middle Ages

In the 5th century, Clovis had a Merovingian Palace built in the Palais de la Cité location 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 to making the island the home of royal authority, church and law. From the Middle Ages, the Ile de la Cité has kept three major medieval monuments: the Conciergerie, the Gothic Sainte-Chapelle and Notre Dame Cathedral.


The works by Haussmann

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 on the northeastern 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 Ile de la Cité circa 1609

In the mid-19th century, Baron Haussmann radically removed 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 Ile de la Cité remains the heart of Paris and all road distances in France are measured from the Point Zéro mark in the Place du Parvis de Notre-Dame.


Bridges connecting the Ile de la Cité

Ile de la Cité Ponts
Bridges of Ile de la Cité

The Ile 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 Ile 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


Palais de Justice

Palais de Justice, Ile de la Cité © French Moments
Palais de Justice, Ile de la Cité © French Moments



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



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


Marché aux fleurs et aux oiseaux

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


Tribunal de Commerce

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


Préfecture de Police


Old district of Cloître Notre-Dame

Ile de la Cité copyright French Moments
The old part of Ile de la Cité © French Moments


Squares and Parks

Ile de la Cité - Squares and Gardens

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


Place Dauphine

Place Dauphine Paris © French Moments
The secretive Place Dauphine, Paris © French Moments


Place Louis Lépine


Square du Vert-Galant

Paris in Autumn, Ile de la Cité © French Moments
The banks of the River Seine, Paris in Autumn © French Moments


Square Jean-XXIII

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


Square de l’Île de France


Jardin de la Place Jean-Paul II

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


Find out more about Ile de la Cité


Access to the Ile de la Cité

The Ile 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).

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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 Discovery Courses and books about France.

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