Upstream from the Ile de la Cité and Notre-Dame cathedral, Ile Saint-Louis is the smaller of Paris’ two islands. Named after King Louis IX, it does not include great monuments except for a few Hôtels Particuliers and the lavish church of Saint-Louis-en-l’Île. Nevertheless, the island is valued for its beautiful quays surrounding a peaceful residential district in the heart of Paris. It is not surprising that the island is considered as one of the most romantic places in the French capital.
About the Ile Saint-Louis
With an area of 11 hectares the island is smaller than the neighbouring Ile de la Cité. It has the shape of a parallelogram of 525m by 250m. The longest diagonal (from the Place Louis Aragon to the square Barye) is 700 metre long.
There are some 2,500 people residing in the island, called ‘Ludovisiens’ (m) and ‘Ludovisiennes’ (f).
The Ile Saint-Louis is linked by two bridges to the Left Bank (Pont de la Tournelle and Pont de Sully) and three to the Right Bank (Pont Louis-Philippe, Pont Marie and Pont de Sully). One bridge (Pont Saint Louis) connects the island to the Ile de la Cité.
The island is surrounded by tree-lined quays, single-lane streets open to traffic: Quai de Bourbon and Quai d’Anjou (North side), Quai d’Orléans and Quai de Béthune (South side).
I recommend visiting Ile Saint-Louis in day time as well as in the evening for its romantic and intimate atmosphere. Maybe you’ll get to see this postcard perfect image of a pair of lovers wandering arm-in-arm along the quays.
A bit of history
Before being laid out in the 17th century, the natural island was called Ile Notre-Dame.
The island was given to the bishop of Paris by the King Charles the Bald in 867 who turned it as a pastureland for the grazing of market cattle and served as a storage place for stocking wood.
In the 13th century when the rampart of Philip Augustus was being built, a channel was created as an extension to the wall. The western part of the island kept its name while the eastern part was renamed Île aux Vaches (Cows’ island).
The first houses built in the 17th century
The two islands were reunited in the 17th century when a major urban planning was launched by the king. Christophe Marie, General Builder for Public Works, filled in the ditch and proceeded with the housing development. The first houses were built on the island in 1640 and by 1664 the entire island was covered by buildings, including many hôtels particuliers.
The architect worked on tracing streets at right angles. A long central axis crossed the island from east to west and took the name of rue Saint-Louis-en-L’Île.
The quays of Ile Saint-Louis
The island was bordered by four quays: Quai d’Anjou, Quai de Bourbon, Quai d’Orléans and Quai de Béthune.
A great number of townhouses (or small palaces) was designed by renowned architect Louis Le Vau (1612-1670) who had his family set up there. Contrary to townhouses in the Marais that were oriented towards an inner courtyard, the dwellings on the island were opened towards the outside with windows and balconies looking out to the Seine.
A couple of bridges were created to link the island to the Left and Right Banks: Pont Marie (1635), Pont de la Tournelle (1656). In 1630 a bridge was inaugurated between the island and the Ile de la Cité: Pont Saint-Louis. Since its creation, it has been rebuilt six times.
Named after Saint-Louis
In 1725 the island took its current name after Louis IX – also known as Saint-Louis. Legend has it that the king would have come regularly to the Ile aux Vaches to pray. There he would have taken the cross with his knights in 1269 before participating to the Eighth Crusade.
Île Saint-Louis: Heritage
Apart from several fine Hôtels Particuliers, the only sights of the island is the French baroque church of Saint-Louis-en-l’Île.
The Hôtels Particuliers
The Île Saint-Louis is renowned for its townhouses or hôtels particuliers. Most of them have been built on the banks of River Seine. The three main ones are:
- Hôtel Lambert
- Hôtel de Lauzun
- Hôtel Le Vau
Church of Saint-Louis-en-L’Île
The island includes one parish church: Saint-Louis-en-l’Île. Designed by architect François Le Vau, it was built between 1624 and 1726 in Classical style.
The church is recognisable by its iron clock hanging perpendicular to the street.
The curious 30 metre tall pierced steeple has the shape of an obelisk.
Inside the church
Step inside to discover a fine example of French Baroque style. The interior is lavishly decorated with woodwork, gilding, marble, stucco, crystal chandeliers…
(to learn more about its history, visit the church’s website [in French])
The little shady square of Place Louis-Aragon at the north-western tip of the island is a beautiful spot for photographers. It opens onto a romantic view of the banks of the Seine with Notre-Dame in the distance. In 2012 the square was named after writer Louis Aragon and a street sign includes a few of his lines referring to the Île Saint-Louis:
“Connaissez-vous l’île Au cœur de la ville Où tout est tranquille Éternellement”
(Do you know the island / At the centre of town / Where everything is calm / for eternity)
More photos of Ile Saint-Louis
Access to the island
There are no métro stations on the island. However access is very easy from:
- the Right Bank: Pont Marie (line 7) or Sully Morland (line 7)
- the Ile de la Cité: Cité (line 4)
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