Recently we took advantage of a beautiful sunny day to climb the towers of Notre-Dame. Once back on dry land we continued our stroll in a place of history and heritage that is little known by the millions of tourists attracted by the fame of Paris’ Gothic cathedral. Follow us on the north-eastern part of Île de la Cité where Paris seems to have stood still for centuries…
The ship-shaped island of Île de la Cité includes grand monuments and vast complexes such as Notre-Dame and the Palais de la Cité. Since Ancient Times it has been the historical heart of the city. Today, tourists flock to the cathedral and the Sainte-Chapelle, crossing the Seine on one of the many bridges that connects the Right and Left banks to the island. They wander from the Square du Vert Galant to the Pont-Neuf, the royal square of Place Dauphine and the beautiful Flower and Birds Market. Since the mid-19th century, the wide boulevards have crossed the island from North to South. Bordered by imposing administrative and Haussmannian buildings, they gave Île de la Cité a completely different aspect from before. No more medieval houses, no more slums, no more cut-throat narrow streets. Baron Haussmann seems to have done a very good job and the island as we see it today is nothing like what it used to be at the time of Quasimodo and Esmeralda… Or is it?
For as in the story of a famous Gaul, one small part of indomitable Lutetia still holds out against the invaders… (a little nod to Asterix!) This little part of Île de la Cité which has kept its authentic atmosphere is little known by tourists who come by the millions to visit neighbouring Notre-Dame. There is much to discover if one takes the time: the narrow cobblestone streets lined with peaceful buildings, a few bistrots and boutique stores, medieval remains, romantic lampposts… a small world under the protection of the towering Notre-Dame cathedral.
From the top of the towers of the cathedral, this little part of the island can be seen with its distinctive Parisian rooftops:
The entrance to this neighbourhood is located near the Pont Saint-Louis.
One hundred metres further, turn right to Rue Chanoinesse. A few residential buildings give a certain cachet to the street: some are typical Haussmannian blocks, others are made with red bricks.
At the corner with Rue Massillon, there is a fine view of Notre-Dame‘s spire soaring high above the roofs and chimneys.
A bit further, still on Rue Chanoinesse stands a very old inn: Au Vieux Paris. A sign post indicates that it was founded in 1594. On its left is a curious cupcake store…
Turn right to Rue de la Colombe and once at the corner with Rue des Ursins, check behind you the typical Parisian scene. We seem far away from the Haussmann boulevards that are actually just across the street.
Walk along Rue des Ursins, a narrow street that leads to the Quai aux Fleurs. Passed the small garden of Les Ursins, the street is bordered by a stone house with medieval window frames.
Rue des Ursins takes its name from a mansion “Hôtel Ursin” dismantled in the 17th century. It was also called “Hell Street” in the 16th century.
Do not be fooled by appearances: this medieval-looking house was heavily restored in 1958 and once owned by Aga Khan.
The Rue des Chantres is one of Paris’ narrowest streets. Named after the cantors of the cathedral’s cloister, it is rather a dark street.
The spire of Notre-Dame soaring high above Rue des Ursins can be seen from the Quai aux Fleurs.
Rue des Chantres leads back to Rue Chanoinesse from where it is easy to reach Notre-Dame Cathedral.