Situated in the neighbourhood of Châtelet in the 4th arrondissement of Paris, the curious Saint-Jacques Tower stands alone, surrounded by the trees and lawns of the Square de la Tour Saint-Jacques. The tower is 62 m tall including the statue of St. James and its base and its tops offers one of the most stunning views of Paris.
Charlemagne and the St. James’ Way
The edifice was once the bell tower of the parish church of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie, dedicated to James the Greater.
Legend has it that it was Charlemagne who founded a church on the site to shelter a relic of James the Great.
For many pilgrims from the Paris region, the tower was a departure point on the road to Tours (Via Toronensis) of the St. James’ Way, the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela.
This explains why the tower has been part of the Unesco World Heritage Sites of the Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France since 1998.
The former church
Built in the neighbourhood of the Grande Boucherie (Great Butchery) in the 12th century, the former church was named after the butchers in 1259 to distinguish it from the church of Saint-Jacques-du-Haut-Pas situated on the Left Bank. In 1406, King Charles VI allowed the butchers to found in their chapel a guild in honour to the Nativity of Jesus.
The church was extended in the 14th century and particularly in 16th century when it was adjoined with a new bell tower: today’s Tour Saint-Jacques.
The bell tower
The bell tower of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie was built during the reign of King François I between 1509 and 1523 by Jean de Felin, Julien Ménart and Jean de Revier in Flamboyant Gothic style. Reaching a height of 54 metres, it was topped by three symbolic statues representing the four Apostles (a lion for Mark, a bull for Luke, an eagle for John and an angel for Matthew) and a larger one depicting St. James.
Richly adorned in Flamboyant Gothic style with statues, crockets and niches, the bell tower reflects the wealth of its patrons, the Guild of Paris’ Butchers who sold their goods at the nearby Les Halles market.
From the Revolution until today
After serving as a meeting place for the Lombard revolutionary section of Paris, the desecrated church was sold as a confiscated property and consequently dismantled in 1797 with its stones traded. The bell tower was spared from destruction and is the only part that remains today of the former sanctuary.
In 1824, an manufacturer bought the tower to install a ammunition plant and was eventually purchased by the City of Paris in 1836. In 1852, the opening of Rue de Rivoli led the authorities to restore the tower from its foundations to its top, with the addition of more than 20 statues, including many gargoyles. The original statue of St. James which was destroyed during the Revolution was replaced by a new one from Paul Chenillon.
At the foot of Tour Saint-Jacques was created the first ‘square’ of Paris. ‘Un square’ consists of a little urban square filled by a public garden. The Square de la Tour Saint-Jacques was opened in 1856 and is bordered by the Rue de Rivoli (north), the Avenue Victoria (south), the Boulevard de Sébastopol (west) and the Rue Saint-Martin (east).
In 1862, the Tour Saint-Jacques was listed as a National Heritage Site of France. Since 1891 the top of the tower has included a meteorological laboratory.
The tower went under a 8.3 million euro restoration lasting 10 years which ended in 2013.
Panoramic view at the top
It is possible to organise a walk up to the top of the tower via the 300-step spiral staircase where the breathtaking view embraces all of Paris’ iconic landmarks and monuments, from Notre-Dame to the Conciergerie and to the Pompidou Centre, and from the Eiffel Tower to the Arc de Triomphe and to the Grande Arche de la Défense. Read more about the panoramic view from the top of Tour Saint-Jacques.