It seems like ages since I sat down and put fingers to keypad!
I have been exploring and walking all over the place and it’s been utterly magnificent! I love this city and I fall more and more in love every day!
So, after Versailles and Petit Trianon, I went walk about on the Île de la Cité, the little islet that Paris is literally built around. The islet that is home to the Palais du Justice, Saint Chapelle, Notre Dame and Hôtel Dieu Hospital, as well as many bars, cafés and restaurants.
Hôtel Dieu, Sainte-Chapelle and Notre Dame were some of the only gothic buildings to survive the Haussmann reformation under Napoleon III, thankfully, because the cathedral at Notre Dame is a truly beautiful feat of medieval architecture! The arches meet in a point at the top instead of having a smooth arch, this was first seen in France and it enabled architects to built vastly higher ceilings. The down side is that the ceilings are so heavy that they literally push the walls out and would collapse, save for supporting walls built outside the cathedral, literally pushing the walls back in. The ceilings are so high in Notre Dame and the architecture is an absolute treat for the eye but it, for me, does not come close to, Sacre Coeur which retains a lot of it’s cathedral character. I found Notre Dame to be a giant tourist attraction that had lost most, if not all of it’s character. This is truer of the inside of the cathedral than the outside, with the vendors selling all sorts of souvenirs inside Notre Dame. Not to mention the hideous Christmas tree outside that looks like a Chinese light factory threw up on it. Even the French, it appears, can make mistakes. Who would have thought?!
I also toured the Palais du Justice and saw the Première Chambre which is the very room Marie Antoinette was sentenced in! I got chills up my spine just poking my head into that room. The Première Chambre is the room which used to be the King’s chamber or bedroom in which he would hear cases and pass judgement upon people, from his bed.
It made sense then that the Revolutionary Tribunal would choose to host the trials of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette (amongst others) who were charged with treason, in this room. I think they must have felt it was poetic, even though the charges trumped up against the King and Queen were largely unfounded. King Louis XVI was forced to repeat the accusations of incest with his mother in an interview before he went to trial which was then used as ‘evidence’ against him. As we know, those convicted of treason were put to death but so too were the attorneys who chose to defend such people. You can imagine that being a defence attorney was not a popular profession at the time.
Sadly, the Palais du Justice on the island will be moving to the 17th arrondissement in 2017, so I would highly recommend visiting before 600 years of judicial administration comes to a grinding halt.
Also on the Île de la Cité and virtually in the heart of the Palais du Justice, is the Sainte-Chapelle. Constructed in the first half of the 13th century, it is in the Gothic style so popular at the time and is considered a jewel in Gothic architecture. It was constructed for King Louis IX, and housed a collection of Passion relics, including the crown of thorns worn by Jesus Christ at His Crucifixion and pieces of the cross. This collection cost King Louis IX half of France’s annual budget, an absolute fortune at the time. What makes the Sainte-Chapelle so magnificent today, is that it has one of the largest collections of 13th century stained glass in the world. It sustained damage in the French Revolution but was restored in the 19th century and is presently undergoing a massive preservation project which is finally nearing completion.
I completely forgot that there exists two levels of the chapel, one for the servants and royal guards and one for the king himself. I walked into the first level and thought to myself; “This is what I paid 8€ for?” Upon turning around I saw a very small staircase with no barrier so I trundled up the stairs and was quite simply astounded by the ‘Kings chapel’. The utter magnificence of thousands of stained glass panels cannot be described in words and there is no picture in the world that can do that magnificent little chapel justice! I stood and stared until my neck hurt. Walked toward what would have been the pulpit (I think it’s called in catholicism) all the while just marvelling at the impossibly high ceilings and otherwise simple interior that houses the stained glass windows. Fortuitously for me, the sun was shining that day and the soft winter light illuminating the stained glass was utterly spectacular!
One of the best things about Île de la Cité is that you get off on the Pont Neuf metro (line 7) and you can just walk, pick a direction and go! No concerns about getting lost in the maze that are the Parisian streets, everything is very well signposted and if all fails, whip out your maps app on your smart phone, which works without wifi or cell signal on GPS. The jetty for the Seine river boat rides are on the Île de la Cité side, there are cafés everywhere, Paris’s most popular flower market and almost everything has an interesting historical anecdote attached to it.
Until next time, where I will tell you about my visits to the Museums l’Orangerie and D’Orsay, thank you for reading.