L’Île de la Cité is the very heart of Paris, in the middle of the Seine. Most of the tourists simply point at Notre-Dame Cathedral – which don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful! – but there’s more to see in terms of architecture.
LA SAINTE CHAPELLE
France is the land of Gothic Architecture and this chapel is definitely a jewel. It’s a bit hidden as it is located inside what now is the Palais de la Justice in the area in which Paris was born, l’Île de la Cité. Even once you’re in you need to climb a narrow spiral staircase – unfortunately is one of those with a central pillar so not Instagrammable – to enter to that beautiful space you surely have seen tons of pictures of. I’m talking about the glorious stained-glass walls and the vaulted ceiling of la Sainte Chapelle. Don’t get me wrong the lower chapel is also impressive but not as much as the upper chapel.
Of course it would have been better to see it on a bright sunny day so that the deep, rich colors of the glass would have been more vibrant but hey, let’s not complain. It’s a stunning piece of medieval architecture anyway.
It’s just so incredible to stare at these weightless-looking walls of richly coloured and decorated stained glass built in the 13th century. It was something completely innovative at the time. Putting all the weight of the roof onto few thin columns thanks to the use of arches and vaulting. This creates a supporting frame so that the rest of the wall can be completely glazed. The miracle of Gothic architecture!
I read that the acoustics of the Chapel is so good that it has become a venue for classical music concerts. It would be amazing to experience it in this Gothic masterpiece.
La Conciergerie is just next to the Sainte Chapelle so it comes natural to visit both at the same time. La Conciergerie is another beautiful example of Gothic Architecture with a large hall made of columns that divide the space, a vaulted ceiling and enormous fireplaces used in the past to heat up the vast room.
It was the Royal Palace when it was built and then converted into a prison during the French Revolution. Here is where Queen Marie-Antoinette was held until she was beheaded at Place de la Concorde.
– MISSION ÎLE DE LA CITÉ –
What was very interesting when I visited la Conciergerie was the exhibition of the project MISSION ÎLE DE LA CITÉ.
A urban scale project regarding l’Île de la Cité that the French president François Hollande decided to start with the architect Dominique Perrault and the President of Centre des Monuments nationaux Philippe Bélaval to understand how this island in the middle of the Seine could be reshaped and improved in 25 years time.
The project, at a conceptual stage at the moment, aims to bring new life and vitality to this area that, despite the abundance of historical beauties, still feels not that inviting and quite lifeless. Tourists cross the bridges that connect it to the rest of the city to see Notre-Dame Cathedral, Sainte-Chapelle and Conciergerie and leave the area as soon as their visit is done.
The proposals are so many as the scale of the project is urban anyway it doesn’t involve the construction of new buildings but the realisation of a promenade along the Seine with floating platforms that will host cafés, ateliers and activities; the transformation of the entire island in a pedestrian zone; the realisation of a flower market for the local community and many others.
I highly recommend having a look at the project whether you are a Parisian or not. Plus throughout the duration of the exhibition, that lasts until 17 April, the entry fee for the Conciergerie will be free of charge.