Île de la Cité, The Island Where Paris Began

By | April 25, 2017

Election day Sunday being mostly sunny, I decided to take my grief brained body out for another walk around Ile de la Cité, an island in the Seine.  After all, it was  those hallowed grounds that gave birth to Paris,  the most beautiful city in the world.

Last thursday, I walked all around Ile Saint Louis as well, but it didn’t come into its beauty till much later, whereas Ile de la Cité was occupied long before even Roman times.

The Parisii tribes were a Gallic/ Celtic group that controlled the fluvial trading , huddled in wooden huts up and down the narrow plot of land in the middle of the Seine.

They had occupied the island since around 250 BC, though the whole Paris basin was inhabited by Neolithic tribes long before.

Why they chose that little island is still a mystery, except it perhaps offered a sense of protection surrounded by the swift and dangerous current that still rushes by before finally emptying into the Atlantic at Le Havre.

That would certainly explain the motto on the insignia they designed: Fluctuat Nec Mergitur meaning loosely “battled or tossed by currents and waves, but never sunk”.

Not surprisingly this motto has been recently taken up into popularity again due to the recent outbreaks of terrorism.

Paris continued to flourish and grow despite the many upheavals and invasions and the  rather often grey cloudy skies that still persist to this day.

I have often pondered why the capital of  France did not take off in the south, where the Greeks had well established bustling port cities of Marseille and Narbonne.

Even the Romans shoved northbound building roads past Lyon into Autun in Burgundy, and seemed as enchanted with Il de la Cité as the Parisii celts and Gallic tribesmen.

As the Romans swelled in number, they spilled over onto the left bank, building arenas, thermal baths, and aquaducts in the present day Latin quarter.

However, Ile de la Cité remained the revered  and sacred ground of the Roman gods and goddesses.  They discovered a pillar with engravings erected as a temple to Jupiter,   during excavation and repairs underneath Notre Dame in 1711.

You can see these ancient fragments, as well as the thermal baths at the Musée de Cluny. So much for history in words, but for me it is in walking that one draws those ancient feelings into play even today.

Before Notre Dame, there were several other churches in the vicinity, one of which you can see the old outline in the plaza and visit the  The Crypte Archéologique;  a tiny museum and pictorial of the historical foundations of the area.

The plaza in front of Notre Dame is considered point zero of Paris and not surprisingly all distances to anywhere else in this country are measured from this point.

Nowadays, it is practically impossible to envision this monumental Cathedral as towering above the grassy fields of the two islands in back of her, now Ile Saint Louis. The northern side  adjoined a cloister of narrow pathways, lined with houses where the magistrates and clergy of the church lived.

Some of these narrow passageways have survived Haussmann, whose urban renewal destroyed many little enclaves, houses with old doors like this one and streets in Ile de la Cité, as he did on the left and rights banks too.

It is only a 15 minute ride for me on bus 38 up Blvd Saint Michel, pass the Luxembourg gardens before reaching this historic small island in the Seine.

Before crossing over, I got a photo of the newly renovated headquarters of the infamous Parisian Police Force on 36 Quai Orfèvres( silversmiths). 

I followed along the quai towards Notre Dame, noticing the river seemed quite low down the steep steps.

There she stood as proudly as in 1345, except today the constant hoards of people who come to visit are now part of the landscape along with the pigeons scrambling for crumbs being tossed out by benevolent tourists and  often by brides to be for wedding photos.

The garden along the river and in back of Notre Dame had freshly dug  flower beds  awaiting the summer flowers yet to be put in by her expert gardeners, making it look bare.

Usually the garden is very adorned with colourful flowers and lovely old roses in the back.

The river is quite narrow here looking towards the left bank making a rather narrow passageway for the bateaux mouches.

The street performers were out as usual of Pont Ile Saint Louis.

The Quai aux Fleurs curving north towards the right bank , where Hotel De Ville can be seen was where the tragic lovers, Heloise and Abelard lived before his genital mutilation and her exile to give birth to their son circa 1115.

I meandered inwards along Rue Chanoinesse and caught another bride to be in a photo shoot on narrow Rue Chantres.


On Rue Masillon is the famous choir school of Notre Dame, where auditions and rehearsals take place for this very prestigious choir.

Continuing along Chanoinesse, I came upon the restaurant that occupies such an enchanted  haven with sweet-smelling wisteria spilling over the top.

I like walking around the tiny streets as they are a quiet retreat from the crowds and are more reminiscent of the cloister that adjoined the church many years ago.

I never fail to admire that Hôpital Dieu has been around for ages, being the oldest hospital of the city and the major training center not only of French doctors but Americans and other nationalities throughout Europe during the 1700 and 1800’s.

The original hospital was placed alongside the southern bank of the river, where the plaza of Notre Dame is now.  The interior is still pretty to look at with tall columns and archways surrounding a manicured inner garden.

Heading north towards the Marche aux Fleurs, which has been there for ages, I stopped briefly to look at a few brightly coloured birds for sale, as on Sundays the bird and aviary accessories vendors set up shop, though some flower stalls  remain open.

Going west along the northern quai, I arrive at the corner of the haunting Conciergerie, an infamous prison up until 1914, where poor Marie Antoinette , amongst many others awaited to be guillotined.

The medieval looking towers are nevertheless impressive and still standing as the massive old clock, newly restored on the corner.

Palais des Justice, where the central French courts are held was the original royal palace from 10 to the 14th century.

The most magnificent and acclaimed stained glass windows in the world are in Saint Chapel constructed by king Louis IX to be his private chapel.

He brought back Christ’s crown of thorns, to be housed there and now kept in Notre Dame.


Walking to the most westward part of Ile de la Cité, you can see the back of the old palace, getting an idea of how huge it was back then.  The pyramid shaped garden called Place Dauphine is perhaps prettier at night lit by soft gaslight, and surrounded with older restaurants, like Paul, still in business.

The westward tip of the island in straddled by Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge in the city.

The shaded park is a great place to hang out at dusk and catch the city lights turning on.

Unfortunately, the energy is blighted by the fact it was here that Jacques De Molay, grand Master of the Knights Templars was burned at the stake by cruel king Philippe IV.

You can take a Bateau Mouche from there, rather than trek to the Eiffel Tower for boarding.

Apparently the city either hasn’t torn down the horrible”love” locks here yet , that were once sprouting everywhere, ruining the beauty of the Parisian bridges, or they are leaving them up as the only place tolerated.

Whatever the reason, they are ugly and not in the least to my eyes an artistic testimony of love.

The Pont Neuf is where Pierre Curie, husband of brilliant Marie was run over and killed by a horse drawn carriage in 1906.

During the weekdays, the crossing is still rather dangerous, hoping that cars will stop for you to make it across, as there still isn’t a light.

From there, I was initially planning to go to a Nordic marché as part of a festival honoring the Scandinavian countries.

After walking non stop for two hours, my feet were tired and I gave up that idea.  Instead I crossed over the Seine to the right bank flower markets to check out  some more summer annuals finally coming in that I will be planting soon.

Right now my bright blue and yellow pansies are still going strong, so I will wait till they are in decline, before exchanging them out for  some petunias.

At Châtelet I caught bus 38 back home, preferring that to the dark, but quicker Metro tunnels.

Sunday dessert was in need of being finished as I had baked the pastry sablé base before I left.

Filled with lemon mascarpone cream, covered with freshly shredded pineapple topped with whipped cream and raspberries,  and edged with delicious triple ginger cookies Aimee had made last week, it was pretty to behold.

Perhaps I too should adopt Fluctuat Nec Mergitur, as I fight to stay afloat tossed by the eroding currents of my grief.

Walking around this beautiful city of Paris is just one way to try to reinstill some pleasure, while getting great exercise and “fresh” air.




4 thoughts on “Île de la Cité, The Island Where Paris Began

  1. Jeanne Rowan Ricci

    Seems you are feeding your spirit with fresh air, beautiful scenery, and exercise. Hopefully it helps you. And, that seems like a really long walk! So much beauty though.

    1. Cherry Post author

      Thank you Jeanne for your comment! I hope it helps me too, at least restore some of my energy, because it really takes a lot of discipline right now to get out. Trying to drench myself in beautiful scenes while walking is like retraining the brain to break through the prevailing numbness. I like to think of it as not much different than post stroke reeducation. Grief slaughters the neurotransmitter system as well. Hugs

  2. Anne

    Bravo ! Beautiful walk through Paris with all of the history that you provide !
    My dear Cherry, please continue to maintain your discipline and push to
    survive the heavy grieving. You are making a beautiful impact to all those
    who understand your circumstance . They , too, are encouraged that you
    make an effort to forge through the numbness and pain. Please know ,
    though it is impossible for those of us that have not been in your position,
    we love that you are “feeding your spirit” in hopes of reaching a place that you can “be”. ❤️

    1. Cherry Post author

      Thank you Anne for your absolutely magnificent worded comment full of love and comfort! I wish I had your abundant energy, but I love your understanding that I am struggling against tremendous waves of grief that has robbed me of whatever energy I had in the first place, which was never great. Somedays I fail to follow up with my little goals, yet hopefully will do the following days. Your love is like a transfusion and I am grateful! Love and Hugs

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