The Île de la Cité is an island located on the Seine, in the heart of Paris (France). It is considered the ancient cradle of the city of Paris, formerly Lutetia. It belongs to the 1st and 4th arrondissements. The chronicler Gui de Bazoches spoke of it in 1190 as being “the head, the heart and the marrow of Paris”.
The surface area of Île de la Cité is approximately 22.5 ha. As of January 1, 2023, its population is 920 inhabitants.
This site is served by the Cité and Saint-Michel Paris metro stations.
The Parvis Notre-Dame – Place Jean-Paul II in the Île de la Cité is a Zero (0) km of all routes of Paris and France.
A Gallic settlement, called Lutetia, may have existed on the island since at least the 3rd century BC. The nearby area was inhabited by the Parisii, a small Gallic tribe. The island may have served them as a convenient place to cross the Seine, a base for a flourishing trading network by river, and a place of refuge in times of invasion. However, no significant traces of a settlement earlier than the 1st century AD have been found to date on the island.
Louis IX built his new chapel, the jewel-like Sainte-Chapelle, between 1242 and 1248. During the same period, the most famous landmark of the island was constructed: the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris. An earlier cathedral, the Cathedral of Saint-Etienne, had been constructed in the Romanesque style. In 1160, the bishop of Paris, Maurice de Sully, began construction of a cathedral in the new Gothic style, to match the magnificence of the palace. The first stones of the foundation of the new cathedral were laid by Pope Alexander III, in 1163. Its construction spanned two centuries.
In the following centuries, after the Kings departed, the island retained its importance as an administrative center. It was home to the courts and tribunals, as well as the Parlement of Paris: an assembly of nobles who formally registered royal proclamations. It included the Conciergerie, which contained the royal prisons and judicial offices. Other important transformations were made to the island. In 1585, work began on the Pont Neuf at the far west end of the island. In 1607, Henry IV gave up the royal garden on the island, which was transformed into the Place Dauphine, and the Pont Neuf was completed.
In the 18th century, the Conciergerie on the island became the scene of some of the most dramatic events of the French Revolution. In 1788, the Constituent Assembly, meeting in the former royal palace, refused the demands of Louis XVI to turn over some of its members. In 1790, Jean Sylvain Baily, the mayor of Paris, sealed the doors of the royal palace. In August 1793, Queen Marie-Antoinette was taken to the Conciergerie, where she was imprisoned. After two and a half months she was tried, convicted, and sentenced to the guillotine. In September 1793, the radical Sans-Culottes stormed the Conciergerie and massacred the remaining royalist prisoners. On 27 July 1795, it was the turn of the revolutionary leader Robespierre to be arrested, brought to the Conciergerie, tried, and sent to the guillotine.
In the mid-19th century, the island was overcrowded, with narrow streets and poor sanitation. It was hard hit by major cholera epidemics in 1832 and 1849, which killed thousands of Parisians. The new President, and then Emperor, Napoleon III, ordered the demolition of the old streets and buildings and the opening of wide avenues and squares. The Parvis in front of the cathedral was greatly increased in size. In 1867, Napoleon III also demolished the overcrowded medieval hospital, the Hotel Dieu, and replaced it with the present building.
The mid-19th century brought a new campaign of rebuilding and restoration. Between 1837 and 1863, the Saint Chapelle – which had been turned into a storehouse for legal documents – was restored to its medieval splendor. The façade of the Palace of Justice was entirely rebuilt between 1847 and 1871. The medieval hall and the Bonbec Tower were restored to their original appearance.
Two buildings from the medieval period are remains of the “Palais de la Cité”:
We also find:
- Notre-Dame cathedral
- Paris courthouse
- Charlemagne et ses Leudes monument
- Place Dauphine
- Equestrian statue of Henry IV
Currently 9 bridges connect the island with the rest of Paris.
- The Pont Neuf, begun by Henry IV and completed in 1607, is the oldest still in its original form, and the only one that goes from the right bank to the left bank
- The Pont au Change, from the Place du Châtelet on the right bank to the Quai de l’Horloge and the Palais de Justice
- The Pont Notre-Dame, across the center of the island
- The Pont d’Arcole, from the Paris City Hall to the Hotel Dieu and Notre Dame de Paris
- The Pont Saint-Louis, from Notre-dame de Paris to the Ile Saint-Louis
- The Pont Au Double, from the Quai de Montebello on Left Bank to the front of Notre Dame de Paris
- The Pont Saint-Michel, from Place Saint-Michel across the center of the island to Chatelet
- The Petit-Pont-Cardinal-Lustiger bridge connects rue de la Cité and quai du Marché-Neuf