There are two large islands in the middle of the Seine river in Paris. The largest of these two is the Île de la Cité. The Île de la Cité, in the 1st and 4th arrondissements, is the home of the awe-inspiring Notre Dame Cathedral.
One way to reach the Île de la Cité is over the Pont Neuf. Though its name means “new bridge,” it was built by Henry IV in the early 17th century. It is now Paris’ oldest bridge. After crossing the bridge, visitors can spend the day strolling round the island to see the Place Dauphine, Sainte-Chapelle, Palais de Justice, the Conciergerie, the Square Jean XXIII and the Ancien Cloître Quartier. Also on the island is the Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation. This is a memorial to the 200,000 citizens of France who perished in concentration camps during the Holocaust.
Places to See
Save Notre Dame, many of Île de la Cité’s Medieval buildings were eradicated under the supervision of city planner Baron Georges-Eugéne Haussmann. Another building that was saved from demolition is the Sainte-Chapelle. It has radiant stained glass windows, which are the oldest stained glass windows in the city of Paris. Sainte-Chapelle was built by the fanatically religious Louis IX to house relics from the Crusades. Most of the relics were lost during the French Revolution. It is best to visit during a sunny day to get the full effect of the light streaming through the stained glass windows. Concerts are often held here as well. Just north of Sainte-Chapelle is the Conciergerie, where Marie Antoinette spent the days before her trip to the guillotine.
Also on the island is the Place Dauphine which was built by Henry IV in honor of Louis XIII, who was called the Dauphine. With its attractive restaurant terraces it is a great place for open air dining and people watching.
Visitors can also take a quick trip to the Ancien Cloître Quartier, a maze of little Medieval streets in the shadow of Notre Dame. This area used to be populated by seminary students, one of whom was Peter Abelard, of Abelard and Heloise infamy. Nearby is the Palais de Justice, a grouping of courthouses built in the Neoclassical style by Haussmann. The buildings are on the site of a former royal palace that was later the home of the Parliament until the Revolution.
Another place to see on the Île de la Cité is the Square du Vert-Galant with its equestrian statue of Henry IV. Found. It is at the western end of the island and is known for being shady and peaceful, it is a great place for a picnic or to sit and read.