The River Seine

LINKS to other pages in the 'Christmas in Paris' site and to the Travelling Days series:

1 : Welcome to Paris
2 : Les Halles
3 : St Eustache Church
4 : Louvre
5 : River Journey
6 : Notre Dame
7 : Paris Market
8 : Paris by Night


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A river trip on the Seine is equally popular in winter and summer.

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The Pont des Arts (right)

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Past the Eiffel Tower, and Notre Dame on the Île de la Cité

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The Île de la Cité is where Paris began. It was settled in around 300 BC by a Celtic tribe, the Parisii, and the town that grew up was known as Lutetia. In 52 BC, it was overrun by Julius Caesar's troops.

A natural defensive site commanding a major east–west river trade route, it was an obvious candidate for a bright future – the Romans garrisoned it and laid out one of their standard military town plans. While they never attached any great political importance to the town, they endowed it with an administrative centre, constructing a palace-fortress that became the stronghold of the Merovingian kings in 508, and later of the counts of Paris, who in 987 became kings of France.

The Frankish kings set about transforming the old Gallo-Roman fortress into a splendid palace, of which the Sainte Chapelle and the Conciergerie prison survive today. At the other end of the island, they erected their most famous monument, the great cathedral of Notre-Dame. By the early thirteenth century the small Île de la Cité teemed with life, somehow managing to accommodate twelve parishes, not to mention numerous chapels and monasteries. Such was the level of activity that monks at one of the monasteries, the Saint-Magloire, found the island too noisy, moving out in 1138 to quieter premises on the right bank.

Disembarking at the Île de las Citeé a short walk leads to Notre Dame (left)....

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...and the Palais de Justice (right and below)

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The Conciergerie, Paris's oldest prison, (right) is where Marie-Antoinette and, in their turn, the leading figures of the Revolution, were incarcerated before execution. Entering the Conciergerie, one immediately finds oneself in the vaulted, late-Gothic Salle des Gens d'armes, one of the few remaining vestiges of the old Capetian kings' palace and the oldest surviving medieval hall in Europe. This splendid and impressive room, consisting of three rows of columns and four naves, was, before its transformation into a prison, the canteen and recreation room of the royal household staff.

The far end is separated off by an iron grille; during the Revolution this area was reserved for prisoners who couldn't afford to bribe a guard for their own cell and were known as the pailleux because all they had to sleep on was hay (paille).

Beyond is a corridor, where prisoners were allowed to wander freely, and rooms, such as the "salle de toilette" where the condemned prisoners had their hair cropped and shirt collars ripped in preparation for the guillotine. On the upper storey is a reconstruction of Marie-Antoinette's cell.

For further pages depicting our Paris visit please click the 'Next' button at the bottom of the page.

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