Strolling around the Île de la Cité

I once read somewhere that “life is too short not to go to Paris as often as one can” but must admit to not having adhered to that having only been there three times in my life. The “City of Lights” or “La Ville-Lumière” as it was then called, comes from the fact that Paris was the birthplace of the Age of Enlightenment and it was famous as a centre of education and ideas throughout Europe. The city’s early adoption of street lighting probably also contributed to its “City of Lights” tag.

Le quai des Grands-Augustins depuis le Pont-Neuf

My previous visit had been during the dull days between Christmas and New Year when everything seems flat. Leaving London Waterloo on Boxing Day seemed like a good idea at the time. Paris put on her usual glittering party frock and despite the bitter cold and wet weather the OH and I enjoyed a few days walking along the banks of the River Seine and exploring the usual tourist sites that we had both seen (though not together) in our late teens; eating expensive steaks and drinking expensive wine and taking rather bad photos (I blame the weather – too damn cold to take off the gloves)

Café EsmeraldaSo in 2010 when the opportunity to spend five days in Paris in early spring arose it was not to be sniffed at. Once again we took the Eurostar (this time from its new terminal in St Pancras station) to ‘gay Paree‘, hoping for a somewhat warmer welcome. As the OH was to be “au conference” pretty much the whole time it gave me an excuse to wander aimlessly and have a look at the hidden parts of Paris. There is nothing better for me than to venture into districts I have not been in and to look more closely at those I had. So armed with a good map, several metro tickets, camera and notebook, off I went to explore.

Accordion in ParisThere are so many ways to look at Paris – through its architecture, its history, museums – oh, so many museums – cafés, churches, or street life. On this visit I wanted to capture the minute details you may miss on a brief visit and learn more about what it was I was seeing; the statues, the gargoyles, the drinking fountains (108 of them), examples of art nouveau, sundials – did you know there are over a 100 sundials in Paris? And, no, I didn’t go looking for them, but maybe on my next visit…

And so it was that I spent hours wandering around Île St-Louis and the Île de la Cité in golden, late afternoon light for the simple pleasure of seeing and photographing objects that caught my eye; such as the headless statue of St Denis whose statue can be found all over Paris including on the Notre-Dame and the Eglise St-Germain-l’Auxerrois. St DenisSaint Denis was the first bishop of Paris who met his death around 273 A.D. According to legend, Roman soldiers tortured Denis near the present site of Notre-Dame and then decapitated him on the slopes of Montmartre. There the martyred saint picked up his head and walked northwards almost 4 miles to the place marked by the cathedral that bares his name. An interesting story, though quite imaginative as the legend was created several hundred years after the – no doubt real -event. Wherever you see him depicted, he is the saint who patiently holds his head in his hands.

Passing through the Place Louis Lépine take a closer look at Guimard’s wonderful art nouveau entrance and lamps of the Cité metro station. The organic shapes are typical of the Art Nouveau curved style.

Next to this is the colourful Marché aux Fleurs (flower market) the oldest and one of the largest flower markets in Paris, dating from 1808. Its blooms brighten up the area between the stark walls of the Conciergerie and Hôtel Dieu from Monday to Saturday – everything from orchids to orange trees, but no cut flowers.
Marché aux Fleurs and jacarandas
On Sundays it is joined by the Marché aux Oiseaux (bird market) with equally colourful, caged species.
flower market

As you walk around the flower market you should see two lovely Wallace drinking fountains. The four caryatids represent kindness, simplicity, charity and sobriety. Each one is different from her sisters by the way she bends her knees and by where her tunic is tucked into her blouse.

Les fontaines Wallace” were named after the British philanthropist and art collector Sir Richard Wallace who generously financed the installation of 50 fountains throughout Paris after the Franco-Prussian War left the city with almost no clean drinking water. Designed by Charles Auguste Lebourg these cast iron fountains in four versions remain iconic darlings of the Paris streetscape. They are uniformly painted a deep emerald green to blend in with the tree-lined streets and parks and still provide free clean drinking water (eau potable) to all from March to November.

Continue along the Rue de Lutèce with the imposing Prefecture de Police to one side and facing you are the impressive gates of the Palais de Justice, HQ of the French judicial system and often seen on the TV drama ‘Spiral’. Rounding the corner and onto the Quai des Orfèvres, look up and you will find a superb sundial on the wall above you. Hora Fujit Stat Jus – meaning “The hour flies; justice remains” with a bas-relief of Time with his scythe and Justice with her sword and scales. As they say in French “lever le nez” – look up!

Further along this horse-chestnut lined quay (full of blossom in spring) you can see a mosaic street sign (Rue de Harlay) instead of the usual dark blue enamel signs

Mosaic Street Signand if you turn into this street you will face the back of the Palais de Justice and again look up you can see a medallion in honour of the Pandects of Justinian (a compendium of Roman laws) on the wall 

and above the main entrance a pair of Napoleanic eagle statues.

Return to the Quai des Orfèvres as you will pass number 68, famous as a bookshop owned by Martin Flinker and his son Karl who lived here from 1948 – 1988. The bookshop was a focal point for French writers and German literature. The Flinkers moved to Paris in 1947 after having to leave their native Vienna around 1937 and spending much of the war years in exile in Europe. Unfortunately most of their family including the wife and mother were lost to the concentration camps in Nazi Germany. The Flinkers were booksellers and publishers of a variety of contemporary writers including Hermann Hesse.

“From 1948 to 1988 here lived Martin and Karl Flinker, famous for their bookshop and publishing house and their friendship with Thomas Mann, Paul Eluard, Louis Aragon, Stefan Zweig …” and more.

The Flinker private library is now owned by The Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme.

Grotesques on the cornices of the Pont NeufYou will now be nearing the Pont Neuf – “New Bridge” – where work began in 1578 and it was completed in 1604. It was initially planned to house rows of shops but Henri IV granted permission for transient commerce only. It is the longest bridge in Paris and unique to this bridge are the 384 grotesques on the cornices. A good view of these can be had by walking down to the tiny green Square du Vert Galant a pointy-shaped spit of land on the westernmost tip of the Île de la Cité accessed by walking down two flights of stairs beyond the bronze equestrian statue of Henri IV by Francois-Frederic Lemont. This is actually a replacement commissioned by Louis XVIII after the original dating back to 1614 was torn down by the 1789 Revolutionaries.

And whilst in the little garden notice the classic Parisian “Morris column” (rotating cylindrical billboards) to be found all over Paris.

Ah, and did I mention the glorious jacaranda trees in spring?

Place d’Italie

Published by


I have lived in the UK for most of my life, but when young I definitely had wanderlust and even ended up living in South Africa for several years which was a wonderful experience. I now look forward to a long and leisurely retirement doing what I like most - gardening, photography, walking and travelling.

33 thoughts on “Strolling around the Île de la Cité”

  1. What a lovely lovely post, so glad you are reposting these. I have only been to Paris thrice, so maybe I need to go again too!

        1. I looked into using the train to get to Barcelona once and it worked out to be very expensive compared to a flight. Nice to do though if you can stopover en route.

    1. I can’t believe it is 9 years ago that I visited it! Time flies by and we don’t get any younger. If I lived closer to London I might go more often, the Eurostar is a great way to get there.

      1. More than that for me, and I should have done it earlier…I don’t think they are too geared up for disabled travel!

  2. I had to think about the last time. It was 1995. I have a good friend (French) living there. She is married with two children, and lives close to the Eiffel Tower, in the 15th district. That last visit was on Eurostar, and we stayed in her place for a week. She showed us around, and took us out to Versailles in her car too. It was very hot, a baking summer, so we avoided the Metro.
    Before that, I had been quite a few times, the first when I was 11, on a school trip.
    Best wishes, Pete. x

  3. Jude, I think I’ve mentioned many times before that Paris continues to be my favourite city. It would be a great pleasure for me to visit often … if I could.

    I didn’t know about all the water fountains, or the sun dials, or the origins of the label “City of Lights”. Then again, I’m not surprised. This is a city of never-ending delights.

    One of my favourite memories is running the Paris Marathon on a beautiful spring morning in April. Everything I had ever read about Paris in springtime was true that day. I’m almost afraid to visit her again for fear that I’ve put her on too high a pedestal and she will never be able to live up to my expectations.

    In all your delightful photos, there is one that stands out – the horse-chestnut with bright pink flowers. Yes, I do remember them and at the time I didn’t know what they were. Since then, I’ve seen several horse-chestnuts in bloom here in Toronto, but only ever in white.

    1. I was hoping for a ‘Paris in Springtime’ visit on this trip, sadly it was a pretty cold and wet spring that year! I am very impressed that you ran marathons! And in Paris!

  4. We visited Paris several times in the 90s when we had a series of French walking holidays. We’d stay a few days in Paris then get the train somewhere mountainous but not TOO mountainous. I feel that was enough and I don’t need to go back: your interesting post will do me just fine!

  5. I’m so glad you are reposting these Jude. T and I spent quite a lot of time in Paris when we lived in the UK and always enjoyed it so much. Not sure if I’ll ever make it back, so I am relishing your memories and photos.
    Like you, I spent one trip exploring while T was working in his company’s Paris office (life’s a bitch, right). I was pregnant and seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time asking in my terrible French for directions to the loo. 😀

  6. I did enjoy strolling with you, Jude 🙂 🙂 Never done Eurostar. Far too difficult from the north east when you could hop a plane. If I ever go back you’ll have me counting sundials 🙂

    1. We were living in Surrey then so an easy 1 hour train ride into London. Nowhere is easy from here, not even flying!

  7. My own memories come flooding back. Paris is perfect for just wandering and observing. So many details and history. I’d love to do a more in depth tour with a local historian some time.

Comments are closed.