0002 - le Cloître Notre-Dame

Authour's note: The term 'Cloitre Notre-Dame' has been highlighted.

My apologies!

I've changed my mind. I know that at the end of the last promenade I quite clearly told you that we would be heading down the rue de la Cité to the Parvis Notre-Dame; but I've decided instead that our trip would be much more interesting if we continue our way along the quai de la Corse and work our way towards the same destination around the eastern end of the island.


Starting Point:
Le quai de la Corse / quai aux Fleurs

The stairway at whose head we stand seems to tell us that the river is high, as its base descends directly into the water; this is not the case. There are quite a few like these along le quai de la Corse and le quai aux Fleurs – most probably until the early 20th century, they were used to bring merchandise up to the island from the many barges Paris once relied upon for its sustenance. This quay in its primitive embanked state was called the "port Saint-Landry" - in fact, before le place de la Grève (today's place de l'hôtel de Ville) was created in the early XXII century, this was the city's first and foremost port. Built into a masonry quay from 1803, it was baptised first as the "quay Napoleon' before becoming the "quay aux Fleurs" in 1879.

This quay owes its name to its old market; every port had one nearby specialising in the product most commonly brought to it. Port Saint-Landry's first market was the "marché Palus", which sold just about everything when it was the cities' only port, but became more specialised through the centuries with the opening of others. By its present name I'm sure that you can imagine its last function – and, if you think to the market we saw at the end of our last promenade, its placement. The quai became separated from its market when its portion between the rue de la Cité and rue d'Arcole was re-baptised "quai de la Corse" in 1929. When we crossed the rue d'Arcole to find the quai aux Fleurs, we also entered what was once the "cloître Notre-Dame".


The Cloître Notre-Dame

It is thought that the eastern end of the île de la Cité had been consecrated to religion since even Roman times, although the remnants of an edifice to Jupiter found there may have been recuperated, like most of the other stone from that era found on the island, from former Left Bank constructions. In any case, the stone blocks discovered during a 1710 renovation of the Notre-Dame cathedral crypt, when assembled, formed a square pillar dedicated to this god. Engravings on all four sides depicted, in addition to scenes from everyday life, Greek, Roman and Celtic divinities, but most importantly it bore a dated dedication from the "Boatmen of the Parisii territories" to Jupiter and the Roman Emperor Tiberius (thus its name "le pilier des Nautes" or "Boatman's Pillar"). The signification and assemblage of these blocks wasn't at first clear though, as upon their uncovering they were thought to be but a few of many stones in the foundations of Paris' first 4th century ramparts.

From a 4th-century basilica dedicated to the Saint-Etienne, Christianity filled the island with many churches chapels. Paris from around 540 became a diocese with the construction of its first cathedral (which at first was also dedicated to Saint-Etienne but was later re-baptized "Notre-Dame"), which also meant the construction of bishop's residences and other cathedral dependencies. The whole made almost a village unto itself, and by the 13th-century completion of today's Notre-Dame cathedral this agglomeration had grown to transform the whole ile de la Cité to the east of the rue d'Arcole into a walled town.

This "Cloître" had four gates which would be closed at sunset: The two principle openings were to each side of the cathedral, but another stood near the corner of the rue de Chanoinesse (the former "rue des Marmousets") and the rue de la Colombe, and a final door blocked entry from the port Saint-Landry near the end of the rue des Chantres.

Everything to the south of the Cathedral were the territory of the Bishop's residences and offices, so all to its north could be considered as the "cloître proper". The houses there were rarely of noble construction; most were of the half-timber style that was the tradition then, so although an effort has been made to preserve (or re-create) the medieval atmosphere the quarter once had, very few of its original buildings remain intact today. Still, there remain many a small vestige of what once was throughout this quarter, and we will find them as we go along. Perhaps I should give you a forewarning though: since this quarter has preserved its "old" sinuous street map, our way will not be as linear as our last promenade. Here we arrive where la rue de la Colombe empties into the quai aux Fleurs; let us take this way to enter the heart of la Cloître Notre-Dame.


La rue de la Colombe

This rather haphazard street seems to attack every angle it can over its short length. Dipping down to meet the rue des Ursins to the left and what seems to be the ruin of a wall to our right, we see that it widens quite abruptly once it rises again to the other side. Note the landscaping the city had to do to bring the road to the level of its buildings portals; note particularly the "stairs" to our right (leading nowhere) and the door to the same side just beyond: there is a difference of at least two metres in elevation between the two. This is a good example of how the island rose from the river through the centuries as the quay behind us is of a much more recent construction then the street in front of us.

We'll be taking a left into the rue des Ursins, but first let's take a little skip forward for a look back at this intersection from the other direction. First you will see more "landscaping' stairs, but look down to the paving and you will see a stripe latticed cobblestones crossing sidewalk and roadway from building to building: this line traces the path of the 4th century ramparts we talked about earlier on. To picture the path of the whole length of island wall you would have to imagine an oval running around 50m to the inside of today's quays – remember that, before they were built up to today's regular "plateau", Paris' banks sloped gently towards the river.


La rue des Ursins

This is one of the island's oldest streets, as it served the docks of the Port Saint-Landry from even Roman times. In fact this street had no name as an integral part of the port until it became "la rue du Porte Saint-Landry" in the early 14th century. It later became known as the "rue d'Enfer" but from around the 16th century took its name in the memory of a chateau destroyed around then, a rather imposing structure built by the Prévôt des Marchands (later Chancellor) Jean-Juvenal des Ursins in the 13th century. This building stood on the riverfront towards the centre of today's Hotel-Dieu. Before it was eliminated in the mid-19th century by the construction of the latter edifice, that part of our street was called the "rue haut des Ursins", followed a rather sinuous path until the rue de la Colombe where it became the "rue basse des Ursins".

Of its role as a port this area bears no sign, but of its partinance to the Cloître Notre-Dame: a little. The cloitre enclosure once had thirty-three canonical houses, but as most were built in the half-timber and plaster style, most of them fell victim to age. The 1789 revolution played more than a minor role here as well, because of its destruction of almost all of this island's twenty-three chapels and churches. Many were dismantled for building materials, as we soon will see.

The first such example is here at #19 of this street. This address proved to be a lesson in historical prudence: I had been looking for the remnants of l'île de la Cité's only remaining chapel (aside from its Notre-Dame and Sainte-Chapelle monuments), a 12th-century edifice dedicated to Saint-Aignan, and I thought I had found it there. To both sides of this building's courtyard-alleyway were old stone columns, and I had seen the same line continued to the rear of another property (which we will see later on) to its rear. Yet these weren't those I had seen in the file concerning the chapel's listing as "monument historique" – Saint-Aignan's columns were almost Corinthian in style and these were plain and almost Roman.

A kind gentleman resident of the building soon set me straight: it is unknown where this property's columns were recuperated from, but the chapel I was looking for was in the property just behind. After a bit of research it seems that it was transformed into a hangar for the common use between this property and its rearward neighbour; it was used as everything from a hay bin to a storage room for a woodcutter's shop whose storefront was the corner of this address and the rue de la Colombe. It was only recently (in Paris standards) that the Notre-Dame chapter managed to recuperate the hangar and incorporate it into their property next door. Today as a whole it is the "Maison Saint-Aignan' annex of the Paris Seminary, and the chapel, restored as much as it could be, has been re-consecrated to its private use. Still, it is one can visit upon written request, and if I do see it you will be the first to know, dear reader. For now you can visit their website at http://catholique-paris.cef.fr/diocese/cdas/lieux/aignan.htm.

Although this building didn't contain what I had anticipated, our visit here was no waste of time: the marble tablet you see on the wall to your right is a real "monument historique" as it is a fragment of a 12th-century funeral stone – a church's largest donors and higher-ranking ecclesiastical officers were commonly buried under the church chancel in those times – and this stone once made the floor of one of these.

After a last look up at our Romanesque columns, let us continue our way eastwards along the rue des Ursins. Just to the right of the doorway we are exiting we'll find the Seminary I just mentioned earlier – its late 19th century architecture, though in a "marina" style fairly unsuited to this quarter, does support the story of its chapel's rebirth.

Besides that there's not much to note in particular in our immediate area – perhaps the low elevation of the ground floor of the building to our left, which is yet another example of this island's rise in elevation. The rather most of the buildings to our right are of recent construction, but those towards the riverside of our path date from at least the mid-18th century. Note particularly how the buildings seem to lean into the roadway from their first floor: this was at once a technique to at once allow more room for passage on the narrow streets and gain extra area surface area through the floors above.

A little further on, this street has yet another enigma: the location of a 15th-century tower that once served the port Saint-Landry. The locals called it "king Dagobert's tower" (although this king ruled nine centuries before the tower's time) and until the end of the 19th century it stood to the rear of a wide courtyard whose principal entrance was from the rue Chanoinesse, one street to the north from us. A major landmark in its time, it figured in a few paintings of the port Saint-Landry, and Balzac described it quite extensively in the "The Brotherhood of Consolation" essay from his "The Human Comedy". Again typical to the quarter, the tower's portico was lower than street level, in fact towards the end of its life one would have to enter it from the basement. The ceiling of its spiral staircase was engraved in the 14th-century style one can see today in the Rive Droite "Jean-Sans-Peur" tower (rue Etienne Marcel). What's more, this tower is said to have had an iron arm extending from its top, supposedly to hold a lamp whose flame lit the port-Saint-Landry at night. It is even said that at one time there were two – but today they are no more. I suspect that it stood around today's 9 rue des Ursins, in the land that the National Police's motorcycle Corps garage fills today. Another thing that threw me was the "tower-esque" structure extending above the buildings nearing us from our right: with its strangely-placed windows and masonry divisions between its floors, though it is a story shorter, it looks much like the tower I was looking for.

Don't be spoofed into thinking that there is anything historical about the building in front of us though. The only thing authentic in this area is the half-buried arch under the stair to our left – and I may even be wrong about that - though it seems to fit the building opposite, the latter is a 1958 exercise in "medieval flair" by the architect Fernand Pouillon, as it is a building compiled from bits and pieces of architecture taken from a medieval ruin elsewhere.

Let us take the short stair ahead of us to the quay just adjacent for a look at a building further along the river.


Le Quai aux Fleurs – suite.

Most all of these buildings are of at least 19th-century origin. There is one of note though, 9-11 quai aux Fleurs, though more for the story behind it than for the building itself.

The cloitre Notre-Dame wasn't reserved only to those in religious orders - although the church rulers owned all of the property within and controlled its gates and morals, they allowed men outside the order to rent apartments and do commerce there. Civilian women were forbidden any place of residence there in the years before the Revolution.

Because of its early cathedral, and an edict dating from Charlemagne's time decreeing that all cathedral towns provide at least a basic education to the younger, Paris' first school was in what would become its cloitre Notre-Dame. The city's rise in popularity during Capetian rule meant a rise in number of those attending: its first teacher of renown was the Archbishop Albert who taught there in the very beginnings of the 11th century.

Thus the stage was set for the arrival of a certain an errant student-turned-teacher, Pierre Abelard de Pallet, in 1110. His controversial views vis-à-vis Christian dogma and abstract thought made him immensely popular with his students and brought a certain prestige and source of revenues to the cloister school – lower education was free, but one had to pay for the level of education at which Abelard was teaching.

The building before us is the supposed former location of a house belonging to a certain canon Fulbert, the uncle of a young lady, Heloise, known in the quarter for her beauty and intelligence (I know full well that I said that no women could live within the cloister, but this is how the legend goes). Heloise caught Abélard's eye, and to open opportunity for relations more intimate with her, petitioned her uncle for the rental of a room in his house. In addition to a healthy rent, Abélard also proposed offered the canon Fulbert free teachings for his niece.

To make a long story short: In 1115, the uncle accepted, Abélard moved in, and a child was announced soon after. The couple absconded for the countryside until the child was born. A boy, the child was named "astrolabe" (a strange name, probably given in ironic provocation to Abelard's ex-teacher and then arch-rival, Guillaume de Champeaux, one who preached only pure dogma and who was against science and free thought). Fulbert insisted that the couple marry, but Heloise was against the idea, as Abelard's brilliant teaching career would end if the laws forbidding priests to marry pending then would become reality. Abelard returned to Paris to bargain with the uncle, and after some sort of arrangement sent for Heloise. Astrolabe was left to Abelard's sister and the couple was married secretly at the Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre church.

Heloise returned to her uncle's, but word got out about the marriage. Probably to protect his career ambitions, in 1117 Abelard had her confined in an Argenteuil (Parisian suburb) nunnery – and, in revenge for this, Fulbert had him castrated.

By 1118 Fulbert was de-canonised, Abelard became a priest, and Heloise a nun, later Abbess. Abelard remained a brilliant teacher but his views would bring him difficulties, obliging him to move his teachings from the cloister to the Montaigne Saint-Genevieve in 1136, and having him accused of heresy in 1140. Abelard died in 1142 and was buried in the nunnery of which Heloise was then Abbess, and she would be buried by his side upon her death in 1164.

The building in front of us, built in 1848, reflects little of the story above outside of its naïve depictions of two lovers on each of its doors. Its placement is supposed to be that of the Canon Fulbert's house – but the only certainty to anything standing in this area, on what today would be right side of the building below the stair we will presently take to continue our walk, there was once a garden and a wall mounted with two medallions that, if not resembling the lovers, were dedicated to them.

In this short distance we have covered the most historically charged length of our walk. From here we will progress through the rue des Chantres ahead of us, a street named for the cathedral choire residences that once stood near here, to the heart of the cloitre Notre-Dame. At the top of the stair you may stop to admire the spire we see framed in contre-jour above the almost-alley's dark length. As we enter the street, look to the wall to your right – nothing but a bricked-in archway to note there, but it about marks the placement of one of the Cloître's four gates. So down we go along the address-less rue des Chantres to…


La rue Chanoinesse

Perhaps after a look back along the rue des Chantres at how the upper floor of the building to our left projects into the street, let us progress for a distance along the rue Chanoinesse before returning towards the direction of Notre-Dame.

To our right, Number 12 of this street is worth noting, though nothing beyond the rear of its street side buiding is older than the 17th century. We can have a look past its studded door though, and to the inside we can see a clever facsimile of the Hotel du Grand-Chantre that once stood in this area. This building also belongs to the Notre-Dame chapter. I particularly like how they rebuilt the well with ornate and rounded buckets. If you have a look down there is water there… meaning that the shaft of the well itself is authentic.

Exiting the doorway and continuing eastward we'll come to the front end of the garage housing the horseless transport of the National Police's Motorcycle Brigade – I'm almost sure now that it is this property that made the ruin of the "Dagobert tower" I mentioned earlier on. Now that I can see inside it seems that this building was built around the 1930's… and the motorcycle brigade was created in 1921, but it had only 9 motorcycles then. There's more to learn there for sure.

We're thrown back into the quarter's ancient history with the building just ahead. Although its façade has been redone, #22 is a canonical house dating from the 16th century, as is #24 a little further along. The latter is a restaurant today.

The next door ahead hides a hidden treasure: to the left on the ground of the narrow alley behind it, you'll see two iron braces between the wall and the paved floor – these are not here for support, but for protection. In looking closer you'll see in the stone letters of the spidery gothic style typical to the 15th century. These are no doubt more funeral stones recuperated from a church either destroyed by Haussmann's renovations or the post-revolution destructions. I vouch for the latter.

Continuing further along the hallway we come to a door, and once unlatching this we'll enter a dim vestibule with a stone stairway leading upwards. Note the wall to its left and the twin columns and old stonework it bears: this could be the remains of the southern wall of the Saint-Aignan church I mentioned earlier on – but it could just as well also be stone recuperated from another edifice. I still am puzzled why the same sort of stone column continues in parallel lines through what is supposed to have been two properties. Perhaps they were once one? Just another thing to add to my "list of questions" for later research.

Let's head back the way we came towards the rue Masillon – but in passing have a look at the blue door at #17 rue Chanoinesse – it's knocker is a registered "monument historique".

We can get a good idea of the immensity of the Notre-Dame Cathedral from our viewpoint at the corner of the rue Chanoinesse and rue Massillon. The whole left side of the street is taken up by what seems to be a 1920's construction, but the right side still has old houses. All with the exception of #8 are former canonical houses, and this one, though rebuilt in the mid 1700's, has been in use by the Notre-Dame choir since the 15th century.


Notre-Dame Cathedral
- History

Our next stop is Paris' most famous church, but before we visit perhaps we'd best get an overall view of its history before we begin looking at its details.

Paris first church stood almost exactly where Notre-Dame stands today - consecrated in 375 to the Saint-Étienne, it was but a small oratory that stood near the centre of today's Place du Parvis Notre-Dame. Many other religious edifices appeared all over the island as well as the Rive Gauche in later centuries, but Paris didn't have anything comparable to a Cathedral until the early 6th century. Then, where Notre-Dame cathedral stands today, the Merovingian King Childebert ordered the construction of a "Great Church" which, in its first years also consecrated to Saint-Etienne, was baptised to Notre-Dame.

Because before the 10th century Paris was little more than a prosperous county town, it didn't need a larger church than the one it had. This would change with the Capetian dynasty (987-1328) whose principal fiefs, between Paris and Orleans even before they became France's rulers, would make this city the centre of the Frankish realm. As from then Paris began to grow as a capital, it needed a new church worthy of the city's new stature and growing population – and even more so after Paris became official Capital of all France from 1112. The bishop Maurice de Sully, from his election in 1160, decided that the city needed better, and petitioned the king, the clergy, and the country's noblemen for the money necessary for a new cathedral.

The then-Pope Alexander III placed the first stone of Notre-Dame three years later. It had its altar consecrated in a very populated ceremony in 1182, but it wouldn't see completion to its towers until around 1245. The name of its architect, if there was but one during that period is unknown.

Notre-Dame had both the luck and misfortune to be built between the Roman and Gothic architectural periods. The former used techniques based on solid wall strength, meaning that windows could be only large enough as to not disturb the flow of forces carrying the building's weight down to its foundations, and the latter, a veritable architectural revolution, was the discovery of structural architecture. Using these same lines of force, the architect could draw a "skeleton" for his building, a structure of beams and columns, that as well as being able to stand independently, could be filled with any sort of masonry or left open to any size its maker desired. After this stage of conception, the column strength could be varied depending on the materials they would have to carry.

Notre-Dame's progression from one style to the other was timid. As it took almost two centuries to build, the hesitant abandon of Roman techniques had become a full embrace of the gothic style once the cathedral was built to its apse – but by this time the other pure-gothic edifices appearing then were already surpassing the cathedral. For this, even while the rest of the construction was going on, that much of the work on the upper floors was dismantled between 1220-30 to be rebuilt into a more "modern" style which made more space for a more majestic apse and rosary windows.

Even these changes weren't enough: in its original version Notre-Dame's transept measured but two cathedral widths across, and probably even before the rest of the cathedral construction was completed it was decided to lengthen it to a full three with entrances to each end, the one to the north, connected to the cloitre Notre-Dame, to be used by the canons, and the opposite as an entry from the archbishop's palaces in the grounds to the south of the cathedral. Begun by the architect Jean de Chelles, this work continued upon his death in 1257 by Pierre de Montreuil.

The final touch was the spire: Notre-Dame's towers were designed to hold one on each, but it was later decided instead to build but one at the nave and transept intersection. After the installation of the cathedral's chapels through the end of the century and chancel woodwork around 1350, the cathedral could be considered complete.

What we see today resembles very much what a Parisian would see then, but our respective eras were brackets for a whole series of additions and modifications that in most opinions only served to deface the cathedral. In renovations that took place mostly through Louis XIV's reign (1643-1715), the chancel stonework was removed and woodwork replaced, the tombstones (and tombs) paving the same area and nave made way for black-and-white marble tiling (still in place today), and he pillars and walls were covered with sheets of marble and the 12th-13th century stained glass were replaced with clear colours for more light. Then came the revolution: its portal saints mistakenly identified as the kings of France were pulled down with ropes and shattered – but all other statues of ecclesiastical representation soon followed. The destruction was such that Napoleon Bonaparte, in preparation for his crowning there in 1804, had to have the walls covered with tapestries and cloths to cover the unsightly damage.

Notre Dame was left almost to abandon as a decrypt and obsolete hulk until the above ruler's nephew, Napoleon III, ordered that it be restored to its former splendour. The architects Lassus and Viollet-le-Duc began renovations from 1847, deciding to strip the cathedral of all its excesses to give it its former medieval physiognomy. Restored and rebuilt from its windows through its spire, the above work was completed by 1864.

Most recently (and still continuing as I write this), the cathedral's blackened stone has been cleaned, using laser bombardment, of its smoke and soot stains which date from the early industrial age.

With that bit of historical overview aside, perhaps now you can better appreciate cathedral's finer details. As we won't be returning to this side after our walk around the gardens, let's take a short walk down to its transept portal opening onto what was once the cloitre Notre-Dame.


Notre-Dame Cathedral
- La rue du Cloitre Notre-Dame

The rue Massillon empties into la rue du Cloitre Notre-Dame just where the cathedral's apse begins. We get quite an impressive view of the gargoyles jutting out over what today is the sidewalk but before was the roadway – which brigs up a good question – is the rooftop irrigation today derived into a more modern system of evacuation? The volume of water collected by the cathedral and its masonry must be enormous… if you look through the gate to the enclosure beyond you'll see that there's several such gargoyles and sculptures being restored there – There are so many engravings in all over this edifice in need of restoration that there is always some activity here.

Before heading towards the gardens, let's walk a short distance down the rue de Cloître Notre-Dame because we won't be returning to this side of the cathedral again. If you'll notice to our left behind the fence we're following a line of square bas-reliefs – these appear only here, depictions of certain scenes from the life of Notre-Dame (the virgin Mary) for the younger "public" students whose classes took place against the walls here. In fact, whenever there were open-air lessons going on anyone at all could stop and listen, and many did.

The engraving-adorned red door nearing us as we progress along the Cathedral wall is named precisely that: "la Porte Rouge". This was an addition to Pierre de Montreuil's transept renovations, executed by the same architect around 1257. It was used by the cathedral attendants entering from the cloître Notre-Dame.

Further on is the "Portail Nord" or the "porte du Cloître" and the magnificent rosary window above it; although quite beautiful, it never receives direct sunlight because of its northward orientation. To compensate for this window is even bigger than that gracing the cathedral's façade; I also seem to remember that its glass is of a lighter colour for this. It is certain that the Cloître Notre-Dame spends much of the day for much of the year in the cathedral's shadow.

Let us make our way westward again towards the gardens behind the Cathedral's apse.


La rue de l'Archevêché

This street is named for the Archbishop's palaces that filled the land to the south of the Cathedral. Before we enter the gardens perhaps it would be best to take a walk along our street until the bridge of its same name for a better overall look at the Cathedral; In all our promenading until now it's either been hidden from us or at very close quarters.

We can take a more interesting path to our destination through the park to our left. Today it is the memorial for the Jewish deportation, but between 1864 and 1914 this land held Paris' morgue. Before then it was but a wasteland for gravel and other detritus from island construction. From the point here you can get a good view of the river and a place we'll be visiting later on in our promenades, l'île Saint-Louis.

Now that we can get a good look at Notre-Dame from the bridge here, if you look closely at the greenish statues topping the Cathedral you'll see that the one nearest the spire, different from all others around it to all four sides of the roof, has its back turned to us. These were the work of the cathedral's 19th-century renovator Viollet-le-Duc – but to be honest I haven't the slightest what this odd positioning signifies. A dash of second-empire irony to top a mediaval church…

Our promenade is almost at an end – we will be now making our way towards the front of the cathedral through its gardens.


Le Square Jean XXIII

This square, named for a quite recent Pope, once held the Archbishop's residences and the Cathedral's immediate dependencies, but all went up in flames in an 1831 fire. The land here remained but rubble until the end of Notre-Dame's second-empire restorations, after which it was opened to the public as a promenade and park.

The building you see jutting from the Cathedral behind the gate to our right is a new sacristy, also the work of Viollet-le-Duc, as well as the building standing independently just beyond.

There are lots of places to sit if you'd like to admire the cathedral's flying buttresses before we move on. Remember that Notre-Dame was built to be beautiful from the inside more than out, so in its "skeleton" quite visible to us we can see all its structural elements. Those arcs arriving mid-way up the nave's wall aren't holding it upright in a proper way of speaking, but they are preventing the cathedral from bowing outwards and moving in the wind. Though its architecture is "lighter" than in the Roman style preceding it, thinner and higher architecture also means one more flexible.

Once we make it past the gate we will make our way over to the front of the Cathedral.


La place du Parvis Notre-Dame

I brought you here in a rather roundabout way, but here we are in full view of Notre-Dame in the square before it. This "place du Parvis Notre-Dame" around us is much bigger today than it was in the years before Haussmann, and much more beautiful as well – a note of positive for all the destructions wrought by this oft-mentioned architect. The old Parvis ended where those marble seats you see crossing the square parallel to the cathedral façade – and the land beyond was filled with other churches, chapels and residences. A descendant of the world's first public hospital created in 651, the "hotel-Dieu", filled the entire southern end of the island where the park and statue of Charlemagne stand now – though Haussmann had it destroyed, he built a new one just to its north – it is the same hulking building we passed earlier along the Quai de la Corse, as it fills all the land between the rue de la Cité and the rue d'Arcole until here. It too is destined for destruction in the very near future.

There is much here that you can see without my aid, so feel free to take a walk around. There's a crypt you can visit to see some of the Roman and Merovingian vestiges found under this square, or you can just walk around the square itself if you like. Drawn out on the ground is the placement of some of the old churches we mentioned earlier, as well as some of the streets that crossed here before all was levelled. Near the line of people you see waiting to enter the cathedral you can see a brass star set into the ground: in the years where mapmaking became a precise art, this spot became the "point zero" for the measure of all distances for roads in and leaving Paris.

If you would care also to visit the inside of the cathedral, please feel free to do so – I'll be around here somewhere when you return. More than likely I'll be sitting in the quieter corner of that park away from the cathedral – right next to Paris' oldest bridge, that that will be taking us over the river to our next promenade on Paris' Rive Gauche.

See you soon!