Home to Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle and with views onto the Paris Pantheon, as well as the Eiffel Tower, you would be forgiven for thinking that all parts of Île de la Cité (one of Paris’ two islands in the centre of the Seine) have been so well walked that there’s nothing left to discover. However, if you look hard enough, then that’s certainly not the case! Here’s the best of quirky, hidden, unusual, and secret spots in Ile de la Cite.
4 Rue de la Colombe
One of the more unusual love tales to emerge from the Middle Ages is that of the colombes, or ‘doves’ as they are known in English. The story goes that in the 13th-century, there lived two doves. At the time, one of the sculptors working at nearby Notre Dame Cathedral was residing in No. 4.
The man was originally from Brittany and he resided together with his two doves (a male and a female). That was until a Parisian flood caused the building to collapse. Although only the male dove escaped the rubble, he would return on a daily basis with food and water to feed his lover.
While she eventually managed to escape, locals were so touched by the story that the myth was carried on down the generations. Strangely enough, records show for certain that the house was rebuilt in 1297 making the tale that much more probable…
5 Rue de la Colombe
Nearby, on the road by No5., you’ll find one of the few vestiges of Roman Paris (or Lutetia as it was then called) that can still be spied in the French capital today. After all, it’s here where you can see a small piece of the Roman defences that existed on Île de La Cité centuries ago. The wall was rediscovered in 1898.
Heloïse & Abelard’s House
Fated lovers Abelard and Heloïse are now alleged to be resting in Père Lachaise Cemetery, the largest and oldest graveyard in the City of Light. A couple who lived during the Middle Ages, Heloïse was the niece of .a Canon of the Cathedral while Abelard was her tutor and many years her senior.
Heloise soon fell pregnant and the couple wed in private. Alas, they were forcibly separated and never saw each other again. Today, there is much debate as to the true story behind these two very real people. Although Abelard and Heloise never saw each other again, though they corresponded through letters several times over the years. As per the legend, it’s alleged that the couple lived together in the place where a plaque can now be seen.
Rue des Chantres
One of the narrowest streets in the city can be found in the form of Rue des Chantres. Narrow, dark, and leading between Rue Chanoinesse and the Seine, one highlight of this road is a little plaque at the end of the road which announces the height of the 1910 great floods of the city.
Fake Medieval doorway, 1-3 Rue des Ursins
At first glance, the beautifully carved wooden door at 1-3 Rue des Ursins appears as if it wouldn’t look out of place upon one of the great medieval mansions of Le Marais. However, look at the building a little more closely, and it soon becomes apparent that the construction is much more modern. As it turns out, the placement of the door only dates back to 1958, though the materials are much older!
26 Rue Chaoinesse
Close to the prettiest café in Paris, Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole (you’ll know it when you see it! It’s pretty insta-famous), there’s an unsuspecting maroon door. All Haussmannian in design, it’s not until you step behind the door frame that you’ll soon discover that the paving stones are actually repurposed gravestones from a church which was demolished during the 19th-century!
Oldest clock in Paris
The oldest public clock in the city is quite literally passed by millions of people on an annual basis. However, many of the tourists and residents of the city alike fail to glance up at the side of the Conciergerie, in the process missing one of the greatest hidden gems of Île de la Cité. The oldest public clock in Paris dates back to the 14th-century, though a recent renovation in 2012 has left it looking sparkling new!
Paris Point Zero
Next time you’re on the Parvis of Notre Dame, either looking to queue to enter the Cathedral, visiting the annual bread market of Paris, or simply admiring the Christmas tree that adorns the square during the winter, be sure to look down. That way, you’ll clearly see ‘Paris Point Zero,’ a little plaque which indicates the point from which all distances in France are measured.
The oldest hospital in Paris can be found steps away from Notre Dame and is called ‘Hôtel Dieu’ (Hospital in English). While many walk past on a daily basis, what you may not realise is that you can actually enter the courtyard of the hospital for free and admire the stunning architecture and well-manicured borders to be found there.
I first visited a couple of years ago with a now-ex-boyfriend in tow and was pretty impressed with what I discovered inside!. At the time, it was unclear as to whether you were allowed to visit or not. However, a large plaque on the grand entrance’s exterior now declares that visitors are welcome!
Once inside, there’s plenty of Italianate Gardens and 19th-century architecture to admire. From twisting staircases to long galleries, there are countless photo angles to capture and it’s a great escape from the crowds which inevitably flock to the area to see Notre Dame.
For the very best view of Notre Dame without the crowds, you need to head just a few metres off the beaten tourist track. For, Rue Massillon connects massively popular Rue Cloître du Notre Dame (i.e. one of the avenues which run alongside the ecclesiastical building) and Rue Chaoinesse.
Once part of the long-destroyed cloisters of Notre Dame, this road was created in the 19th-century, although several buildings date back to the 17th and 18th centuries. However, what is particularly notable about this secret spot on Île de la Cité is its particularly impressive view of Notre Dame!