Last Updated on 5th February 2021 by Sophie Nadeau
Deep in the heart of Île de la Cité, on the kind of backstreet you’d seldom be able to find if you were to venture out on your own, rue de la Colombe is a cobblestone beauty with crooked houses that look like they’ve quite literally been plucked from the pages of a story about medieval Paris.
And to accompany the higgeldy piggedly architecture, there’s an unexpected 13th-century love story so legendary that it could only have been conceived (or have happened if you’re to believe the tale) in the City of Love. You see, for this tale we have to take ourselves back to the 1200s.
Editor’s note: Of course, this area of the City of Love is no stranger to love stories, both happy and tragic. Just one street over, along Quai aux Fleurs and overlooking the River Seine, a plaque commemorates Heloise and Abelard star-crossed lovers who lived during the 12th-century and are now interred together in Père Lachaise Cemetery.
The Love Doves of Île de la Cité
During the 15th-century, a manuscript was discovered that regaled the following love story; in 1225 there was a crumbling and dilapidated, at what is now no. 4 rue de la Colombe. Now, in this house, there lived a sculpture from Brittany, together with a pair of doves (in French, the word for dove is ‘colombe’, lest lending its name to the name of the street).
One day, around the same time of the construction of nearby Notre Dame Cathedral (it’s thought that the sculptor was actually employed to work on the ecclesiastical building), the house collapsed and was largely reduced to rubble. The two doves, a male and female pair, were trapped inside. However, through chance, or perhaps fate, the male dove managed to escape.
However, so enamoured was he with his female companion, that he took food to her for over a week. Eventually, she managed to free herself or was freed by neighbours enamoured by the couple. We can only presume (or perhaps hope!) that the pair of literal lovebirds went on to live a long, happy, and prosperous lives with one another.
And for the sceptics among us, it’s worth noting that no. 4 rue de la Colombe was actually rebuilt in at the end of the 1200s, thus perhaps adding a little credibility to the story! The exact date is actually known thanks to a rather creepy/ weird superstition during 13th-century Paris, whereby a living cat was encased in the walls of a new property to keep away bad spirits.
Visit today and you’ll soon discover a beautiful carving of two lover doves above the entryway to the building. It’s worth noting that no. 4 was actually once part of rue des Ursulins before rue d’Arcole was created and the current rue de la Colombe was created.
During the 20th-century, there were plans to demolish the street in order to render it into a straighter form. Luckily, these plans were scuppered and the house has been preserved by decree since 1962. As such, the oldest house on the street remains that of no. 4.
Nearby things to see and do close to rue de la Colombe
The gravestone courtyard of rue Chanoinesse
If there’s one secret of the 4th arrondissement that shocks the visitors the most, it’s the gravestone courtyard of rue Chanoinesse. Tucked away behind a maroon doorway at no. 26, you’ll have to hope that the door is slightly ajar when you pass as it’s actually a private courtyard and typically closed via keypad to he public.
You see, peek behind the doorway and you’ll soon spy that the stones of the courtyard are quite literally paved with Gothic script laden 18th-century gravestones repurposed following the demolition of a nearby church during the Haussmannian renovations.
Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole
Though much less of a hidden gem of Île de la Cité than even just a few years ago thanks to the meteoric rise of social media, Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole is the type of quirky yet adorably Parisian café you’ve been scouring the internet for.
And with decor which changes depending on the season (think Christmas decorations, harvest festival decor during the fall and more), you won’t regret wandering past to simply snap a photo! I’ve heard from a friend that the food is quite good too, though haven’t been able to verify this for myself!
The House of Heloise and Abelard
Of course, the doves of rue de la Colombe are not the only medieval love story to have emerged from Île de la Cité during the Middle Ages. Instead, a story with a much sadder ending which took place just a couple of streets away from rue de la Colombe is that of Heloise and Abelard.
Abelard and Heloise lived sometime between the 11th and 12 centuries. No one is exactly sure of their birth dates and their lives have become romanticised with time, more mythical, less factual.
Heloise’s Uncle, Fulbert, also happened to be a canon and Heloise was raised safely within the confines of Notre Dame Cathedral. As a young wealthy woman was expected to be fully educated in the Classics (i.e. Latin and Greek), only the best tutor was hired for her.
The tutor hired happened to be the best-known theologian of his day, Abelard. Upon meeting, Abelard was amazed by the young woman’s natural aptitude for learning and her fascination for the classics. This soon turned into an affair, which was swiftly followed by a clandestine marriage and
Follow in the footsteps of Roman Paris
Some of the earliest recorded evidence of human inhabitation of the Île de la France region comes in the form of Lutetia, i.e. Roman Paris. The tow millennia old city was largely spread across the Seine Island, Île de la Cité and the now-called nearby Latin Quarter.
So closely is Roman Paris linked to the history of the 4th arrondissement that the remains of the first wall of Paris were discovered on rue de la Colombe during the 19th-century. Today, you can find traces of the original Roman wall outlined on the ground on rue de la Colombe.