Ile Saint-Louis



View from Quai des Célestins

The elegant facades of the private mansion houses can be distinguished behind the poplar trees. The island was built late between 1614 and 1643. Before that, it was just a couple of small uninhabited islands: L'île aux Vaches - the Cows Island - because it was just used as a pasture;  and l'île Notre-Dame  as it was part of the cathedral area.
Its late urban development - merging the two islands together, paving the streets following a regular checkerboard pattern, building bridges and magnificent private mansion houses - has provided this district with a unique architecture harmony. 

  • île Saint-Louis viewed from quai des Célestins
    1921 Atget
    (Musée Carnavalet)

Marie's Bridge - Pont-Marie

From Quai des Célestins, we can admire l'île Saint Louis and Marie's bridge, built in 1614 and achieved in 1630.
Its name Marie is neither a tribute to King Louis XIII's mother - Marie de Médicis - nor in relation with the near cathedral Notre Dame de Paris. Its name is a tribute to its builder, Christophe Marie who designed the entire Ile Saint Louis. 
This stone bridge, inaugurated by King Louis XIII, still a nine year old child, is the second oldest Parisian bridge (the oldest is Pont-Neuf).  Generally, bridges in that time were occupied by narrow houses with a small shop. On Maries's bridge fifty uniform houses were occupied by various craftspeople. In 1658, twenty houses collapsed together with two arches destroyed by a violent flood.

  • The Seine river and Marie's bridge
    1921 Atget
    (Musée Carnavalet)

Sully bridge - Pont Sully

From Quai des Célestins, we have now reached the Sully bridge from which the picture is taken. Let's admire the way Atget captured the metallic shimmer of the Seine.  Together with the poplar trees which hide the island, the Seine looks like a green ribbon wrapping a jewel box.
The "treasure island" can be reached by five bridges : on its East side by Sully bridge where we are. On its West side by Saint-Louis bridge if you come from Ile de la Cité. By Louis-Philippe and Marie's bridges if you come from the Right bank. By Tournelle bridge if you come from the Left Bank.   
We arrive on quai d’Anjou from Sully bridge. This quay is exposed to the North and therefore always a little bit chilly. But we will be quite rewarded because the most beautiful private mansion houses - hôtel Lambert and hôtel Lauzun - are located on this side.
But before, let's have a look over the small isolated Barye public garden, on the other side of the bridge. The bridge built in 1876 is cutting the eastern end of the island, where in the past there was the most magnificent private mansion house of the île Saint-Louis, the hotel Bretonvilliers, which had a huge terrace overlooking the river. The hotel was destroyed when the Sully bridge was built.

  • La Seine et le pont Marie
    1921 Atget

Hôtel Lambert - Quai d'Anjou

Hôtel Lambert
1, quai d’Anjou
Atget - 1898
(Mission du Patrimoine Photographique)

Among the private mansion houses built in that time, hotel Lambert was one of the finest. It was built in 1644 for a rich man, Jean-Baptiste Lambert, minister of Finance under King Louis XIII. The greatest artists of that time,  the architect Le Vau and the interior designers Le Sueur and Lebrun were called upon its construction.

Extensive rehabilitation work undertaken by its previous owner, the emir’s brother of Qatar were discussed at length in our local newspapers, but emotion in this debate really peaked when a fire in July 2013 seriously damaged a part of the mansion, especially the cabinet des Bains designed by Eustache Le Sueur. It has been said that this room was Voltaire’s private apartment when his mistress, the marquise du Châtelet bought the hotel.

(Note: In 2022, the hotel was bought by Xavier Niel, French telecom billionnaire, for more than 200 million euros ...).


Hôtel de Marigny - Quai d'Anjou

5 quai d'Anjou
(Musée Carnavalet)

Let's walk a little bit further. We go past the Hôtel de Marigny, 5 quai d'Anjou, built in 1633 and owned later by Marquis Poisson de Marigny, brother of Madame de Pompadour (Louis XV's favorite). All the buildings, from 9 to 15 quai d'Anjou were owned by a same man, Louis Lambert de Thorigny. As Jean-Baptiste Lambert's  brother, he inherited Hôtel Lambert too. He was so rich that he owned more than fourteen houses of the island ...

Hôtel de Lauzun

Hôtel de Lauzun
17, quai d’Anjou
Atget - 1900

We are immediately attracted by the splendid wrought iron balcony. The elegant cast iron gutters decorated with dolphins were added in 1910.

In the days of Atget, the hotel Lauzun looks a little bit gloomy and we can easily imagine   seeing the ghost of Baudelaire in the attic where he lived. Don’t you see him, behind "The slatted shutters which hide secret lecheries,  Scenting in every corner the chance of a rhyme, Stumbling over words as over paving stones, Colliding at times with lines dreamed of long ago ".  (The Sun – The Flowers of Evil)

Actually Baudelaire wrote his first poems in this hotel. He also enjoyed joining other artists: Théophile Gautier, Balzac, Delacroix and Daumier in hashish evening parties organized in the studio of painter Fernand Boissard. In the poem of hashish he describes “its mysterious effect"  as also  "the most terrible and the most sure means which the Spirit of Darkness uses to enlist and enslave wretched humanity, but even one of the most perfect of his avatars” .
Jeanne Duval , his muse and mistress who was sharing Baudelaire's Bohemian lifestyle lived in the very near street, 6, rue Le Regrattier

Pleasure, be my queen forever!
Put on a siren's mask
Fashioned of flesh and of velvet

Or pour on me your heavy sleep,
In wine, formless and mystical,
O Pleasure, elastic phantom!

A Pagan's prayer – The Flowers of Evil

Quai d'Anjou

Let's turn round to admire it before we move ahead on Quai de Bourbon !

Quai d’Anjou as captured by Adget is deserted. Nowadays we can still feel its calm sweetness reflected on the facades lining up nicely, against which the same aspen provides its shade.

Let’s have a closer look at Atget’s photo which shows things definitively part of the past. For instance, on the left side we can see wash-sheds, disappeared a long time ago. They remind us that in the past Parisians had to go to the river or the fountain to do the laundry.
 We can also see two small figures standing at  the foot of the tree: yes, they are two fishermen!  
And this dark weird cubicle in the centre of the photo is a public pissoir …

Today, it is always a very quiet street, but fancier and slightly disturbed by groups of tourists following their guide in an admiring silence. 

  • Quai d’Anjou in 1902
    (Bibliothèque Nationale)

Quai de Bourbon

Compared to the fancy  Lambert and Lauzun mansions, Le Charron and Jassaud mansions show somehow a more austere opulence. Overall, compared to nowadays, the quai de Bourbon looks more formal in the days of Atget,  still reflecting the style of the lawmakers who were living there in the past. 
Straight and quiet, a little bit chilly this sun-deprived quay will take us up to the west side of the island where we will meet tourists and other gourmets looking for the famous ice-maker Berthillon.

  • Quai de Bourbon
    Atget - 1924

Au Franc-Pinot

Au Franc Pinot
Quai de Bourbon
Atget - 1903

In old times, wine merchants could only sell wine in pot or barrel and their shops protected by iron grills were easily recognized by their signboard. Here is a very fine example of these wrought iron grids and signboard with this gold wine branch and the bunch of Pinot above the door.
With a little bit of imagination, we can travel back to 17th-century and see the bargemen stopping there and have a jug of wine. It was closed by the police in 1716 when satirical papers against the Regent's dissolute life were found in the cellars. Actually,  Louis XIV's nephew was well known for the orgies following the evening parties organized in his residence,  the Palais-Royal.    

3, quai de Bourbon

A Louis XVI period store
3, quai de Bourbon
Atget - ca 1900

Just next, at nr 3, quai de Bourbon, as shown by the picture taken by Eugène Atget there was a very charming 1775 shop front. So delicate and elegant, so contrasting with the very simple hardware store. As the store was demolished in 1916, its shop front was acquired by an antique dealer who sold it to Jack Pierpont Morgan Junior, American banker and collector. Today, the shop front can be seen at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Corner quai de Bourbon and rue Le Régratier

Hôtel de Jassaud
Corner quai de Bourbon and rue Le Regrattier
" La femme sans tête"
"The woman with no head"
(Bibliothèque Nationale)

The description  provided by Atget to his photograph and the old name of the street written in the stone “ rue de la femme sans tête – street of the woman with no head”  may sound  like the damaged statue of  a woman.
Actually,  the statue shows Saint-Nicolas, because the owner of the large mansion was Nicolas Jassaud, secretary of Louis XIV. Nicolas Jassaud was also an official of the bargemen Brotherhood which holy defender was Saint Nicolas …
Well, then how is this related to the name of the street – the woman with no head? 
None ...There was an old habit to name the street from the main signboard … and in the past there was a pub with a signboard representing a woman with no head!
Well, why a woman with no head? Because a woman with a head would not cope with a husband drinking too much!

12, quai d'Orléans

12, quai d’Orléans
House where the poet Arvers was born
Atget - 1907/1908
(Bibliothèque Nationale)

Who would not like to live quai d’Orléans? … Indeed, it is pretty much difficult nowadays to understand the characters of “In Search of Lost Time” written by Marcel Proust and living at  same time than Atget. Neither Odette could not understand “ Swann's continuing to live in his house on the Quai d'Orléans, which, though she dared not tell him so, she considered unworthy of him”, nor Proust’s parent who was longing to see Swann’s antiques  in his old house “but which stood on the Quai d'Orléans, a neighbourhood in which my great-aunt thought it most degrading to be quartered”.   (Swann’s way – Marcel Proust).

Even in the days of Atget, this house located 12, quai d’Orléans looks so elegant with its balcony !
Felix Arvers, poet and playwright, famous in his time and now largely forgotten  was born in 1806 in this house. He is mostly famous for a poem he wrote, aged 25, which expressed his unrequited love for a woman :

My Secret

My soul its secret has, my life too has its mystery,
A love eternal in a moment's space conceived;
Hopeless the evil is, I have not told its history,
And the one who was the cause nor knew it nor believed.

Alas! I shall have passed close by her unperceived,
Forever at her side, and yet forever lonely,
I shall unto the end have made life's journey, only
Daring to ask for naught, and having naught received.

For her, though God has made her gentle and endearing,
She will go on her way distraught and without hearing
These murmurings of love that round her steps ascend.

Piously faithful still unto her austere duty,
She will say, when she shall read these lines full of her beauty,
"Who can this woman be?" and will not comprehend.

--translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Rue de Bretonvilliers

It is said it was the most magnificent mansion of the island. Its facade was opening all along the street which now bears its name and its gardens were spreading up to the far end of the island. Finest artists worked on its decoration, like Mignard and Poussin. But today we can only see some outhouses and this pavilion with the archway which are the only remains after its destruction at the end of the 19th century. Already broken up during the French Revolution, it was finally destroyed to make way for Sully’s bridge and the boulevard Henri IV. 

  • Rue de Bretonvilliers
    Atget - 1900
    ((Musée Carnavalet)

Rue Saint-Louis en l'île

Let's go under the Bretonvillier's arch and reach the street rue de l'île-Saint-Louis-en-l'île ...

The straight street is punctuated by the unusual pierced spire and the hanging iron clock (1741) at the entrance of the church. In July 1726, the island and the church were officially  dedicated to Saint-Louis (Louis IX). The church nested within the island looks relatively modest from the street. But inside, it reveals a large nave and a superb dome. It is generally very quiet, out off beaten tourists tracks more centered around the fancy shops of the street and the famous ice-cream maker Berthillon.

A famous altar boy attended the church : the serial killer Landru !

  • Rue Saint-Louis-en-l’île
    Atget - 1924
    (Mission du Patrimoine photographique)

8, rue Poulletier

This is an old house built in 1637.

When the island was uninhabited, there was a ditch between l’île aux Vaches and île Notre Dame. This ditch was on the line of the Philip-Augustus wall which was defending Paris. 

The street bears the name of Lugles Le Poulletier who with François le Regrattier helped Christophe Marie in financing the construction of the island. The relationships between Christophe Marie and the two bankers were hectic, many conflicts between them and also with the first inhabitants hampered the progress of the buildings. But Christophe Marie will have lived long enough to see his project accomplished, though not rich enough to get a lodging on the island …  

  • 8, rue Poulletier
    in 1913 by Atget
    ((Mission du Patrimoine photographique)

Year 2016 - Text and photos - Martine Combes