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A History Lover’s Guide to Medieval Paris


2021 France Travel Update


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Paris has a long and rich history, and the medieval period is particularly interesting. Though much of medieval Paris has been lost, remaining structures like Notre Dame Cathedral or the Sainte Chapelle still attract tourists millennia later. And if you look closely, there are other, lesser-known remnants of this period in history that can be found throughout the city.

Paris in Medieval Times

Medieval Louvre

What was Paris like in the Middle Ages? The 13th century was a period of great prosperity for Paris, which saw the birth: of some of the greatest buildings we know today: the Notre-Dame cathedral, the Sainte Chapelle, the first covered market of Les Halles or the Palais de la Cité.

Paris in medieval times was much smaller than today, with 150,000 to 200,000 inhabitants. The Medieval Paris map was delimited by the walls of Philippe Auguste. It consisted of Ile de la Cité – the political center of Paris –, the University area on the left bank, and a small area on the right bank where the people lived.

Where to Find Medieval Paris

Here are the must-see stops on a history lover’s tour of medieval Paris.

1. Notre Dame de Paris

Notre Dame Cathedral

Located on Ile de la Cité, Our Lady of Paris was the beating heart of Paris medieval. Built in gothic style, the construction started in 1163 and was completed in 1345.

Notre Dame was severely damaged during a fire in April 2019 and is currently closed to the public. During the fire, parts of the roof and the spire was destroyed forever; however, the main façade and its twin towers were saved, as were the Cathedral’s treasures.

From the Parvis of Notre Dame, look out for the huge rose window, the statue of Our Lady of Paris, and the 28 sculptures below representing the kings of Judah and Israel, the ancestors of Christ.

2. The Sainte Chapelle and the Conciergerie

Sainte Chapelle Paris

In medieval times, the Royal Palace was located on Ile de la Cité, not far from Notre Dame. From this former palace, only two buildings remain: the Sainte Chapelle and the Conciergerie.

The Sainte Chapelle was the royal chapel, and it was built in Gothic style in just 7 years from 1238 to 1248 to host the Holy Crown of Thorns, a piece of the True Cross, as well as various other relics of the Passion. Today this building has one of the most extensive 13th century stained glass collections anywhere in the world.

The Conciergerie hosts two beautiful medieval halls and the Palace’s kitchens. Centuries later, when the Royal Family moved to the Louvre Palace, it was used as a court and prison. Visitors can explore the dungeons and the chapel where Queen Marie-Antionette was held prisoner during the last days before dying under the guillotine.

TIP: Save money and time! This combo ticket Sainte Chapelle + Conciergerie gives you skip-the-line access to these unique sites at a discounted price.

3. Medieval Louvre

Medieval Louvre

The construction of the Louvre Palace started in the 12th century under the rule of King Philippe Auguste. The new Royal Palace was a small medieval castle, part of the fortress protecting the city.

This first Louvre building was square in plan, with circular defensive towers and an imposing central keep. The Louvre was separated and protected from the Seine by a moat fed with the river’s waters.

During the Grand Louvre Project, the renovation works unveiled some parts of the medieval palace. After a great mise en scène, visitors of the Louvre Museum can see part of the foundations of that first Louvre fortress, the moat, and also parts of the defensive towers.

4. Paris Medieval Walls

In the 12th century, the city’s urban heart was delimited by the walls of Philippe Auguste. The King wanted to protect Paris from a possible military attack before leaving for the crusades, so he built a solid wall with 10 gates and punctuated by almost 80 turrets.

Today, visitors can still see some remains of Paris’ medieval walls (1180-1223). The most impressive parts are located in Le Marais: at the corner of rue Charlemagne and rue des Jardins Saint-Paul, you will discover a wall section of almost 60 meters!

At the beginning of the Hundred Years War in the 14th century, Philippe Auguste’s enclosure turned out to be unsuitable for the new war techniques and weapons; that’s why King Charles V reinforced and modified the walls’ layout.  Unfortunately, there are not many parts of this wall left.

5. The Bastille

Remains Bastille - Square Henri Galli

Anxious to protect his new hotel Saint-Pol in Le Marais and the Porte Saint-Antoine, King Charles V built a remarkable bastion, La Bastille, which had the fame and fate we know, until its destruction in 1789.

The Bastille was located at today’s Place de la Bastille, and visitors can still see its layout marked on the floor. The remains of one of the turrets were moved to Place Henri-Galli, and it is one of the must-stops of our French Revolution walking tour.

6. Château de Vincennes

Chateau de Vincennes

In his desire to fortify the east of Paris, King Charles V had an exemplary defensive structure built in Vincennes that could also accommodate the court. Château de Vincennes’ imposing keep contained the royal apartments and the King’s working space from where he ruled France.

Château de Vincennes is one of the best castles near Paris, and it is possible to reach by metro – click here to buy the tickets. Inside, there’s another Sainte-Chapelle with a design inspired by the Sainte-Chapelle on Ile de la Cité.

7. Hotel Cluny – Musée National du Moyen Age

Kings of Judea Heads - Cluny Museum

This beautiful private mansion built in flamboyant gothic style was the residence of the Abbots of Cluny in medieval times in Paris. Today Hotel Cluny hosts the National Museum of the Middle Ages, an interesting museum worth visiting. In addition to medieval artifacts of all kinds and the famous Dame de la Licorne tapestry, there are some remains of Lutetia – Roman Paris.

  • Cluny Museum – National Museum of the Middle Ages
  • Address: 28 rue du Sommerard, 75005 Paris
  • Open: every day except Monday 9:15am-5:45pm. Currently closed for renovation works.

8. Tour Jean Sans Peur

Tour Jean-Sans-Peur Paris

This beautiful keep located on the lively rue Etienne Marcel is one of the most interesting medieval Paris buildings and the only vestige of medieval military architecture in Paris.

Its name comes from its builder, Jean de Bourgogne, who called himself Jean sans Peur. Tour Jean Sans Peur was originally part of the Dukes of Burgundy residence in Paris, and it has a central staircase covered by a beautiful stone vault.

  • Tour Jean Sans Peur
  • Address: 20 rue Etienne Marcel, 75002 Paris
  • Open: from Wednesday to Sunday, 1:30am-7pm. 

9. Houses in Medieval Paris

Medieval Houses - Le Marais

The half-timbered houses at 11 -13  rue François Miron, even if deeply reformed, give an idea of the typical constructions of Medieval Paris until the 15th century.

Wrongly known as the oldest house in Paris, the building at 3 rue Volta (17th century) has a design very similar to the medieval houses in Paris, with a curbstone shop forming stalls on the ground floor.

Nicolas Flamel's House - Paris

The Maison de Nicolas Flamel (1407) at 51 rue de Montomercy, in Paris 2, is the oldest house in Paris. It was built to host vagrants. Some inscriptions on the façade are original.

10. Parish Churches

Certain Parish churches in the city are partially or completely medieval. The 12th-century Romanesque church Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre – in Square Viviani – is one of the city’s oldest religious buildings. In this square, you will also find a medieval well from the 12th century.

The most beautiful examples are Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois Church – in front of the Louvre Museum -, Saint-Gilles-Saint-Leu, Saint-Germain – attached to the former village of Charonne –, and Saint-Severin and its extraordinary deambulatory in gothic flamboyant style.

Saint-Pierre Church - Montmartre

There were also a great number of monastic and collegiate establishments in and around medieval Paris. Parts of Saint-Germain-des-Près are amongst the oldest architectural elements of Paris, while the Saint-Pierre Church is the last remaining vestige of the Abbey of Montmartre, founded in 1134. Today part of the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers, Saint-Martin-des-Champs bears witness to the passage from Romanesque to Gothic art.

11. Cloître des Billetes

Dating from 1427, the Cloitre des Billettes in Le Marais is the very last medieval cloister in the capital. Built in the heart of the parish church of Billettes, it has the particularity of having retained its appearance over the last 600 years while the church has undergone many modifications and restorations.  

  • Cloître des Billettes
  • Address: 24 rue des Archives, 75004 Paris
  • Open: Monday to Sunday, 11am-7pm. 

12. Collège des Bernardins

Located in the Latin Quarter, in a small street overlooking Boulevard Saint-Germain, you will discover one of the most beautiful vestiges of the Middle Ages dating from the 13th century. This vast space with pointed arches was the refectory of the Collège des Bernardins, a place of knowledge that welcomed young monks and professors from all over Europe. Collège des Bernardins contributed to the intellectual influence of the city and the University of Paris until the Revolution.

  • Collège des Bernardins
  • Address: 20 rue de Poissy, 75005 Paris
  • Open: Monday to Saturday, 10am-5:45pm. 

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