If you want to begin your pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, begin at the Tour Saint-Jacques in Paris/Châtelet. Or skip the pilgrimage and reserve on line for the panoramic view from the top of the tower. Reservations open on line every Monday morning for one of seventeen available spots. The guided visit is given eight times a day on Friday, Saturday and Sunday until September 28. For a panorama of photos watch the slideshow at the end.
Two ways to buy a ticket are online (the best way) or at the tower (risky). Online reservations begin each Monday at 10 am for the fifty-minute tour. If you can’t make a reservation, try for a first-come, first-serve ticket. Five tickets are held back for each tour time. If you want to try for the unreserved five, get to the desk at the base of the tower early in the morning. At noon on Saturday when I went, they still had a few tickets left for the afternoon tours. The tower will be free on the Journées du Patrimoine (September 20/21) but expect a long line.
Three hundred steps lead to the summit of the former bell tower. Our guide, Tatiana, from Des Mots et Des Arts, who said she is not very “sportif” would be climbing the stairs eight times the day of our visit and had climbed the stairs eight times the day prior. She is very energetic and full of information and history (in French). I asked if the tour is ever given in English. She replied that since this is a City of Paris monument and is set up for the French, the tours are only in French. Although an history brochure is available in English and Spanish, I would highly recommend reading the history of the area before you take the tour. Read about the Grand Châtelet and Grand Boucherie use Google Translate.
Along the climb, two stopping points give you a chance to catch your breath. At the first stop is a small room with gargoyle fragments and your guide gives you the facts and descriptive anecdotes about the restorations and especially, the area around the tower. The second stopping point is the meteorology room that was in use until 2000.
A little history
Because of the smell, this area was outside the city walls. The butchers and fish mongers worked and cleaned and sold the meat and fish. The Seine was so close they could conveniently jettison the carcasses and innards to float away. This area was so filthy and unhygienic! What a difference a couple of centuries makes.
The church, Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie, originally finished in 1523, was dismantled stone-by-stone in 1793 and only the clock tower was allowed to remain. The tower was saved when a private individual persuaded the revolutionaries to save this unique piece of their heritage and history. They agreed as long as it was transferred into secular hands and out of the church’s possession.
The City of Paris bought and restored the tower of the former church, Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie, in 1836. It was renovated in 1858 to not look like a church bell tower. The tower survived the Haussmannien period and became an ornament along the public thoroughfare of rue de Rivoli.
Wanting to have green spaces as in London, a park was made around the tower and a facing street was named in honor of Queen Victoria coinciding with her Paris visit. The tower of Saint-Jacques was used as a meteorological observatory from 1895 to 2000. For anyone that visited Paris after 2001, you would have seen the tower engulfed in scaffolding. The renovations were so extensive to match stone fragments and reinforce the foundation that work could not begin until 2006 and lasted until its reopening in 2013.
The medieval museum Tour Jean sans Peur has an exhibition until December 21, 2014 on the history of the Tour Saint-Jacques.
How to buy your tickets
Des Mots et Des Arts
Pay with PayPal on the Des Mots et Des Arts website (8 euros)
If you encounter any problem with your reservation please contact Des Mots et Des Arts immediately by phone (+33674872603) (or +33183961505) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Meet at the entrance to the Tour Saint-Jacques inside the park (39 rue de Rivoli 75006)
Restrictions for the visit: Must be over ten years old, be warned of potential claustrophobia (narrow staircase) and fear of heights. Anyone who has difficulties walking or heart problems are reminded there are 300 steps. Comfortable walking shoes are advised.
Lunch idea: After the tower tour, we had lunch reservations at Au vieux comptoir nearby. Recommended!
17 rue des Lavandieres | Sainte Opportune, 75001 Paris, France (Metro: Louvre / Place Vendôme) 01 45 08 53 08
20 rue Étienne Marcel 75002
Telephone: 01 40 26 20 28
E-mail : email@example.com
Summer hours: April 2 – November 9, 2014: Wednesday through Sunday (1:30 pm to 6 pm)
Winter hours: November 15 – March 29, 2015: Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday (1:30 pm to 6 pm)
Metro: Line 4 (Étienne Marcel)
Bus : Line 29 (Turbigo, Étienne Marcel)
RER : lines A, B, D, station Les Halles
Entry: 5 euros for permanent and temporary exhibitions
8 euros for a guided visit, Saturday and Sunday 3 pm; minimum five persons
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