What may well be the most extraordinary view over Paris became accessible to the general public this summer for the first time in its nearly 500-year history.
The lucky few who are able to reserve before September 15 for a Friday-to-Sunday a slot to climb the 300 steps (about 16 stories) of the Tour Saint Jacques, the flamboyant Gothic bell tower near Chatelet, will be rewarded with a view that rivals that from the towers of Notre-Dame Cathedral but with the added value of giving a more sweeping eyeful of the heart of the Paris and a 360° panorama from the center of the city.
For a view of the view click here.
The tower is the only remnant of the Church of Saint James of the Butchery, which was a point of departure for pilgrimages on the route (via Tours) to Compostalla, Spain.
Built 1509 to 1523, the tower owes its current clean and visitor-friendly state to a restoration completed in 2009, 150 years after its last major restoration. The church itself was demolished and its stone blocks sold off in 1797. Now, in a test-run, the tower is open to visitors by reservation Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, 10am to 5pm, from July 5 to September 15.
Claustrophobics and those suffering from vertigo should abstain and therefore won’t then get a chance to see the view or the symbols of four Evangelists and of Saint James the Greater atop the 177-foot tower, but all passersby admire the tower from its base, where the mathematician-scientist-philosopher-theologian Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) stands guard. Pascal, a pioneer in the development of the barometer, conducted studies on air pressure and gravity at the tower. A weather station was installed atop the tower in 1891, which is around the time that Gustave Eiffel began studying air resistance and meteorology at his own tower further down the river.
The City of Paris has authorized the association that operates the lesser-known Tour Jean sans Peur / John the Fearless Tower to organize and conduct the visits at the Saint James Tower.
The visits last about 50 minutes for groups of 17 people a time. You can reserve:
– as an individual by getting in line (very early) on the day you wish to visit. Entrance: 6€ per person, free during Heritage Days, Sept 14 and 15.
– as a pre-constituted group of up to 17 people by making a request to firstname.lastname@example.org. Group fee: 100€.
Children under 10 are now allowed up. Visits can be cancelled due to inclement weather. The tower is located at 39 rue de Rivoli, 4th arr., metro ChateletComplete information in French can be found here.
If all goes smoothly this summer, subsequent plans will be made to open the tower to the public.
Though less spectacular, the Tour Jean Sans Peur, built 1409-1411, is remarkable as the last vestige of the Paris palace of the powerful Dukes of Burgundy. That tower is located at 20 rue Etienne Marcel (near rue Montorgeuil) in the 2nd arrondissement. With a guide or proper documentation (available on site) it provides a wonderful introduction to 15th-century French politics, the Hundred Years War with the English and the civil war between the Burgundians and the Armagnacs, and the association that operates the tower organizes fascinating temporary exhibits there about various aspects of medieval life (warning: the exhibits are heavy on reading, light on displays). Those suffering from claustrophobia or vertigo will be at ease in this tower, but uncurious travelers willing to use their historical imagination might wish to abstain. You might test your own curiosity beforehand by deciding whether or not you’re impressed by this stone “outgrowth” from the stairwell:
Or this 15th-century toilet.
See www.tourjeansanspeur.com for opening dates and times and information about the current exhibition.