The Île Saint-Louis is connected to the rest of Paris by four bridges to both banks of the river, and to the Île de la Cité by the Pont Saint-Louis. This island was formerly used for the grazing of market cattle and stocking wood.
One of France‘s first examples of urban planning, it was mapped and built from end to end during the 17th-century reigns of Henri IV and Louis XIII. A peaceful oasis of calm in the busy Paris centre, this island has only narrow one-way streets, no métro stations, and two bus stops. Most of the island is residential, but there are several restaurants, hotels, shops, cafés and ice cream parlours at street level, as well as one large church.
The Île Saint-Louis, an elegant neighborhood, was actually two natural islets in the Seine River – the Ile Notre Dame (which was the larger of the two) and the Ile aux Vaches (a small islet used as a cow pasture) – joined together in 1614. The Île Saint-Louis is named after Louis IX (Saint Louis), King of France from 8 November 1226 to 25 August 1270.
It was King Louis XIII, who reigned from 1610 (age 8) to 1643, along with the queen mother Marie de Médicis, who decided at the start of the 17th century to implement a great urban plan first devised by his father, KingHenri IV, which transformed the two islets.
The responsibility for the development of the Île Saint-Louis in the 17th century was given to Christophe Marie, general builder for Public Works. In exchange for his pro bono work, he was granted a license to build elegant residences. Wealthy businessmen and politicians came here to live away from the noise of the inner city. Marie went into partnership with two builders, Lugles Poulletier and François Le Regrattier, and chose Louis Le Vau as architect. In 1614 the ditch between the two islets was filled in; and townhouses were constructed between 1620 and 1650. This island project, an architectural revolution, utilized a carefully drafted urban plan for the first time in Paris. It was no longer an option to build by just following the topography of the land. The new streets were built straight and perpendicular to a central axis. To reduce the risk of fires, stone and slate replaced wood, plaster and thatched roofs.
For the first time, dwellings were oriented towards the outside, rather than towards an inner courtyard, with windows and balconies looking out to river views. Courtyards were narrow and the usual gardens almost nonexistent. Aimed towards wealthy denizens, much effort was focused on the interior design of the apartments. The majority of the façades were rather sober, providing charm to the neighborhood. Only a few façades were decorated with heads or faces (mascrons). Only a few of the balconies were adorned with ornate ironwork. The few monumental doors that horse-drawn coaches rushed through hinted at the wealth of the owners.
Today the Ile Saint-Louis is one of the most authentic and unaffected 17th- and 18th-century neighborhoods in Paris.
First constructed in 1622, the Eglise Saint-Louis-en-l’Île, an atmospheric building designed by François Le Vau, has a vast, stunning wooden door decorated with angels. Inside, it is impressive and immense; the ornate Baroque style interior is a stark contrast to the sober exterior.
The Pont Saint-Louis entertainers (i.e., jazz bands, jugglers and mimes) perform on a small bridge that connects Île Saint-Louis with Île de la Cité.
One mansion built in the 1600s is today the refined and elegant Hôtel des Deux-Îles, offering 17 modern rooms, with the original blue earthenware tiles on the bathroom walls.