As you walk across the little iron footbridge from the rear of Notre-Dame toward the Ile St-Louis, you'll enter a world of tree-shaded quays, restaurants, antiques shops, and stately town houses with courtyards. In contrast to its sister island, the Ile de la Cité—the site of Lutèce, the first settlement in Paris—Ile St-Louis is a relatively recent creation. The result of a contract between Louis XIII and the architect Christophe Marie in 1614, the island was developed when Marie was given 10 years to build mansions for the bourgeoisie. The land was then two islands known as l'Ile Nôtre Dame and the Prés aux Vaches—the cow meadow. Construction, which began with the creation of a bridge to link the two islets, was completed half a century later. The unity of the classical architecture gives the island the image of a cozy, aristocratic village, with a steep church spire emerging from the heart of it all. The illustrious quarter drew its name from the sumptuous feast King St-Louis threw on the very same pasture-lands in 1267 in celebration of his entry into the Crusades.
Because of its ideal location, relative privacy, and luxurious estates, rich and famous Parisians have always clamored for an address on the island. Plaques on the facades of houses identify the former residences of various celebrities, including Marie Curie (36 quai de Béthune, near Pont de la Tournelle). Voltaire and his mistress lived in the Hôtel Lambert, 2 quai d'Anjou, where they engaged in legendary quarrels. The mansion, which also housed the Polish royal family for over a century, is now home to the Rothschilds, one of the wealthiest families in
France. Down along the corner of quai d'Orléans and rue Budé, James Jones, the American author of From Here to Eternity, owned an apartment in the 1960s and '70s, where he completed the novel The Thin Red Line.
Farther along, at 9 quai d'Anjou, stands the house where painter, sculptor, and lithographer Honoré Daumier lived between 1846 and 1863. Here he produced hundreds of lithographs satirizing the bourgeoisie and attacking government corruption. His caricature of Louis-Philippe landed him in jail for 6 months.
Today, Ile St-Louis is one of the most expensive quarters in Paris. A stop at Berthillon, the famous ice-cream and sherbet shop, and the Brasserie Ile St-Louis makes the visit complete. The view of the back of Notre-Dame from the island's entrance is lovely.
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