A New View of Paris (and it's among my favorites!)

If you've visited Paris before, it's likely that you've noticed a strange-looking building in central Paris. On rue de Rivoli between the Hôtel de Ville and Châtelet metro stops stands a tower. A tower that rises up alone and unattached to another building, surrounded by a small park. It's the type of monument you remember because it raises questions and elicits intrigue. Where is the rest of the building? Or is it supposed to be a tower standing on its own? What's it purpose?

An autumn sunset illuminating Tour Saint-Jacques 

A view of Tour Saint-Jacques from the towers of Notre-Dame Cathedral (and Sacré-Cœur perched up on the hill)

Well, the tower, known as Tour Saint-Jacques, was once attached to something. It was the bell tower of the Église Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie and was built in the early 16th century. In fact, if the church was still standing today, rue de Rivoli would cut right through it. 

After the French Revolution, the church was transferred to the hands of the state and was sold off for its stone to be used. However, the contract stipulated that the tower be preserved. This marked a change in purpose for the bell tower and it took on a more secular role. It was used as a watchtower for a while to spot fires in the city. Later in the 19th century the tower was being used to manufacture lead bullets. The bells had been removed and at the top of the tower, lead passed through a sieve and dropped into a pool of water at the bottom. The fall caused the lead to take the shape of a bullet by the time it reached the water.

Tour Saint-Jacques has helped in cheerier endeavors as well. Blaise Pascal (whose statue is below at the base of the tower) conducted experiments on atmospheric pressure here in the 17th century. A weather station was installed in the tower much later, in 1891, and was utilized through the 1990’s.

Recently, the city spent over 8 million euros to restore the tower, which ended in 2009. For the first time, in 2012, the public was allowed in the tower during the annual Journées du Patrimoine weekend (coming up on September 20-21 - mark your calendar). Then last year it was open to the public on weekends during the summer. Which I sadly missed out on...and promptly added to my bucket list. Thankfully it did open again this summer. Determined to climb the Tour Saint-Jacques for its 360-degree view of Paris, I made sure it happened this time around. (Have I mentioned yet how much I LOVE seeing the city from above?!)

Here’s how it works: You go online at precisely 10am on the Monday of the week you want to go, and make a reservation. Seriously, the mandatory guided tours book up within minutes. (Details are at the end of the post on how to reserve.) Then you show up 10 minutes prior to your scheduled tour time, receive a ticket, and take the tour which includes the climb up 300 steps to the top. The guided tour is in French, but if you don’t understand French there are pamphlets in English that will fill you in on most of the information.

This was a drawing we saw on the tour to illustrate the church that the tower once accompanied. Translation: "Principal facade of the Church of Saint-Jacques-la-Boucherie from the 17th century, view taken from the place of the Cloister."

Let's get right to it. Here’s why the Tour Saint-Jacques offers one of my favorite views of Paris. 

  1. The limited group size makes it comfortable to walk around the viewing deck without being cramped or it being difficult to maneuver to the railing to get a good vantage point.
  2. Besides loving heights, I especially love views that include gargoyles. And while these aren’t quite as awesome as the ones perched up on Notre Dame Cathedral, these will do. (Technically speaking, the creatures on Notre Dame are chimeras, not gargoyles, because they are not used as drain pipes.)
  3. Its central location gives a pretty spectacular view of, well, everything. 
  4. I’m going to stop writing and let the pictures speak for themselves...

Sacré-Cœur in the distance 

The best view from above that I've gotten of the front of Hôtel de Ville 

Across the Seine lies Notre Dame and the Pantheon in the distance, wearing its white dunce cap (due to restoration work)

Amid those gorgeous Parisian rooftops stands the Eiffel Tower and Trocadéro to its right

The bright colors of the Centre Pompidou really pop under gray skies

The massive L'église Saint-Eustache is in the background 

Hurry if you want to get this special, exclusive view of Paris. It’s open until September 28th of this year, though I can only guess it will be open to the public next summer again.

Tour Saint-Jacques
39 Rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris

Visits run by Des Mots & Des Arts

Dates for 2014: Tour Saint-Jacques is open from July 4-September 28 (inclusive) on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays

You can only visit with a guided tour, which run every hour between 10am-5pm, and the tour lasts 50 minutes.

Admission: €8 regular price, €6 reduced price for students and those under 18 years of age [Note- those under 10 years old are not permitted], prices as of August 2014
Entry will be free for during the Journées du Patrimoine weekend, though I imagine the line will be quite long.

How to get on a tour:
Groups are limited to 17 people. Reservations open up each Monday morning at 10:00am (Paris time) and reservations can only be made for the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of the same week. Tickets sell out within minutes so you must get online at precisely 10am! You pay for the tickets online as part of the reservation process.

Alternatively, you could show up the morning of the day you want to climb the tower and see if there are still spots available. The first tour is at 10am (which is the tour I reserved for) and it seemed people without tickets arrived between 9:30-9:45am. Most secured tickets, though they were for times throughout the day. I would recommend guaranteeing your entry and purchasing tickets online, but know there is still hope to go if you decide to try your luck and show up the morning of.


Linking up with the #AllAboutFrance link-up!

Lou Messugo