Since its settlement by Gallic tribes in the 3rd century B.C., Ile de la Cite has been the cultural, artistic, and geographical center of Paris, in fact, Point Zero (the point from which all other distances in France are measured) is located here. As a result, the island bears witness to the city's changes - from its earliest days as a Roman camp to its later Renaissance glory, Revolutionary terror, and 19th century Hausmannian reconstruction - providing a record of the city's growth from, literally, the ground up. Concentrating solely on Ile de la Cite, the island located in the middle of the Seine, our first major stop will be at the 13th century masterwork of Pierre de Montreuil, Sainte-Chapelle. Originally built to house relics gathered during the crusades, Sainte-Chapelle is an impressive example of medieval architecture, and its stained glass windows and delicate structure are wonders to even the modern eye.
From here, we'll go next door to the Conciergerie, the residence of France's early Kings that later became an infamous prison during the Revolution (Marie-Antoinette was detained here prior to her execution). As a beautiful example of early Gothic architecture, we'll focus on the finely constructed hall of the Conciergerie's lower floor before strolling through the prison rooms. Finally, we will end with a visit to the queen of all Paris, the gothic wonder of Notre Dame. Notre Dame is, in many ways, a microcosm of the Ile itself: a palimpsest that, through the years, has been built, restored, rebuilt, altered, and rebuilt yet again countless times by countless people so as to become a reflection of the city itself.