ile de la cité, Maps

La Rue Neuve Notre Dame

When tourists go to see Notre Dame Cathedral it’s likely they miss a few sneaky details.. (for good reason, right? HEY KIDS LOOK UP ITS NOTRE DAME!) hidden right below their feet! If you were to be in front of ND prior to 1870, it would have appeared very different from what you see today.

Photo by Max Avans on

For starters, the parvis AKA the huge open area where everyone gathers to take pictures or wait in a massively winding line back when the cathedral was accessible before the BFF (Big Fucking Fire) DID NOT EXIST. You could never really see ND until you were right up against it because the area in front of ND was a Medieval Real Estate Hot Commodity.

Turgot Map from 1739. Notice La Rue Neuve N.D. in the center, then the Parvis N.D. Do you see the lack of public space?

Back in the day of our medieval forefathers, panoramic city views were a privilege, not a right. Besides, who has time to complain about lack of open public space when everyone was too preoccupied with managing typical day to day concerns; like STDs, figuring out what time it was, and how to seek revenge on your asshole landlord when you lived in a constant state of poverty and poor health. Good times!

How Notre Dame would have appeared from the La Rue Neuve Notre Dame. Computerized Image from Muséosphere – Mairie de Paris.

Like the Champs Elysees or Boulevard Saint Germain des Prés today, the Rue Neuve Notre Dame was the main drag here in medieval Paris, dominating the landscape around the cathedral from the time it was built in about 1136 until city planner Haussmann leveled this area in the 19th century. Another long-standing building, the Hospital of Found Children (or Lost Children if you are a cup half empty kind of person) was eliminated with it, thus creating the open space we see today.

Another view from a painting by Edward Gaertner 1826

However, you can still see traces of this former street in the cobblestones below, where the location of the Rue is highlighted with a different stone as well as a discreet marker. I absolutely love to point this out to tourists with their necks angled up. Their delight to look beneath their feet at this hidden in plain sight detail tickles me every time.

Compare these two images of the Rue Neuve Notre Dame

AND THERE’S MORE! You can even view the foundations of the 28 buildings that once lined this street below in my favorite Paris museum you probably never knew, the Crypte Archéologique. (click text for link, or see my post about this hidden gem of a museum in the link below)

Did you know about this detail or are you learning of it for the first time? Please comment below!

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