The Third Life of the Tour Saint-Jacques
I can hardly remember when it wasn’t covered in canvas…until just recently. The Tour Saint-Jacques sits in the center of Paris like a lone sign post of the city’s Roman past, but do we notice?
Before the Romans reached the area, the streets we now know as rue Saint-Jacques and rue du Faubourg Saint-Jacques, were well-used tracks, becoming the Roman road to Aurelianum (Orléans) called the “Via Superior.” It was the central street of “Lutetia,” the Roman city of Paris that is now the Latin Quarter. Later, in the Middle Ages, it became known as the “Grand-Rue-Oultre-Petit-Pont” — or “the great road beyond the little bridge,” which connects the Ile de la Cité to the Left Bank of the Seine just in front of Notre Dame.
For five centuries, the tower has been a dominant fixture on the landscape of the right bank, fragile and beautiful, suffering from pollution and environmental aggression becoming dangerous for the visitors of the garden below it. At one time it was the bell tower of the Eglise Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie, which was sold during the French Revolution and cut up like stone quarry, leaving only the tower to remind us of its illustrious history.
It stayed hidden from us for years, behind protective covering, while the city hall launched a series of studies in 2004 under the authority of the “Commission Supérieure
des Monuments Historiques.”
Beginning the actual restoration work in March 2006, the process was expected to last three years and in three stages including the garden, carried out by the office of the “Edifices Culturels et Historiques” under the direction of the “Patrimoine et de l’Histoire de la Direction des Affaires Culturelles” of the city of Paris, eventually revealing the tower little by little. The restoration has been a complicated and diversified ambition cleaning the stone, delicately treating the statues and carvings, attempting to give a third life to the tower, an emblem of Parisian monumental history.
Against a bright blue April sky, even cold as it’s been for an unseasonable Spring season, the white lacy detailed stone is breathtaking. For the first time in many years, strollers along rue de Rivoli are looking up and admiring its beauty.
A la prochaine…
Editor, Parler Paris