After five centuries, Paris Tour St-Jacques opens to public

Fri Jul 5, 2013 1:03pm EDT
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By Natalie Huet

PARIS (Reuters) - It's not for the short of breath or weak-kneed, but the dizzying 360-degree vista of Paris from the Tour Saint-Jacques is one of the best-kept secrets of the French capital.

For one good reason: this flamboyant 16th-century Gothic tower, historically a stop on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, has been closed to the public for most of its 500-year history.

Lacking a permanent license to receive public visitors, the 62-metre (203-foot) stone tower opened its doors on Friday for a two-month experiment.

It offers visitors stunning bird's eye views from the heart of Paris - provided they have the energy to walk up its claustrophobic 300-step spiral staircase and the 6 euro ($7.70) (3 euro for students and the unemployed) entrance fee.

From the zinc-topped terrace, the capital's most iconic landmarks compete for attention, from the neighboring Conciergerie, Ile-Saint-Louis and Notre-Dame to the Pompidou Centre, the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre and La Defense.

"It's a fabulous view - you can see absolutely every monument. And look at all those rooftops, it's like an Impressionist painting," said 61-year-old Nadege Chaillou, who like other visitors "oohed" and "aahed" over the panorama.

Adorned with gargoyles and topped by a 3.5-metre statue of St. James the Apostle, the tower is all that remains of the medieval church of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie, pillaged and destroyed by French revolutionaries in the late 18th century.

The bell tower - which will be open until September 15 - was spared for its beauty and possibly to be used as a watchtower to spot the capital's frequent and deadly fires, curators say.   Continued...

General view of the Tour Saint-Jacques in Paris July 5, 2013. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer