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Notre Dame Cathedral in the summertime.

Admittedly, it’s a little late to tell you about this since it’s JUNE but there is a benefit to hanging out in France from November to March over a first Sunday of the month. Over this low tourism period, extra sites have free admission so we tried to visit as many as possible and save ourselves some Euros.

St. Denis Basilica Cathedral is the necropolis of the kings of France. It stands on the site of the tomb of the first Bishop of Paris, St. Denis, who was martyred about 250 AD.

This March, William and Chris did double-duty, having visited Notre Dame’s Towers and St. Denis Basilica Cathedral in one day! [Clarisse and I missed out the Towers because it meant that Chris would have had to carry her the entire time and the old man’s back is getting older.]

The views from Notre Dame Tower are especially nice because you are so close to the Seine.

Although they arrived early (before 10h00), there was still a lineup for the Tower entry but 15 minutes later and a climb of almost 400 steps of winding stone staircase, they were rewarded with great views of Paris. Unfortunately it was cold and gray that day.

That “Le Stryge” gargoyle sums up how I feel about Paris. I love living with you Paris but there are times I can’t figure you out. Phhttt!

Overlooking the square in front of Notre Dame Cathedral. The lines on the pavement indicate the original location of city walls before Haussman tore them down in his renovation of medieval Paris.

In the belfry in the south Tower: I see an enormous bell, plus some hazard tape and nearby, my son is preoccupied with his camera. Hmm…

Travelling north of Paris to the suburb of St. Denis feels like travelling to the “wrong side of town:” it’s dirty, street people eye you up and down and you feel like you’re going to be robbed at any moment. It was an industrial area and has one of the highest crime rates in the country. (Of course, we didn’t know that when we wandered through, wearing our foreign ski jackets and fleece.) Once you flee from the grubby Metro station and ghetto flea market nearby, you come across the Cathedral and become astounded at all the “funereal art” when you enter its interior.

The Gothic structure allows plenty of light to shine into this royal necropolis.

Because there is so much stonework, this building is like a refrigerator in the wintertime. Brrrr! But I have never seen so many “recumbent” statues and tombs in one place.

The Basilica has over 70 recumbent statues and tombs. The sculptures of royalty are impressive and if it weren’t so bright and spacious inside, this place would be creepy.

Except for three, the kings and queens of France have been enterred here from the 6th century onwards: 42 kings, 32 queens, 63 princes and princesses and 10 “great men of the realm.”

On display is the heart of “the Dauphin” (King Louis XVII), who died in the Templer’s Tower while imprisoned with his father during the French Revolution. We don’t live far from where the Tower once stood.

The crypt, where St. Denis’ tomb is located.

This is the Bourbon Grave where the remains of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were transferred from the Madeleine cemetery by Louis XVIII, the last king buried in the Basilica.

Being here was almost like being at Le Louvre, but colder and without the crowds. It’s quite a glorious place of beauty and awe in such stark contrast to the neighbourhood outside. And like being in Le Louvre, it is hard to maintain the interests and volume level of young children. So at some point we had to focus on little details like what animal was lying at this recumbent king’s feet? This queen’s feet? (They were usually dogs or lions.)

Louis XII and Anne de Bretagne inside a Carrara marble tomb.

This must be the fourth place in France where I’ve brought my kids to see famous dead people. [See my posts for Montmartre Cemetery,  Père Lachaise Cemetery, and the Panthéon.] It is just too easy to do (well, lots of les bonbons treats were involved). But I am so glad to have seen it. The French not only know how to do lights, they know how to do necropolises…

A memorial to King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette, commissioned by King Louis XVIII when their ashes were returned. Stunning.

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