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  • Writer's pictureParisian Niche

Porte Saint Denis - a Treasure Hiding in Plain Sight...

Wandering les rues and getting lost in Paris is one of P'Niche's favorite ways to spend time. And it's been such a pleasure to bring you histories and tales of some of the amazing architectural triumphs (that will make sense in a moment), like the Turbigo Angel and monuments found along Paris' Historical Axis, like the Luxor Obelisk.

Today, let's take a P'Niche peek to learn more about the Porte Saint Denis - one of several triumphal (aha, there it is!) arches found in Paris...

We're jumping into the P'Niche Time Travel Machine to head wayyyyyy back to the 14th century.

As we can see in Eugène Viollet-le-Duc's (he came later - more soon!) drawing of the medieval structure, the original gateway structure consisted of two gates with four towers (one on each corner).

Built between 1356 and 1358, the original purpose of the mammoth fortification was to protect the right bank of Paris from any incoming attack. Attacks could be prevented by raising a drawbridge.

Hey, signs of the times!

Developing technologies in "modern" warfare (ye olde cannons, etc.) saw the destruction of much of the structure, but led to the construction of the Louis XIII Wall, which was stronger, had sturdy flanks on each side, and was meant to protect.

The only thing not considered at that time was the massive and quick spread / development of Paris as a booming metropolis.

We've jumped in time to 1672, under the reign of Louis XIV, who we covered extensively in our Versailles mini series.

Still pumped from his military victories (in Franche-Comté and on Meuse and Rhine during the Franco-Dutch War), in 1672, the Sun King commissioned Monsieur François Blondel - architect and Director of the Royal Academy of Architecture for an arch.

With inspiration from Rome's Arch of Titus, this arch is 80.9 feet high, 82 feet wide and a slender 16 feet deep. The interior arch is 50.4 feet high with the center at 26 feet wide.

Construction was paid for by the City of Paris. It was actually the first of four arches in Paris and served as frontispiece to Blondel's Cours d'architecture in 1698.

In fact, this triumphal arch was itself the inspiration for the other three triumphal arches found in Paris - the Porte Saint Martin (1674) and located steps away from the original.

It also serves as inspiration for the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel (1808) and Napoléon's grand masterpiece - the Arc de Triomphe (1836), which crowns the beautiful avenue des Champs Elysées.

You'll notice many bas-reliefs upon the Porte Saint Denis - all created by Michel Anguier. On the northern face, we see a depiction where "Louis XIV takes over the city of Maastricht." To the south, shown here, the relief displays Louis XIV riding and leading the way in "The Passage of the Rhine at Tholus." Also on the south side, we see a bronze hailing of LUDOVICO MAGNO (For Louis the Great.)

As we work our way down, the applied obelisks show clusters of trophies and military accolades. The seated figures at the bottom reflect a dismayed woman (the Dutch Republic) to the left, and a defeated man (the Rhine) to the right.

At the monument's base, Latin wording reflects the 60 glorious days of Louis XIV and all of the aforementioned military conquests he accomplished in this short timeframe.

You know what days were not glorious at this gateway? The June Days uprising. In 1848, this bloody insurrection saw barricades erected at the site in a grand effort to block opponents' communications and efforts.

Quite sadly, 30 protestors were killed or wounded on site that June 23rd, by the National Guard, under the command of General Louis Eugène Cavaignac.

In happier days, however, this gate was used by all royals returning to Paris from services held at the royal Basilique Saint Denis.

Other royals also entered Paris through this triumphal arch, not the least being Queen Victoria in 1855, on her royal state visit to that year's Universal Exhibition in Paris. This was, coincidentally, the last time a royal monarch would pass through these gates into Paris, despite the importance of the event and royal visit.

Back to current times. While the surrounding area has sometimes been called less than stellar for travelers, I felt very comfortable, seeing tons of bars and eateries, a hip atmosphere, and lot of local Parisians.

There are also a few hidden passageways nearby and even an art nouveau historic building. Just be alert and aware of your surroundings, as you would in any city.

Want to make a stop to see this arch? Great!

Located at a major cross point in Paris, the arch is found where rue Saint-Denis changes to rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis. This is also where the boulevard de Bonne-Nouvelle becomes boulevard Saint-Denis.

Métro: is Strasbourg-Saint-Denis (4, 8 & 9).

There is no entry, no fee, and no set hours.

So what do you think P'Nicher, do you want to swing by and check this out or have you already crossed this arch during your métro travels? Let us know in the comments below et à bientôt!


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Jan 17

This looks like an easy and interesting place to visit on my next trip. Thanks P’Niche!

Jan 18
Replying to

Thank you very much and I will be happy to know what you think once you visit!

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