Tour Saint-Jacques – A Majestic Monument Not to be Missed
You might have noticed that Paris is a city with many public squares, exquisite little
spots with manicured urban gardens, a few benches and flocks of pigeons that make you feel so
very French. In fact, close to the Apartments du Louvre, you can visit the FIRST public square
created by the city of Paris in 1857. It is called “Square de la Tour Saint-Jacques” at 39Bis rue
de Rivoli. You can’t miss it – the Tour Saint-Jacques, that stands in the middle of it, is a
towering 52 meters (171 ft.) high. So, if you’re having trouble finding it, just look up.
A National Treasure
The 500-year-old Tour Saint-Jacques is an architectural masterpiece, a national
landmark, and a UNESCO heritage site. This belltower was built in rich
between 1509 and 1523 and, in the beginning, was part of the Church Saint-Jacques-de-la-
Boucherie (St. James of the Butchers). It served as a meeting point on the Via Toronensis (Tours
Route) for Catholic pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela (Saint Jacques de
Compostelle). However, during the French revolution, the church became national property
and its stone was sold in 1797, on the condition that its landmark belltower be spared. At that
time, the Tour Saint-Jacques was the tallest building on the right bank of the Seine.
Who and What are Up There
At the pinnacle of the tower, you can see the 19 th century reproduction of the statue of
Saint James the Greater, created by French sculptor Paul Chenillon. Saint James is depicted as a
pilgrim and stands a noble three meters high. The original figure was destroyed during the
Saint James is not alone – there are 19 statues of apostles and saints. The
apostles are located at the corners of the summit terrace and are depicted by their respective
symbols – Mark the lion, Luke the bull, John the eagle and Matthew the angel. The rest of the
tower is embellished with gargoyles, chimeras, dragons, scallop shells and curvy, complex
moldings. Very Gothic it is.
Another impressive relic in the Tour Saint-Jacques is a statue of Blaise Pascale. Pascale
was a French scientist and savant who, in 1647, performed atmospheric pressure experiments
from the top of the tower. His statue was added to its base during its first restoration in the
19 th century. In 1885, a meteorology station, which measured climatology and Parisian
pollution, was built on the top of the tower. And now, for the fun stuff.
Mysterious Medieval Alchemy
For Harry Potter fans who visit Paris, the Tour Saint-Jacques is a must-see. Nicolas
Flamel, who lived in Paris in the 14 th and 15 th centuries, and who is considered to be a heavy-
hitter of medieval alchemy, is buried under this monument. Flamel is known (supposedly) for
cracking the mystery of the Philosopher’s Stone. He and his wife Pernelle also are rumored to
have found the secret for turning metals into gold (in fantasy fiction circles, that is). They both
have streets named after them – the rue Flamel intersects with Rue de Rivoli at the Tower
location and the rue Pernelle crosses rue Flamel. The reason for this honor is a result of their
generous contributions to the original Church and other philanthropic actions in Paris.
Around 1407, after his wife’s death, Flamel built a house which is still standing just steps
away from the Apartments du Louvre Marais location. It is a stone house, the oldest one in
Paris. Walk on down to 51 rue de Montmorency to get a glimpse of it, it's now a restaurant so why not have a bite in the oldest house in Paris.
As you can see, Apartments du Louvre is surrounded by Parisian history that is well
worth the detour. The summit of the Tour Saint-Jacques is open for visitors from May 18 th to
November 12 th 2023. There are 300 winding, narrow steps to climb to the top, but the
panoramic view of Paris will take your breath away. (Not recommended for anyone suffering
from claustrophobia.) Reservations for guided visits (once they begin in May) are available
online at Tour Saint-Jacques - Office de tourisme Paris (parisinfo.com). The impressive Square
of the Tour Saint-Jacques is open daily from 8:00 - 8:00.
Whether it’s impressive architecture, majestic statues or a sorcerer’s stone link that
you’re looking for while you’re staying at the Apartments du Louvre, the Tour Saint-Jacques is a
French national treasure not to be missed.