My collection of photos of quirkily individual back doors around St Malo prompted me to look again at some of the interesting, historic doors around Paris.  On a grey day my feet and camera lead me towards the river Seine so what better place to start a history of Paris doors than Île St Louis?  Not back doors this time.  These are the porte cochère entrances to courtyards of hôtels particuliers.  The seventeenth century equivalent of the double garage but also the way through to the real front door.

While the Île de la Cité had been inhabited since pre-Roman times, two smaller islands just upstream remained undeveloped up to the seventeenth century.  The settlement of the islands, then known as Île Notre Dame and Île aux Vaches, was the first planned project of urbanisation in Paris.  In 1614 Marie de Medicis, regent to the young king Louis XIII, commissioned Christophe Marie, entrepreneur général des ponts, to oversee the development necessary to allow the islands to be divided into building plots.


Christophe Marie undertook his task in association with two other entrepreneurs, Lugles Poulettier and François le Regrattier.  At their own expense they commissioned the filling of the channel between the two islands, the stabilisation of quays and the building of roads and bridges, in exchange for the rights to the newly created building plots.  The first bridge, Pont Marie, was opened in 1635.  By 1670 the urbanisation of the new island was almost complete.



Three roads run the length of the island.  The central rue St-Louis-en-Île was, and still is, the commercial street of the island.  The two quays (divided between four different named sections) were the most desirable building plots, quickly filled with a series of grand hôtels particuliers overlooking the river.  



Sturdy doors closing off simple, round arches (top) are common along rue St-Louis-en-Île.  The elaborately paneled doors in carved stone surrounds are to be found along the quays.  In some of the grander buildings the height of the main ground floor rooms is such that an extra half height room could be fitted into the top of the arch (above).  Quarters for the servant in charge of the gate, perhaps.


For fifty years Île St Louis was the most desirable address in Paris.  Then, in 1682, Louis XIV moved his court and the government of France to Versailles and the centre of gravity of the city moved westwards.  Gradually grand, individual houses were divided into apartments but otherwise the island remained unchanged as waves of new building and redevelopment washed over the rest of Paris.  Some of the port cochère doors show the adaptations of passing centuries but many look timeless, apart from the doorbells and the digicode buttons.

Behind the doors, the courtyards are still there.  Some old stable yards are now car parks but a glimpse through an open door (or an aerial photo) sometimes reveals surprising flashes of green.  Île St Louis has its green places but it’s keeping them well hidden.

Since I wrote my first post about doors, I’ve discovered a rich seam of door photos in the world of WordPress blogs.  If you find the variety of doors around the world fascinating, you might enjoy some of the other posts linked to the weekly challenge of Norm’s Thursday Doors.

(Click on any photo for a closer look)