On Saturday May 12, I took the metro to the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, where I joined a group of about fifteen persons for a walking tour of some of the archeological sites of the town. The tour was led by Nicole Rodrigues, director of the architectural unit of the city. We were fortunate to have such a knowledgeable person lead the group! Nicole pointed out that Saint-Denis is rich in archeological sites that date as far back as Late Antiquity, when Frankish kings ruled this land.
So important is Saint-Denis’ archeological heritage that the city goes to extraordinary lengths to inform and educate its citizens about this precious legacy. The walking tour in which I participated is one of the many ways that the city engages its citizens in this effort.
For me, the high point of the visit was a tour of the “Fabrique de la Ville,” a restoration project of what is believed to be (apart from the Basilica of Saint Denis) the oldest building in the city. The building’s roof has been stripped, exposing its rafters so that archeologists can examine them carefully. By extracting small cores of wood from the beams, these scientists have been able to determine that the tree from which the wood was cut was harvested in the year 1482.
After the roof was stripped, the city built a tent to cover the building to protect it from the elements so that archeological exploration could continue. At the same time, the city erected scaffolding to permit members of the archeological team to give guided tours of the project.
When we arrived at the project, we were instructed to don safety helmets and to follow Nicole up the stairs of the scaffolding, where she talked about the history of the building. In the photo above, she shows a sketch that illustrates what the building and its adjoining structures once looked like.
We climbed higher, and there we were at roof-top height! We could clearly see for ourselves that the rafters were still sturdy after all these years (530 to be exact). But that wasn’t all. The surprise came when we learned that we could climb to the top of a belvedere for a spectacular view of the Saint-Denis skyline.
So, up we went, five persons at a time.
In the photograph above, the Sacré-Cur Basilica can be seen on the horizon.
In the photograph above, the Stade de France can be seen on the horizon.
In the photograph above, the Basilica of Saint Denis can be seen.
It was a spectacular end to an enlightening tour of the city!
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