Paris has many must-see sites, from world class museums to art and architecture. The fire at Notre Dame, one of its most iconic landmarks, commanded headlines across the world in 2019. And yet one of Paris’s most remarkable treasures goes comparatively unnoticed by tourists. It’s a place as precious to the history of pre-revolutionary France as any and the resting place of the kings and queens since at least the sixth century.
The Basilica of St Denis is an abbey in the northern part of Paris. Located in the neglected neighbourhood of St Denis with a reputation for high crime rates, most people from out of town only take the metro to St Denis in order to watch a match at the stadium that’s home to the French national football team.
The church itself was completed in the twelfth century and is one of the earliest examples of gothic architecture, predating the completion of Notre Dame by around 200 years. All but three of the kings of France have been buried here, from Clovis I to Louis XVIII in 1824.
Despite the destruction that took place at the height of the French revolution, when several of the remains of the monarchs were desecrated, much was salvaged. After the fall of Napoleon in 1815 many of the remains were reinterred. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette lie in the basilica as does Charles Martel the eighth century ruler of France who defeated the Arab advance into Europe at the Battle of Tours. He was also grandfather of Emperor Charlemagne.
The surrounding area is run down and dirty. The interior is cold and there is no queue to enter even at weekends. And yet it is one of the great treasures of Paris, a mere 20 minutes on the metro from the centre. Next time you’re in Paris, don’t neglect this overlooked treasure.