One of the most important churches in France, Basilique Saint-Denis was the burial place for many of France's kings from the 7th to the 18th centuries. It dates back to the early 7th century AD, when a church was built by the Frankish king, Dagobert I, on the burial site of Saint Denis, the first bishop of Paris who had died in the 3rd century AD. A Benedictine monastery was established around the church, which later became one of the most powerful abbeys in Mediaeval Europe. In 1137, Basilique Saint-Denis was significantly expanded by the influential Abbot Suger, who used innovative techniques in the construction of a new façade, apse and ambulatory chapels. Although the façade he designed is Romanesque, the rear of the church was the first true Gothic style ever built. His work was followed in the 13th century by a complete reconstruction of the nave and transept, remnants of the 7th century basilica, in a "Rayonnant" Gothic style, also the first of its kind. In both iterations, the work was considered a prototype for the style that quickly spread throughout France and to the rest of Europe. At the time it was simply known as French style (Opus Francigenum), but was later renamed Gothic. The Basilica was given Cathedral title only in 1966 and is currently on the UNESCO Tentative List, awaiting inscription as a World Heritage Site.
For more photos of the exterior, take a look at the travelogue: "Basilique Cathédrale de Saint-Denis - Exterior."
Completed in 1867, Eglise Saint-Denis de l'Estrée replaced an ancient church of the same name, and was thus also referred to as l'Eglise Neuve ("New Church"). The original church was located along the Roman road, Via Strata, which was corrupted over time to "Estrée", hence the name. The new simple Gothic church was designed by Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, an architect who had also worked on the restoration of la Basilique Cathédrale de Saint-Denis and la Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris. Both la Basilique Saint-Denis and l'Eglise Neuve are dedicated to the same saint and face each other at the two ends of the thoroughfare, rue de la République.
Marvellous as it is today, the interior of Basilique Saint-Denis would have seemed far more so soon after its completion in the 13th century. The structure we are left with today was built in two stages. First, the Abbot Suger used innovative techniques developed in France, but probably with fundamentals passed to the Franks via the Arabs in Andalucía, to transform Romanesque style into a Gothic design never seen before. He built the façade and the chevet as expansions to the 7th century basilica, and his use of Gothic and rose windows, rib vaults, and pointed arches, among many other details, became the signature features of a Gothic church, and were quickly copied in the design of later cathedrals all over Europe. The 7th century nave and transept were not replaced until the 13th century, under the reign of (Saint) Louis IX, by the architect Pierre de Montreuil (who also designed Sainte Chapelle in Paris), in a style now known as Rayonnant Gothic. This style, which makes abundant use of stained glass windows, was also an innovation that was copied by other Cathedrals around Europe. The final Saint-Denis Basilica followed a Latin-cross shaped basilica plan, with triple aisles and side chapels along the northern aisle, and additional chapels that radiate around the apse. Its transept, ambulatory and crypt contain the numerous sarcophagi and funerary statues of French monarchs (an entry fee is required for this section).
For more photos of the interior, check out the travelogue: "Basilique Cathédrale de Saint-Denis - Interior."
Not since the construction of Basilique Saint-Denis has the town of Saint Denis seen such a massive monumental construction. Le Stade de France was completed in 1998 specifically for the World Cup which the nation hosted - and won - later that year. It is France's largest stadium and one of the largest in Europe, with a seating capacity of over 80,000. The stadium is located south of the Autoroute and the historic centre of Saint Denis, and is easily seen on the drive to and from the airport of Charles de Gaulle.
A pedestrianised street, Rue de la République is the main shopping thoroughfare in Saint Denis. It runs from Basilique Saint-Denis all the way to l'Eglise Neuve (Eglise Saint-Denis de l'Estrée). Everything from bakeries, butchers and clothes shops could be found on this street, but because of the town's high immigrant and less affluent population, many of these shops tend to be less expensive and sometimes cater specifically to the locals. Halal butchers and Arabic bookshops were among the businesses I saw.
Although some industries began to appear in Saint Denis in the 17th century, it was not until a canal connecting the town to the Seine was inaugurated in 1824 that large scale industrialisation arrived. The canal, known here as Canal Saint-Denis, is an extension of Canal Saint-Martin in Paris. Once upon a time, it would have seen heavy industrial traffic, but nowadays it is a nice and quiet backdrop to the surroundings.
Located next to the Basilica-Cathedral, the magnificent Hôtel de Ville is the town hall of Saint Denis. It was built in 1883 during an urban renewal project that changed the face of the ancient town. The Renaissance revival style of the façade is a contrast to the Romanesque façade and Gothic rear of the cathedral. In the 1970s, a very modern annex was built in the space between the cathedral and l'Hôtel de Ville, further amplifying the contrast between the different architectural styles. The new annex was built over an area with some archaeological remains, one of which was incorporated into the new construction. It is that of a small chapel from the Abbey of Saint Denis, located next to the garden at eastern end of the modern building (see attached photos).
Located below the sanctuary and ambulatory, the Crypt of Basilique Saint-Denis contains additional tombs of French royals. Among them are the actual tombs of Louis XIV, and Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI (their funerary statues are located in the south transept on the ground floor of the basilica). The Crypt also contains archaeological remains of the 7th century, Romanesque style church that preceded the Gothic cathedral.
Chosen as the burial site by many of the kings of France, Basilique Saint-Denis is abundant with sarcophagi and funerary statues of French royalty. The 7th century Frankish king, Dragobert I, was the first king to be buried at Saint-Denis. He was followed by many others, particularly between the 10th and the 18th centuries, when nearly every king was laid to rest within the Basilica. In total, 42 kings, 32 queens, and 63 princes and princesses were buried here, among them François 1er, Marie-Antoinette, and Louis XIV, to name a few. Some of these sarcophagi, with recumbent statues, are located in the transept, others in the ambulatory, and many also in the Crypt. Unfortunately, la Révolution caused a lot of damage to the tombs and the remains of the royals, but in the 19th century whatever was salvageable was returned, and the tombs of a few who had not been buried here in the first place were brought to the Basilica.
The large area north of the Basilica of Saint Denis was once the mediaeval quarter of the town of Saint Denis. Unfortunately, by the mid-20th century, the area was terribly rundown and unsafe due to the extensive shortage of housing among the swelling population of immigrants. In the 1970's, the entire neighbourhood was razed and handed to several architects who were assigned the task of building modern housing units for the immigrants. Only the street plan of the ancient town was preserved while the architecture completely turned its back to history and tradition, and made extensive use of concrete and sharp angles (see attached photos). Nowadays, this undertaking is widely regarded as a failed project, not only architecturally but also socially. While it may have temporarily solved a housing crisis, it created a dull immigrant ghetto possibly ripe for isolation, unemployment and crime.
Located just south of the Basilique Saint-Denis, la Maison d'éducation de la Légion d’Honneur is an educational institute established in the early 19th century. A grand edifice was constructed for the purpose on the site of the ancient Abbey of Saint-Denis, which had been abandoned.
Housed in a 17th century Carmelite convent since 1981, the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire exhibits the history of Saint Denis through art and archaeological objects that date back to the Roman era and before. The convent itself was commissioned by Marie de Médecis in 1628, but it was closed down after the French Revolution. It was later used as a barracks. If visiting Saint Denis on a weekend, note that the museum is only open in the afternoon.
We took the Metro for a day trip to the northern suburb of La Ville de Saint-Denis. In the Basilica of Saint Denis, since 640 AD most of the French monarchy (42 kings and 32 queens) are buried, including Charles Martel, Pepin the Bald, Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette. We spent hours roaming around the crypts and tombs, taking in the history lessons on the audio-phones. Later that night, for our last meal in Montmartre and in honor of little Angelina, we ate at a Russian restaurant. After Russian antipasto, stroganoff and chicken pierogi, a bottle of wine from Montenegro, the owner brought us shots of vodka. We stumbled back to our hotel.
We took the Metro for a day trip to the northern suburb of La Ville de Saint-Denis. In the Basilica of Saint Denis, since 640 AD most of the French monarchy (42 kings and 32 queens) are buried, including Charles Martel, Pepin the Bald, Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette. We spent hours roaming around the crypts and tombs, taking in the history lessons on the audio-phones. Later that night, for our last meal in Montmartre and in honor of little Angelina, we ate at a Russian restaurant. After Russian antipasto, stroganoff and chicken pierogi, the owner brought us shots of vodka. We stumbled back to our hotel.
Faithfully I went to Saint Denis just to visit the Basilica, but once I was there I made a stroll around trying to see a bit more of this city. There are some buildings, like the School for the Legion of Honour, a building ordered by Napoleon to attend the children of whom who had been honoured in the Legion. One more building I liked the Art and History Museum. I didn't visited it because it was closed. In addition there are a nice chanel in town.
sSinceramente cuando fuí a Saint Denis era sólo para visitar la Basílica, pero una vez que estuve allí me dí un paseo para intentar descubrir algunas cosas más de la ciudad. Hay algunos edificios, como el Colegio de la Legión de Honor, un edificio creado por Napoleón para atender a los hijos de aquellos que había sido premiados con honores en la Legión. Otro edificio más es el del Museo de Arte e Historia, el cual no visité porque estaba cerrado. Además hay un canal bonito en la ciudad.