Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Oct 15, Part 10 - Approaching St-Denis Basilica

The entrance from the Metro into St-Denis is not spectacular. You have to find your way around a shopping center, but it's not very far. Then you enter the old town square, and that's about as far as you need to go. The first thing that caught my eye was the beautiful and unusual brick work on the Office de Tourisme.

Look left, and you'll see the basilica. The building on the far left of the photo is the town hall. The basilica is a confusion of styles, the front being mostly Norman Romanesque, but the building is more famous because of its contribution to early Gothic architecture. And even more than that, it is known for its amazing tombs, as St. Denis contains the remains of and monuments to about 1,000 years of France's kings and queens. It's worth looking up St. Denis online. There are pages of history, both of the building and of its contents. Although it's situated in a town that offers almost nothing else, the Basilica of St-Denis is one of the most remarkable places I've ever been.

Here is the facade again. It's been much rebuilt and renovated.

Just to the right of the main doors, you take the path alongside the building. The entrance is actually on the south side, and there's a small museum there, too. This is where you begin to see how Gothic the buiding really is.

But first we had a mission: find the bathroom. This portable one beckoned, but did we have the right change? Note that there's a piece of the church situated in this little park just off the main square.

We found the change, but the thing didn't open. These strange portable toilets (when they are working) open like a roll-top can. When you leave, the next person has to wait until the door shuts and the whole inside of the unit turns itself inside out and hoses itself down. I don't remember the actual mechanics, but it's weird. They don't seem to smell, so I guess they work. But this one was broken.

That's the town hall again in the background. The flowers were nice. We headed back to the town square and found a cafe where they let us use the bathrooms. When I asked one of the waiters what else there was to do here besides visit the basilica, he said, actually not very much, and that anyway it wasn't safe for tourists to stray far from the main square. We didn't see dangerous-looking people lurking, but he said he'd seen wallets taken right in front of the tavern, although I've never had any trouble here. The Blue Guide published in 1977 says, "The Basilica of St-Denis stands in the centre of one of the most unattractive and derelict of the northern suburbs of Paris. . . ." Well, no matter. We had one destination now, and that was the church.

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