Tour de Saint-Jacques ☆☆

 (Photo by Nicolas)

An early 16C Gothic tower offering splendid views

The flamboyant Gothic church of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie was built 1509–23 by the local butchers of Les Halles market to mark the part of central Paris through which passed the Tours route of transcontinental pilgrimage trail to Santiago de Compostela ("St. Jacques" is the French for "St. Iago," which is the Spanish for "St. James"—for those keeping score, that would be Saint James the Greater).

Sadly, the church was destroyed in 1793—though its 54m (177-foot) main tower was preserved. It was even used for a time, in the early 18C, as a shot tower to produce musket balls.

The Tour de Saint-Jacques was long just a statue-and gargoyle-encrusted curiosity to admire while strolling around the center of Paris. But in 2013, the tower opened to the public for the first time in centuries allowing anyone with a tolerance for heights and lack of claustrophobia to ascend 300 tight steps to the top fabulous views over central Paris.

The drawback: You can only visit on a 50-minute guided tour provided by a private company contracted by the city, those are only offered on weekends in the summer, and they are limited to 12 people—so book ahead!

Pioneering 17C scientist and philosopher Blaise Pascal performed his experiments on atmospheric pressure here (well, he probably did; it might have been another Parisian church dedicated to St. Jacques, but since this one got the plaque, we're calling it).

Harry Potter fans will enjoy this tidbit: Successful late 14C/early 15C Parisian scribe Nicolas Flamel was buried in the previous church on this site in 1418—he even designed his own tombstone (now in the Musée de Cluny). Was he actually a pioneering alchemist and the author of numerous treatises on the subject that, for some reasons, didn't start popping up until the 17C—one who was supposedly indoctrinated into the mysteries of alchemy by a Jewish convert while on the pilgrimage route to Santiago? Highly debatable. Did he later succeed in developing a Philosopher's Stone granting him immortality—a legend about Flamel that long predates J.K. Rowling? That's up to you.

Photo gallery
  • , Tour de Saint-Jacques, Paris (Photo by Nicolas)
  • Saint-Jacques Tower at sunrise, seen from Nicolas Flamel street, Tour de Saint-Jacques, Paris (Photo by Benh LIEU SONG)
  • The top of the tower, Tour de Saint-Jacques, Paris (Photo by Luc Van Braekel)
  • The statue de Saint Jacques atop the tower, Tour de Saint-Jacques, Paris (Photo by Vassil)
  • The tight stone spiral staircase inside the tower, Tour de Saint-Jacques, Paris (Photo by Sjmk-)
  • The Seine and Eiffel Tower as seen from the top of the tower, Tour de Saint-Jacques, Paris (Photo by Yann Caradec)
  • La Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris as seen from the top of the tower, Tour de Saint-Jacques, Paris (Photo by Yann Caradec)
  • The Musée du Louvre (and, in the background, La Defense) as seen from the top of the tower, Tour de Saint-Jacques, Paris (Photo by Yann Caradec)
  • The rue de Rivoli and l'Hôtel de Ville as seen from the top of the tower, Tour de Saint-Jacques, Paris (Photo by Yann Caradec)
Useful French phrases

Useful French for sightseeing

English (anglais) French (français) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Où est? ou eh
...the museum le musee luh moo-ZAY
...the church l'eglise leh-GLEEZ
...the cathedral le cathédrale luh ka-teh-DRAHL
When is it open? Quand est-il ouvert?  coan eh-TEEL oo-VAIR
When does it close? A quelle heure est-ce que cela ferme? ah kell eur es kuh suhla fair-MAY
ticket billet d'entrée bee-YAY dahn-TRAY
two adults deux adultes dooz ah-DOOLT
one child un enfant ehn ahn-FAHN
one student un étudiant uh-NETOO-dee-YON

Basic phrases in French

English (anglais) French (français) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you merci mair-SEE
please s'il vous plaît seel-vou-PLAY
yes oui wee
no non no
Do you speak English? Parlez-vous anglais? par-lay-VOU on-GLAY
I don't understand Je ne comprende pas zhuh nuh COHM-prohnd pah
I'm sorry Je suis desolée zhuh swee day-zoh-LAY
How much does it cost? Combien coute? coam-bee-YEHN koot
That's too much C'est trop say troh
Good day Bonjour bohn-SZOURH
Good evening Bon soir bohn SWAH
Good night Bon nuit  bohn NWEE
Goodbye Au revoir oh-ruh-VWAH
Excuse me (to get attention) Excusez-moi eh-skooze-ay-MWA
Excuse me (to get past someone) Pardon pah-rRDOHN
Where is? Où est? ou eh
...the bathroom la toilette lah twah-LET
...train station la gare lah gahr

Days, months, and other calendar items in French

English (anglais) French (français) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quand est-il ouvert? coan eh-TEEL oo-VAIR
When does it close? Quand est l'heure de fermeture?   coan eh lure duh fair-mah-TOUR
At what time... à quelle heure... ah kell uhre
Yesterday hier ee-AIR
Today aujoud'hui ow-zhuhr-DWEE
Tomorrow demain duh-MEHN
Day after tomorrow après demain ah-PRAY duh-MEHN
a day un jour ooun zhuhr
Monday Lundí luhn-DEE
Tuesday Maredí mar-DEE
Wednesday Mercredi mair-cray-DEE
Thursday Jeudi zhuh-DEE
Friday Vendredi vawn-druh-DEE
Saturday Samedi saam-DEE
Sunday Dimanche DEE-maansh
a month un mois ooun mwa
January janvier zhan-vee-YAIR
February février feh-vree-YAIR
March mars mahr
April avril ah-VREEL
May mai may
June juin zhuh-WAH
July juillet zhuh-LYAY
August août ah-WOOT
September septembre sep-TUHM-bruh
October octobre ok-TOE-bruh
November novembre noh-VAUM-bruh
December décembre day-SAHM-bruh

Numbers in French

English (anglais) French (français) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 un ehn
2 deux douh
3 trois twa
4 quatre KAH-truh
5 cinq sank
6 six sees
7 sept sehp
8 huit hwhee
9 neuf nuhf
10 dix dees
11 onze ownz
12 douze dooz
13 treize trehz
14 quatorze kah-TOHRZ
15 quinze cans
16 seize sez
17 dix-sept dee-SEP
18 dix-huit dee-SWEE
19 dix-neuf dee-SNEUHF
20 vingt vahn
21* vingt et un * vahnt eh UHN
22* vingt deux * vahn douh
23* vingt trois * vahn twa
30 trente truhnt
40 quarante kah-RAHNT
50 cinquante sahn-KAHNT
60 soixante swaa-SAHNT
70 soixante-dix swa-sahnt-DEES
80 quatre-vents  kat-tra-VAHN
90 quatre-vents-dix  kat-tra-vanht-DEES
100 cent sant
1,000 mille meel
5,000 cinq mille sank meel
10,000 dix mille dees meel

* You can form any number between 20 and 99 just like the examples for 21, 22, and 23. For x2–x9, just say the tens-place number (trente for 30, quarante for 40, etc.), then the ones-place number (35 is trente cinq; 66 is soixsante six). The only excpetion is for 21, 31, 41, etc. For x1, say the tens-place number followed by " un" (trente et un, quarante et un, etc.).

‡ Yes, the French count very strangely once they get past 69. Rather than some version of "seventy,' they instead say "sixy-ten" (followed by "sixty-eleven," "sixty-twelve,' etc. up to "sixty-nineteen.") And then, just to keep things interesting, they chenge it up again and, for 80, say 'four twenties"—which always make me thinks of blackbirds baked in a pie for some reason. Ninety becomes "four-twenties-ten" and so on up to "four-nineties-ninteen" for 99, which is quite a mouthful: quartre-vingts-dix-neuf.