The Île de la Cité is one of two remaining natural islands in the Seine within the city of Paris (the other being the Île Saint-Louis). It is the Centre of Paris and the location where the medieval city was refounded. The western end has held a palace since Merovingian times, and its eastern end since the same period has been consecrated to religion, especially after the 10th century construction of a cathedral preceding today's Notre Dame.
The land between the two was, until the 1850s, largely residential and commercial, but since has been filled by the city's Prefecture de Police, Palais De Justice, Hôtel-Dieu hospital and Tribunal de Commerce. Only the westernmost and northeastern extremities of the island remain residential today, and the latter preserves some vestiges of its 16th century canon's houses. The Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation, a memorial to the 200,000 people deported from Vichy France to the Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War, is located at the upriver end of the island.
The Pont Neuf:
The Pont Neuf, the "new bridge" that is now the oldest bridge in Paris, was completed by Henry IV, who inaugurated it in 1607. The bronze equestrian statue of Henry IV was commissioned from Giambologna under the orders of Marie de Medici, Henry's widow and Regent of France, in 1614. After his death, Giambologna's assistant Pietro Tacca completed the statue, which was erected on its pedestal by Pietro Francavilla in 1618.
It was destroyed in 1792 during the French Revolution, but was remade from surviving casts in 1818. The sculpture originally rose from the river on its own foundations, abutting the bridge; since then, the natural sandbar building of a mid-river island, aided by stone-faced embankments called quais, has extended the island, which is planted as the teardrop-shaped Parc Vert Galant in honour of Henry IV, the "Green Gallant" King.
The Place Dauphine:
The Place Dauphine, laid out in 1609 while the Place des Vosges was still under construction and named for the Dauphin of France, the future Louis XIII, was among the earliest city-planning projects of Henry IV. The space, a rectangle with two canted ends, was made over to Achille du Harlay to construct thirty-two houses of regular plan. It is approached through a kind of gateway centred on the "downstream" end, formed by paired pavilions facing the equestrian statue of Henry IV on the far side of the Pont Neuf.
They are built of brick with limestone quoins supported on arcaded stone ground floors and capped by steep slate roofs with dormers, very like the contemporaneous facades of Place des Vosges. Few visitors penetrate Place Dauphine, which lies behind them, and where all the other buildings have been raised in height, given new facades, rebuilt, or replaced with heightened pastiches of the originals. The former enclosing east side was swept away to open the view to the monumental white marble Second Empire Palais de Justice (built 1857–68), like a glazed colonnade centered on the Place Dauphine, the remains of which now form a kind of forecourt to it.
The Île de la Cité is connected to the rest of Paris by bridges to both banks of the river and to the Île Saint-Louis. The oldest surviving bridge is the Pont Neuf ('New Bridge'), which lies at the western end of the island. The island has one Paris Métro station, Cité; and the RER station Saint-Michel-Notre-Dame on the Left Bank has an exit in the square in front of the Cathedral.