The Saint-Jacques Tower in Paris: 16th-Century Marvel

A 16th-Century Tower in the City Center, Restored to its Former Glory

The Tour Saint-Jacques is situated in the center of Paris, near the area known as Chatelet.
The Tour Saint-Jacques is situated in the center of Paris, near the area known as Chatelet.

Courtney Traub.

The only remaining element of a church that once stood in central Paris and a former starting point for Christian pilgrimages southward, the St-Jacques Tower dates to the 16th century--  and recently underwent a dramatic restoration.

The belltower, which had become a public danger due to unstable stone elements, was hidden under heavy scaffolding for years before being unveiled in all of its revamped glory in early 2009. Since then, the tower has once again become a major feature of the landscape on Paris' central right bank (rive droite), and for good reason: it tower boasts stunning stained glass and statuary and looks less like an orphaned remnant of a church than it does a standalone monument.

Read related: 4 Towers to Visit in Paris That Aren't the Eiffel 

Location & Getting There

Getting to the tower is quite easy since it's so centrally located, at the meeting point of many metro and bus stops. 

Address: Square de la tour Saint-Jacques, 88 rue de Rivoli, 4th arrondissement
Metro: Chatelet or Hotel de Ville (Lines 1, 4, 7, 11, 14)
(Buy Paris metro passes direct)

Tower Visiting Hours

The tower is accessible by reservation in advance only, as part of a guided tour. The 50-minute guided tours are available for individuals and groups at restricted times. Only 5 people are allowed up at a time.

The climb to the top is 300 steps (approximately 16 floors); you should abstain from attempting it if you suffer from vertigo or fear of closed spaces (claustrophobia). Visitors with limited mobility or heart problems are also discouraged should likewise exercise caution. Please also note that for safety reasons, children under 10 are not permitted to take the tour.

Reserving a Tour

To reserve a slot, call +33 (0) 1 83 96 15 05 from 10 am to 1 pm on Wednesday, or visit the information desk at the tower to reserve on the same day or in advance. 

If you can't make one of the tours or don't like the idea of climbing the tower, the public square on which it stands affords good views and photo opportunities. The square is open daily during daylight hours and closes at dusk.

A Short History of the Tower: 

  • The early 1500's: The 170-ft belltower is erected as part of the Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie Church. Although the church was built during the Renaissance, it's designed in the medieval gothic tradition. Christian pilgrims begin their journey along the Saint-Jacques de la Compostelle route here.
  • 1793: The church is destroyed during the French Revolution. The remaining tower is pillaged and used as a stone quarry.
  • 1836: The City of Paris acquires the tower, which becomes the centerpiece of one of the city's first public squares.
  • 2006: The city undertakes an intensive restoration project on the tower.
  • 2009: The fully restored tower is unveiled.

Read related feature: All About the Halles/Beaubourg Neighborhood

Tips for Visiting the Tower?

Unfortunately, as mentioned above, the tower isn't open to visitors without a tour reservation. Visit the square in the early morning or dusk hours for fantastic views of the dramatic tower from below (and photo ops of light hitting St Jacques-- a poetic sight by any standards).

Make sure to wear comfortable shoes. Walking 300 stairs up to the top in heels or flip-flops will not be a pleasant experience.  

If you're really hankering to see some dramatic architecture, consider heading over the river to the nearby Notre Dame Cathedral, or to the light-filled, sublime Sainte-Chapelle, featuring some of the medieval period's most intricate and beautiful stained glass.