Hôtel-Dieu (“Hotel of God”) is the name of a hospital generally located next to a town’s cathedral and placed under the authority of the Bishop in medieval France. Introduced in the 7th century, Hôtels-Dieu had primarily the function of accommodating pilgrims and evangelizing travelers. Gradually, however, they turned into hospitals and nursing homes.
Founded in 651 by Saint Landry, the Bishop of Paris, Hôtel-Dieu de Paris is the city’s oldest hospital still in operation. The hospital stood on the south of Notre-Dame, on Île de la Cité’s left bank (where the statue of Charlemagne stands today).
Artwork from the beginning of the 19th century, showing the Notre-Dame cathedral and, on its right, the old building of the Hôtel-Dieu de Paris
In 1606 a second building for the crowded hospital was built at the other side of the Seine river. This building, the Salle Saint-Charles, was then connected to the main one through a new bridge, the Pont au Double, and later through the Pont Saint-Charles.
La salle du légat de la Chapelle Saint-Agnès, près du Petit Pont, extracted from Hôtel-Dieu de Paris : Treize siècles d’histoire… panégyrique ou réquisitoire (J. Cheymol and R.-J. César)
The illustration shows the façade of the Chapelle Saint-Agnès (13th century) and of the Salle du Légat (16th century) – both structures belonging to the old Hôtel-Dieu – viewed from the Rue du Marché-Palu (today Rue de la Cité), close to the Petit-Pont.
Plan of the Hôtel-Dieu, illustration from Description des Hôpitaux de Paris, engraved by Jacques-Etienne Thierry, 1808 (Musée de l’Assistance Publique – Hôpitaux de Paris)
On the above illustration, the bridge in the leftmost is the Pont au Double, on top of which additional hospital rooms were erected. The second bridge from left to right is the Pont Saint-Charles, and the third one the Petit-Pont.
View of the Hôtel-Dieu (highlighted in red) in the Turgot map of Paris, 1739
The complete Turgot map of Paris can be found here.
Vue de l’Hôtel-Dieu, prise du Petit-Pont, extracted from Hôtel-Dieu de Paris : Treize siècles d’histoire… panégyrique ou réquisitoire (J. Cheymol and R.-J. César)
The above image depicts the Hôtel-Dieu around 1830, with in the foreground the Pont Saint-Charles, and in the background, the Pont au Double surmounted by the Salle du Rosaire building. The Pont au Double was demolished in 1847, and the Pont Saint-Charles decades later, in 1878, at the same time as the Hôtel-Dieu itself was demolished. The Pont au Double that exists today was rebuilt in 1883.
Le Pont au Double, l’Hôtel-Dieu et le Petit Châtelet, Victor-Jean Nicolle (1754–1826) – Gallica, Bibliothèque nationale de France
Les Cagnards de l’Hôtel-Dieu, au début de l’Empire (postcard)
The cagnards were the malodorous platforms situated along the Seine and under the Hôtel-Dieu buildings. They were used as landing stage for boats coming from the Seine, as well as to dump waste water and to do the laundry. Medical students would even use them to get stolen corpses – used for their anatomy studies – out of the hospital without being seen.
The current building of Hôtel-Dieu stands on the north of Notre-Dame, on Île de la Cité’s right bank. Hôtel-Dieu was relocated to this new building as part of Baron Haussmann’s initiative in rebuilding and embellishing the Île. The old building, which had suffered severe damage from a massive fire in 1772, was demolished. Construction of the new building began around 1867 and the new hospital opened its doors about ten years later.
Embellissements de Paris – Démolition du petit pont de l’Hôtel-Dieu, engraving from Tableau de Paris showing the demolition of the Petit-Pont around 1852
Old Hôtel-Dieu before its demolition photographed by Charles Marville around 1865
Building of the new Hôtel-Dieu, 1867 (Archives Charmet, Bibliothèque Historique de la Ville de Paris)
Picture showing the Hôtel-Dieu on its current location, on the left of the Notre-Dame esplanade, 1900
Aerial view of the Île de la Cité showing the location of the new Hôtel-Dieu – Imagery ©2013 IGN-France, Map data ©2013 Cibercity, Google
Hôtel-Dieu today – view from the Notre-Dame esplanade