From French kings to a deadly raid: The history of Paris' Saint-Denis area
Civilians take to the streets after a police raid in Saint-Denis, near Paris, Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2015. (AP/Peter Dejong)
The Associated Press
Published Wednesday, November 18, 2015 11:30AM EST
SAINT-DENIS, France -- Saint-Denis, the site of a deadly police raid Wednesday targeting suspects in Friday's Paris attacks that killed 129 people, is one of France's most historic places. French kings were crowned and buried through the centuries in its famed basilica. Today, it is home to a vibrant and ethnically diverse population and sees sporadic tension between police and youths. Here are some background details about the area:
The district's most important cultural site is the Basilica of Saint Denis. It is named after the Bishop of Paris who was martyred during a persecution of Christians ordered by Roman emperor Trajan Decius, and known for its Gothic architecture and for being the burial site of French monarchs.
Legend has it that after Saint Denis was executed in Montmartre, his corpse carried its head north of the city. He eventually dropped it in the spot where he wanted to be buried, and where the basilica eventually was built.
The construction of the Gothic structure that stands today started in 1136, but centuries of religious wars and political unrest led to the abbey's gradual decline, according to the Seine Saint-Denis district's tourism website. In 1793, the revolutionaries attacked the symbols of the monarchy but the basilica managed to escape total destruction. Napoleon ordered its restoration in 1806.
Known for being a culturally rich neighbourhood with left-wing sympathies and a tradition of mocking the establishment, Saint-Denis is one of France's few localities where Marine Le Pen's far right National Front party has no sway.
The unemployment rate was 18.2 per cent in 2012, the last year the numbers were available for Saint-Denis, according to France's national statistics agency. That's compared with about 10 per cent for the country.
The town hall sits across from the basilica and its clock alternates two chimes on the hour. One, "Les Temps des Cerises," a song favoured among revolutionaries, and the other, "Le Roi Dagobert a mis sa Culotte a l'Envers," (King Dagobert has put his pants on inside-out), which ridicules royalty.