I walk onto the bridge that’s called Pont Notre Dame. The dark waters of the Seine roll beneath me. And there before me lies the heart of Paris. My eyes follow the massive Conciergerie that dominates the bank of the river, the Palais de Justice, and the delicate filigree spires of the medieval Sainte-Chapelle. I stare at the scene that has enchanted so many for hundreds of years, but I feel nothing.

La Conciergerie

La Conciergerie

I can’t believe it. I came here to soak in the beauty of Paris, and let Paris make me feel alive again.

My eyes are drawn to the three circular towers further down the river. In the Middle Ages, those towers stood as lone sentries on this riverbank—the Tour Bonbec was built in 1250 as a prison; Tour Cesar and Tour d’Argent were built by King Phillipe le Bel in the 1300s. The black pointed roofs, which look like witches’ hats, were added during the Renaissance era.

This was the site of power in the beginning of Paris. If I were standing here in the fourth century after Christ, I would have seen the Roman palace of Emperor Julian spreading along the riverbank instead of the Conciergerie. After the fall of the Roman Empire, King Clovis, the first king of the Franks, lived there. Years later, after the royal palace fell into ruins, the stones were taken away to build Paris.

The Conciergerie was built in the 1300s, but what we see today is refurbished because, after imprisoning Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI, and enduring the tumult of the 1700s, it was rebuilt.

It isn’t by chance that Paris is beautiful today. If she had not renewed herself after each tragedy, Paris would look like a bombed-out wasteland today.

And standing there, I realize I haven’t rebuilt.