Slight in stature yet monumental in presence, Sainte Chappelle is truly a small wonder. Hidden within the grounds of the Palais de Justice on the ancient Île de la Cité, the chapel is as important for its 14th-century high rayonnante (weightless) Gothic style, as for its 19th-century neo-Gothic additions. Built by Louis IV (later Saint Louis) to house the relics of Christ, then plundered on a crusade, the royal chapel suffered greatly when it met an unhappy mob during the French Revolution; relics were pillaged and stained-glass shattered. Architect Viollet Le Duc certainly had his work cut out for him when he began his surprisingly faithful renovation of the sacred structure 50 years later.
Sainte Chapelle is brilliantly designed for spectacle. Enter through a cavernous ground floor chapel, with gilded vaults and deep blue walls flecked with stars. Darkness descends in the narrow stairwells and then, with anticipation mounting, the real show commences: light floods the main chapel, casting luminous panes of color across the soaring interior. Pick a clear day for maximum drama, and prepare to line-up for the experience.