This large hospital complex bears a striking resemblance to the Place des Vosges, which is no wonder since it was built at the same time on orders of the same king, Henri IV, who personally inspected the plans, chose the architect and laid the cornerstone.
The hospital was built from 1607 to 1612 on a site that was, at the time, outside the built-up area of Paris. This remote location was chosen so that people with contagious diseases could be quarantined here, in hopes of preventing disastrous epidemics such as the plague epidemic of 1562, which killed 68,000 people in Paris, roughly a third of the population.
The gates to the hospital were (and still are) narrow and grated. The intention was to prevent people with contagious diseases from escaping and returning to the city, where they could spread the infection. This was no doubt a sensible policy from a public health point of view, but the similarity between hospitals and prisons in those days has often been pointed out.
The chapel was the first building to be built on the hospital grounds, before the hospital itself was even started. The chapel was completed in 1610 and the first service to be held here was a funeral service for Henri IV, shortly after his assassination on May 14, 1610.
Today the first thing you notice is a sign directly in front of the chapel saying that dogs are not allowed.
Here’s a glimpse of the Hôpital Saint-Louis from a boat on Canal Saint-Martin, looking up Avenue Richerand. This short avenue was named after Anthelme Richerand, a physician and surgeon who worked at the Hospital Saint-Louis for many years during and after the French Revolution.
The Canal Saint-Martin was built much later than the hospital, over two centuries later in fact.
The Hospital Saint-Louis is mentioned in the novel L’Hôtel du Nord by Eugène Dabit. This is where they take the maid, Renée, when she goes into labor at the end of her pregnancy. Since they can’t find a taxi and don’t have a telephone (this is in the 1920s) they have to walk. The distance is short, only three blocks, but very long for a woman in labor.
Location, aerial view and photo of Hôpital Saint-Louis on monumentum.fr.
My photos in this post are from 2012. I revised the text in 2018.