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The top ten sites not-to-be missed

For a first-time visit in the area, here are the ten top sites not to be missed....that is, until you find out about all the other great places to uncover whilst walking around, like so many hidden treasures! Eclectic heritage, cultural diversity, monuments of international fame: here is a first selection to discover, gaze upon and visit the region, to your heart's content!

1. The cathedral Basilica of Saint-Denis

Basilique Saint-Denis

Designed by Abbot Suger and built on the grave of Saint Denis, a Christian martyr from the 3rd century, the basilica is the first true architectural representation of Gothic art. A powerful Benedictine abbey, closely linked to the royals, it also was a high place of pilgrimage. With its necropolis made royal since the 7th century, the " monumental building " which poet 'Grand Corps Malade' refers to in his slam, is also the largest funerary monument in the world. It is home to over seventy sculpted gravestones and recumbent statues of French royals, who rest forever in the light of 12th and 19th century stained-glass windows. Fit for a king or a queen indeed!

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2. Stade de France®, Saint-Denis

Stade de France ©W.Vainqueur

" And one, and two and three - neil ! " July 1998. Football World Cup: the French team beats Brazil three goals to none. Thanks to the blue team's immense victory, the massive stadium – which can host up to 85,000 spectators- has since become mythical and has a tendency to do everything large-scale, to match its (imposing) terraces: (huge) matches, (gigantic) concerts, (spectacular) operas, (monumental) shows...next on the list, the EURO 2016 (enormous, of course).

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3. The Flea Market, Saint-Ouen

Marché aux puces de St Ouen

Antica, Vernaison, Biron or Serpette, Malik and Paul Bert. Or Cambo, Dauphine, Le Passage and Malassis. Or perhaps..., Jules Vallès, Le Plateau ? Or even L'Entrepôt, Usine and Lécuyer ?

Such harmonious names for the fifteen markets which make up " les Puces ", where one can uncover real treasures. A chance to stumble across THE find, or to (finally!) discover one's dream object, whether it is unusual, precious, old-fashioned, kitsch and/or sublime....An opportunity also to stroll around without any purpose, eyes wide open, and to see where the wind takes you, just for the pleasure of tasting the friendly and wholesome atmosphere of the markets.

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4. Garden-city of Stains

Reminiscent of the first public policies in terms of social housing, the garden-city was conceived in the 1920s with the objective of reconciling town and countryside, in the name of social progress. In an effort to improve the quality of life of labourers, as well as to offer access to education, health and leisure, these collective housings with a tidy architecture were alternated with green spaces, communal equipment, shops and collective allotments. Considered to be one of the most successful garden-city of France, registered in the 1976 inventory of picturesque sites, the Garden-City of Stains, is a town within the countryside... and brings the countryside into the town!

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5. The EMGP (Warehouse and General Stores of Paris), in Aubervilliers and Saint-Denis

EMGP ©W.Vainqueur

Situated across the two communes, this remarkable site forms a unique set of buildings dating from the 19th century as well as contemporary constructions. Chosen because of its geographical location, next to the main roads – St Denis canal, railway tracks and main route to the North – the site of the EMPG unfolds like a real city. Once upon a time used to store non-perishable items – cereals, sugar, alcohol, wood, coal etc. – the depots are now occupied by companies from the cinema and the fashion industries. A surprising site, definitely worth a visit.

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6. Art and History Museum, Saint-Denis

No encouragement is needed to go through the entrance of this ancient 18th century convent and to discover the wealth of heritage exhibited there: a recreated apothecary with original panelling and one of the most beautiful example of pharmaceutical ceramics in France; a collection of hundreds of objects found through archaeological digs in Saint-Denis; a considerable archive on the Paris Commune and on Paul Éluard, who was local to Saint-Denis. Conceived in the tradition of that of the ancient carmel, the " garden of the five senses " gives visitors access the town's history and its collections in an original fashion.

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7. Maison d'éducation de la Légion d'honneur, Saint-Denis

© W.Vainqueur

The ancient royal abbey was completed in the 18th century, under the reign of Louis XV. Napoleon the First transformed it into a secondary school for the daughters of his soldiers who died in battle. Even nowadays, the institution - which has become a state secondary school - is open to the five-hundred or so pupils per year, all daughters or grand-daughters of individuals having received the
Légion d'honneur (a decoration created by Napoleon the First). The solemn and splendid architecture, set in a beautiful park, make it an exceptional venue....as imperial as it is royal!

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8. La Fabrique de la ville, Saint-Denis

la fabrique

A unique venue to discover the town's history with a different outlook: the " maison échafaudage " or scaffolding-house where archaeological digs take place, is overlooked by an amazing circus tent in the shape of a mushroom. The house was " dressed " by various architects, including Patrick Bouchain, who was behind the rehabilitation of the 'Condition publique', and old manufacturer in Roubais which became a cultural site. The visit enables to discover the history of Saint-Denis, through its main architectural, social and economic transformations. An unusual site, put together by the town's archaeological unit, for a fascinating trip into the past.

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9. Notre-Dame des Missions, Épinay-sur-Seine

©W.Vainqueur

The pavilion for catholic missions of the 1931 Universal Exhibition was dismounted the following year and rebuilt in Épinay-sur-Seine, as part of the " Chantiers du cardinal ", an operation aiming to " covert the red areas ". This surprising church combines shapes and architectural motifs borrowed from the African and Asian continents where missionaries had settled: a touch of a Chinese pagoda, the top of a bell tower in the shape of a minaret, some paintings mainly by Maurice Denis (leader of the aesthetic movement of the Nabis) and by his pupils. An innovative mix and remarkable reminder of the religious architecture of the 1930s, Notre-Dame des Missions was listed as historical building in 1994.

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10. The town hall at La Courneuve and the surrounding areas

The construction of the current town hall was decided in 1898 by the municipality, in an attempt to create a large central square for public events. Completed in 1921, the building resembles the Northern European towns with its monumental architectural style, very " Third Republic " but also with a hint of Mediterranean landscapes, with the gracious campanile overlooking the building.

Around it, the neighbourhood changed with the start of the century: market, spas, wash-house, clinic. The cinema l'Étoile, with its peculiar façade of baroque style, was built by locals of Italian origin. Various information points are scattered across the neighbourhood, away from the beaten tracks and enable visitors and locals alike to change their outlook on the area and to get a fresh perspective on La Courneuve!

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