The full version of this article first appeared July 22, 2017 at WORLD Magazine as “The Opposite Way” by Mindy Belz.
PARIS—At Guy Moquet metro stop on line 13, no one is waiting for a train running in the direction of Seine-Saint-Denis. The platform is empty. Heading out to the suburbs, or the banlieues of Paris, on an otherwise busy Friday morning feels like a journey in the wrong direction.
It wasn’t always this way. As thousands looked on, the kings of France made festal journeys to these outskirts and the medieval Saint-Denis Cathedral, named for the patron saint of France, a third-century martyr. For 900 years the ruling monarchs were buried on the grounds of the church, whose exquisite Gothic architecture drew regular crowds.
Saint-Denis is 86 arrondissements, or administrative districts, away from the Eiffel Tower, where a zip line set up for the French Open was carrying tourist-adventurers out across a green lawn. Yet the Old World sites that beckon travelers to Paris in many ways are less its heartthrob than these northern suburbs, where immigrant waves from Africa and the Middle East are changing the face of Europe, their enclaves’ high birthrates overwhelming the below-zero growth of white European families, their religion overtaking a country dedicated to secularism.
On Fridays the mosque 200 yards from the cathedral overflows with thousands of worshippers. Women dressed in black burqas cross the cathedral courtyard to get there. Saint-Denis gained notoriety in 2015 following the Bataclan terrorist massacre that left 129 people dead. Police raided an apartment complex here in search of mastermind Abdelhamid Abaaoud, killing him and two other suspects in a dramatic shootout involving snipers, assault rifles, and more than 5,000 rounds of gunfire. Keep reading>>>