By GREG KELLER
PARIS (AP) â¿¿ It's a view of Paris that only a handful of people have seen in 500 years.
The Tour Saint-Jacques, a Gothic bell tower in central Paris, opened to the public last month for the first time since it was built in the early 16th century.
Only a limited number of lucky Parisians and tourists will get the chance to admire the vast panorama of the French capital's skyline from the 177-foot (54-meter) tower's roof: It's open for guided tours only three days a week until Sept. 15.
The City of Paris completed a 8.3-million-euro ($11 million), three-year renovation of the dilapidated limestone tower in 2009. It has remained closed until now as city architects debated how best to make the cramped, dizzying space safe for visitors.
The tower once was part of a 13th-century church, Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie, which was torn down during the French Revolution. The tower was kept not only because of its architectural significance as one of the city's best examples of the flamboyant Gothic style, but also because its great height made it the perfect spot to station observers who kept an eye out for fires, explained Laurence Fouqueray, a top architect in Paris' cultural and historic buildings office.
Today picnickers lounge in the small square that surrounds the tower, on the rue de Rivoli, just steps from the Hotel de Ville and across the Seine from Notre Dame cathedral.
Guided tours are held Friday through Sunday, every hour between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Visits are limited to 17 people at a time, and children under 10 are not allowed. Visitors must arrive by 9 a.m. on the day they want to see the tower and reserve a place for one of the eight daily tours, which cost 6 euros a person. They've been selling out since the tower opened on July 5, Fouqueray says.