This small, but picturesque plaza is considered by Québécois to be the literal and spiritual heart of Basse-Ville—in grander terms, the birthplace of French America. There’s a bust of Louis XIV in the center. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Place-Royal, or “Royal Square,” was the town marketplace, and the center of business and industry. Eglise Notre-Dame-des-Victoires dominates the plaza. It’s Québec’s oldest stone church, built in 1688 after a massive fire in Lower Town destroyed 55 homes in 1682. The church was restored in 1763 and again in 1969. Its paintings, altar, and large model boat suspended from the ceiling were votive offerings brought by early settlers to ensure safe voyages. The church is open daily to visitors May through September, and admission is free. Sunday Masses are held at 10:30am and noon. During one visit there was a wedding that had just ended, and the whole square was there to greet the new couple as they exited their church.

Commercial activity here began to stagnate around 1860, and by 1950, this was a poor, rundown district. Rehabilitation began in 1960, and all the buildings on the square have now been restored, though only some of the walls are original. One building now houses the Musée de la place Royale on the ground floor, an affiliate of Les Musées de la Civilisation. Here, a 3-D movie about Samuel Champlain and a hands-on room with costumes enliven the city’s 400-year history. When you exit, turn left and, at the end of the block, turn around to view a trompe l’oeil mural depicting citizens of the early city.