Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Walk in the Third

Okay, Armchair Travelers. I got this cool book a while back called A Paris Walking Guide: 20 Charming Strolls Through the Streets, Courtyards, and Gardens of Paris. The premise of the book is that Paris is a city with a rich architectural history that blends itself inescapably into the history of its inhabitants. In the introduction, the editor (who remains unnamed) states,

the ambition or dream of [this book] is to teach the lesson that seeing and learning changes
our lives. Enlightened by a historian or architect, we can understand the reason for things;
the scholarly background amplifies the soul of a place.... Thanks to a simple explanation, the
entire city becomes 'inhabited' by its history and its characters. Everything springs to life.

The editor goes on to say that the best way to bring the city to life is by taking an alternative approach to exploring it-- seeking out the little by-ways and hidden stories passed over by most people walking down the street. I like this idea. Let's try it.

Since I want to visit one of the covered markets in the 3rd arrondisement (in case you're not sure what this means, click here), I think we should follow the walk called "Temple Lands." It will twist us around the 3rd (also known as The Marais District), going south to north between the National Archives and the Square du Temple. As many of us historical-conspiracy-theory-buffs know, the Knights Templar were a VERY powerful order of Christian knights in the Middle Ages. Their presence in Paris was such that in the 13th century, they were granted lands outside the city upon which they constructed their own personal town! After their fall, the town and the surrounding swamplands (the marais) were eventually incorporated into the growing city. This is the part we're going to explore today.

Let's begin at the spot that marked the gateway from Paris into the Templar's town. It was graced with a fountain that in 1705 was turned into an enclosed well for the neighborhood. Without our guide book, I don't know that we would be able to figure out what this is.

A bit further down the street is the entrance to the Archives Nationals, housed in the Hôtel de Soubise. Napoleon established the archives here in 1808, but the mansion dates to 1705 and was originally designed for and lived in by the Prince de Soubise and his wife, Anne Chabot de Rohan.

For those of us interested in art, the four statues running along the front of the building represent The Four Seasons, and the two reclining figures on the top of the pediment are unique in Paris for still being there! During the Revolution, statues like La Gloire and La Magnificence des Princes were usually destroyed by uprising citoyens. Why these two survived is a mystery.

Anne was apparently the one with the name, because vestiges of the Rohan family crest (namely the macle- the diamond shaped gold decoration) can be found in many interesting places around the property.

Now on to the Rue Vieille-du-Temple, and the Hôtel Hérouet. This building is really interesting, not least because it was completely destroyed by German bombing in 1944 and lovingly restored. The Gothic turret is the only thing left of the original 16th century house built for Louis XII's treasurer.

The next stop of note is at the Hôtel de Rohan (there's that family of Anne's again!). This building is HUGE! It takes up half a city block, mainly thanks to the first Cardinal Rohan who bought up all the houses around the original lot in order to build a palatial (yet subdued) mansion with huge stables (50 stalls!!). When he died, three of his relatives succeeded him to the cardinal's seat and the house, the last being the famous Cardinal Rohan of the Diamond Necklace Affair. What a jerk!

Front view of the Rohan mansion.

Side view-- the stables stretch to the left.

The building was seized and pillaged by angry mobs in the Revolution, consequently restored and used as Napoleon's printing office, and finally included as a National Archives annex in the 1930s.

Next door to this decidedly antique building, on the Rue des Quatre Fils, is a WPA-looking (okay, I know the WPA didn't exist in France, but you get the idea) behemoth that in no way blends in with the buildings around it. The relief, by the way, is of the Four Sons of Aymon (two of them are carved into the stone) for whom the street is named.

This little street was widened in the early 1900s, resulting in the destruction of many of the classic buildings around it. We can see this sort of thing all over Paris. Nowadays, architects here have to blend new construction in with the old, but that wasn't always the case.

One of the buildings to survive the widening is this one, built in 1730-1735, and most famously occupied by Raymond de Sèze, the lawyer who defended Louis XVI at trial (he obviously lost). Our guidebook points out the cute little "hayloft" windows in the attic-- very rare.

Next on to what I think is one of the coolest buildings in the neighborhood, the Hôtel de Clisson. It dates from the end of the 14th century and is one of the few remaining Parisian homes with a defensive architecture. It was owned by the Guise family, one of the great powers behind the Wars of Religion (they needed all the defense help they could get). This house served as the Catholic camp's headquarters, and it is believed that the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre was planned here.

A little further on, we come to the corner of Rue du Temple and Rue des Haudriettes. It's a pretty nondescript intersection today, but it was once well known by Parisians, because the highest gallows in the city stood here.

The next intersection is a shady spot with a pretty fountain. It is a rare neoclassical design from 1767 with a carving of a water nymph above it. In the days before central plumbing, this would have been a spot for surrounding residents to fill their water buckets.

The next part of the tour comprises the oldest areas of the neighborhood, laid out in the Templar's original plans. The Rue Pastorelle used to be called Rue d'Anjou. A glimpse down a little alley offers a view of a 16th century second floor room and little indentations flanking the walls, called privés because their use as urinals was preferable to having the rabble pissing wildly in the streets. Funny image.

On the Rue Charlot, we come to my second favorite building on the tour, the Bérancourt house. It was built around 1705, and its concave shape and original windows (wow!) combined with the cobbled courtyard give it a charming air. If you take a peek in the stairwell (also original), you'll see several baby strollers parked there. Wouldn't it be neat to live here?

Next to this house, I saw this neat architectural detail-- an old dormer pulley. It's amazing what we can see when we take our eyes off the pavement!

And before the days of the famous Paris street signs, names were carved into the walls. Notice the spelling changes from Old French.

The last stop on our tour is a stroll by the location of the Hôpital des Enfants Rouges. This was an orphanage started by François I and his sister, Marguerite de Navarre. The kids wore red uniforms, hence the name. The building doesn't exist anymore (again, thanks to street "improvements"), but we can just make out an old entrance to one of its arcades.

This bring us to the covered market I want to visit-- Le Marché Des Enfants Rouges. It's the oldest covered market in Paris, taking up residence here in 1777 once the orphanage closed. Unfortunately, it being August, there are almost no vendors here. Oh well, there will have to be another trip in the near future!

I hope you enjoyed the tour. Next time, maybe we should take a walk in my arrondisement, the 7th.

In Other News-- Happy Birthday to Lisa Gambon and her son, John Paul! J.P's one tomorrow!!

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