Written by James M’Kenzie-HallFrom the Pompidou Centre to the Shoah Memorial
Point of Departure : Pompidou Centre at Metro Rambuteau
How to get there : Metro Rambuteau is on Line number 11 which runs from Chatelet in the centre of the city to Mairie des Lilas in the north-east. Buses 38 and 47 stop in the rue Beaubourg opposite the Pompidou Centre but only if you are coming from the north towards the south as it is a one way street. If you are going north then the bus stop will be in the Boulevard de Sebastopol. Alternatively exit at Metro Hotel de Ville and walk up rue du Renard to the Pompidou Centre.
We begin our tour of the Marais on the rue Beaubourg at the top of the steps leading from Rambuteau Metro Station. From the rue Beaubourg,if you look south towards the River Seine, the twin towers of the west façade of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame are clearly visible,whilst on your right is the bizarre and futuristic mass of the Pompidou Centre. Here in one single perspective are united two styles of architecture which are separated by over 800 years . The Cathedral was begun in 1163 whilst the foundations of the Pompidou Centre were laid in 1972. The part which gives on to the rue Beaubourg is the rear of the building. The profusion of brightly coloured tubes and piping which swarm over the structure have led its critics to describe the centre as looking like an oil refinery.Indeed the site of the Pompidou Centre was once the lorry park next to the former market of Les Halles which Emile Zola described in the nineteenth century as being the stomach of Paris; after this market was demolished in 1969 and the Pompidou Centre was built someone remarked of it ‘and look what they’ve done with the entrails!’.
The singularity of the exterior is explained by a certain lack of self-consciousness on the part of the designers, who have banished to the outside those very elements which normally restrict the use of all the interior space of a building. They themselves described it as ‘an inside turned out’. Amongst the colours which you see, the water mains are green,the electricity cables are yellow, the air-conditioning ducts are blue, red is for the elevators; each utility designated by its international colour codes, just as they would appear on the architect’s plans. Stairs and Elevators too are,quite literally, ‘thrown out’ and cling to the exterior of the main façade which dominates the plaza on the opposite side to where you are now.
The centre is named after former President Georges Pompidou who died in office in 1974.It was Pompidou’s wish that Modern Art should be presented to the people in as an informal a setting as possible.He wanted a National Centre of Art and Culture that was non elitist. 861 projects were submitted and the winning design came from the Anglo-Italian partnership between Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano. Opened in 1977 it aroused as much hostility and controversy as the Eiffel Tower had eighty years’ earlier. Yet Paris has a tradition for creating new architecture which is the envy of other European cities. Ever since the mid nineteenth century when Napoleon III traced his new boulevards through the middle of old Paris with a red pencil ,it seems that France’s rulers ,in the guise of its Presidents, have sweeping powers to impose their vision on Paris. President Mitterand in his 14 years of power had a series of ‘grand travaux’ or great projects built including the Pyramid of the Louvre, The Opera of the Bastille,the Arch of La Défense and the new National Library now known as the Francois Mitterand National Library. Former President Chirac has also made a bid to go down in posterity with the Quai Branly Museum ,designed by architect Jean Nouvel and opened in 2006 and dedicated to the art and civilization of non-European Cultures covering four continents of Asia,Africa,the Americas and Australasia. No doubt the rather mundane name Quai Branly was chosen with the hope that one day it would become the Jacques Chirac Museum .
The Pompidou Centre has a large collection of modern art on two floors: Level 4 for a selection of Contemporary Art from the 1960s until the present day and Level 5 for a more permanent collection covering 1905-1960 and including works by Picasso,Matisse,Brancusi,Dali, Chagall,Kandinsky,Leger,De Chirico,Miro,Mondrian,De Kooning,Jackson Pollock,Rothko, Balthus,Dix,Grosz,Man Ray,Giacometti,Magritte,Derain and Braque.
The Pompidou Centre is open everyday except Tuesdays and May 1st from 11H00-21H00. Late night Thursdays until 23H00. To visit the Modern Art Collection you must first go through a security check at the entrance on the plaza side ,then purchase a ticket from the ground floor ticket booths and check in any umbrellas etc at the cloakroom before taking the escalators to the 4th and 5th level.
A very trendy new Restaurant has opened on Level 6 called Georges. If you are interested it is best to make a Reservation by telephoning 01 44 78 47 99, access is by a separate elevator outside on the plaza.All types eat there as it has splendid views in a contemporary setting. Closed on Tuesdays.Another popular roof top restaurant close by is Kong above the Kenzo building at 1 rue du Pont Neuf parallel to the old Samaritaine department store,now sadly closed.
Since opening the Pompidou Centre has attracted about 6 million visitors a year putting it on a par with the Eiffel Tower. Yet closer investigation reveals these statistics have been massaged as they also include all the visitors to the Public Information Library, often the same person going in ,going out for lunch or a smoke and then coming back in again.
Now from the Metro Station , let’s turn left along the rue Rambuteau and away from the Pompidou Centre,as we prepare to make an imaginative leap of three centuries and more,back to to the seventeenth century when the Marais was the most fashionable part of Paris. The rue Rambuteau is a rather colourful street with its fruit and vegetable displays and is particularly lively on Sunday mornings when there is a market. It was laid out during the reign of King Louis Philippe and is named after the Prefect of the Seine (today’s equivalent of Mayor of Paris) Rambuteau,who is best remembered for introducing gas lighting to Paris. Some of the buildings particularly the ironwork of the balconies and the entrance doorways are very typical of the architecture of the 1840s.
A few yards down the rue Rambuteau ,at the intersection of the rue Rambuteau with the rue du Temple, we are on the threshold of the Marais. The rue du Temple is one of the oldest streets in the Marais and originally led from the quayside of the River Seine ,which is almost half a mile south of where we are (to your right) to the former Templar’s enclosure, half a mile north of here. The Order of the Knights Templar was a medieval religious and military order founded in 1118 to offer protection to those Christians who undertook the arduous and often hazardous journey to the Holy Land. Indeed since the first Crusade , which took place between 1096-99, there had been a steady flow of pilgrims to Jerusalem where the crusader Godefroy de Bouillon had been made King in 1099. The history of the order is important to the early development of the Marais. By the end of the twelfth century they had diversified their interests to become bankers, first to the pilgrims – they gave them tokens exchangeable in different countries rather like Travellers Cheques or Credit Cards today – and later loaned money and became creditors to the Kings of France. With their newfound wealth the Order was able to buy most of the land which is now known as the Marais quarter and which represents most of the actual 3rd and 4th arrondissements – an area of some 300 acres. The land was at this time a bleak marshy wasteland (hence the name ‘Marais’ which means marsh in French) with several little islets or hillocks of dry land being the only habitable points in the area. If you look at a map of early medieval Paris you will note that there is much more building on the left bank and on the islands than there is on the right bank. It was the Templars who were responsible for reclaiming the land from the River. First of all the land was drained,and then divided into cultivated plots or ‘coutures’, until in the early thirteenth century that part of the Marais between the River and where you are now standing was enclosed by the wall built around Paris by King Philippe Augustus ,ever fearful of Paris being attacked by the beastly English who were his neighbours as Dukes of Normandy and Kings of England. The Templars, however, remained outside the city wall and built a huge fortified enclosure called the Temple which existed right up to the time of Napoleon who ordered its demolition.
The Order of the Knights Templar was not quite so long lived. Having grown rich, powerful and above all arrogant in what was virtually a mini-state outside the jurisdiction of the city, they were both feared and envied by the Kings of France, until Philip the Fair had the 56 members of the Paris Order arrested and tried on fictitious charges ranging from blasphemy,sacrilege and even sodomy. After confessing to their crimes under torture they were executed and the order suppressed. The Grand Master of the Order, Jacques de Molay and three others were burnt at the stake in 1314 in front of the King,who had the added satisfaction of acquiring most of the Order’s wealth and property.It is said that before he was burnt Jacques de Molay cursed the King and the Pope and prophesied they would both die within the year (which actually happened).
The fortress of the Temple remained standing and was used as a prison. During the Revolution Louis XVI and his family were imprisoned here in 1792, and it was from here that the King was taken to the guillotine on 21 January 1793. His son, the Dauphin was immediately acknowledged as Louis XVII by his mother Marie-Antoinette but Louis XVII disappeared, presumably murdered by the revolutionaries a few years later at the age of ten. Napoleon, fearing that the Temple might become a Royalist shrine began the destruction of the enclosure in 1808. Today nothing remains except the name. At number 71 rue du Temple is the Jewish Art and History Museum. All the more ironic as it was the same King Philip the Fair who expelled the Jews from France in the early fourteenth century.The Jewish Museum is open from Moday to Friday 11H-18H00 and Sundays 10H-18H00. It is closed Saturdays and Jewish Holidays.
Continue along the rue Rambuteau until you reach the rue des Archives. From here if you look to your left you will see the gothic turrets of the entrance to all that remains of the Clisson manor house. It is one of the very few surviving examples of secular gothic architecture in Paris. The manor house was built around 1380 for Olivier de Clisson, a ‘Constable’ or General, who supported King Charles V of France against the English.During the English occupation of Paris in the Hundred Years War (1420-35)it became the residence of the Dukes of Clarence and Bedford. Later the Guise Family acquired it and during the Wars of Religion it was here that they plotted the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre when,in 1572, the Protestants were murdered by the Catholics. Earlier it was here in 1559 that Francis II and his wife,Mary (known in history as Mary Queen of Scots) spent their first night as King and Queen of France. Mary’s two uncles were the Duke and Cardinal of Guise, who practically ran France at this time with the Queen Mother Catherine de Medecis.
The remains of the Clisson Manor have been incorporated in the Soubise mansion,which dates from the beginning of the eighteenth century,and which we shall see in just a moment. Cross the rue des Archives onto the rue des Francs Bourgeois and (if the door is open) pass through the semi-circular entranceway on your left into the main courtyard at number 60 rue des Francs Bourgeois. The mansion was built between 1705 and 1709 for the Prince and Princess of Soubise by the architect Delamair and was one of the last great mansions to be built in the Marais before the neighbourhood was abandoned by the Aristocracy who deserted the Marais for the west side of Paris which was more conveniently placed for access to Louis XIV’s palace at Versailles.The property was one of many gifts lavished by Louis XIV on Anne Chabot de Rohan,Princess of Soubise, a charming redhead with a most delicate complexion whose husband had been wise enough to look the other way when she caught the eye of the King and became for a while his mistress.
This is the largest Hotel or mansion in the Marais,and with the majestic sweep of its unusual horse-shoe shaped courtyard, and the monumental proportions of its façade, it is not surprising that the mansion is often referred to as the Soubise Palace. The exterior is in the severe Louis XIV style but the interior was completed during the reign of Louis XV and is decorated in the new fashion by Carl Van Loo and Francois Boucher under the supervision of the architect Boffrand.Much of the original decoration remains and represents one of the finest examples of rococo décor to be found in Paris.
The Soubise Palace is now the Museum of the History of France and home to the National Archives.It is open on Wednesday,Thursday,Friday and Monday from 10H-12H30 and 14H-17H30. On Saturday and Sunday afternoons only from 14H-17H30.It is closed on Tuesday and public holidays.Besides temporary exhibitions the museum has a permanent display of the most important documents from the history of France including: the edict of Nantes issued in 1598 by Henry IV granting protestants freedom of worship and protection from religious persecution; the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes signed by Louis XIV in 1685 removing the very protection his grandfather had bestowed; Louis XIV’s last will with a very shaky signature;Louis XVI’s entry in his diary for 14 July 1789 ‘Rien’ (Nothing) for the day when the Bastille was stormed (Subsequently said to be a reference in his hunting diary rather than his political diary).
The façade of the building is decorated with sculptures by Robert Le Lorrain – allegories of the Four Seasons on the first floor, and female figures representing Glory and Magnificence on the pediment.It may seem curious but a public right of way existed just in front of the house until after the Revolution, no doubt to the vexation of the owners.
Now return to the rue des Francs Bourgeois. Just opposite the entrance gate to the Soubise Palace between numbers 57 and 59 is a red brick turret, the base of which is actually part of the Philip Augustus wall dating back to the beginning of the thirteenth century. Now go back ,by turning right, to the rue des Archives and walk past the Clisson gate ,to the left of number 58 – notice that the gateway sits at an angle to the road to make it easier for carriages to turn into the courtyard. Next to it is the nineteenth century extension to the National Archives where millions of documents are stored on an estimated 175 miles of shelving. At number 62 rue des Archives ,with the blue doors , is the Hotel de Montgelas which has recently reopened after renovation and contains the Hunting and Nature Museum open everyday except mondays from 11H-18H. It is free the first sunday of each month – a peculiarly French tradition which applies to selected museums. Cross the rue des Quatre Fils to arrive at number 60 rue des Archives. This is the Hotel Guénégaud,which was built in 1648 by Francois Mansart, one of the great architects of the seventeenth century ,who was responsible for the building or altering of at least ten other mansions in the Marais and perhaps his best known works are the Chateau of Balleroy near Bayeux in Normandy (an early work), the north wing of the Chateau of Blois for Louis XIII’s brother,Gaston Duke of Orleans and the Chateau de Maisons outside Paris. His great nephew was Jules Hardouin Mansart, the celebrated architect of Louis XIV.The history of the Hotel de Guénégaud is similar to that of many other mansions in the Marais.In the mid nineteenth century it was divided into apartments and workshops and by the twentieth century it had been partly demolished and was in such a dilapidated condition that rescue seemed impossible. However,through the intervention of the Arts Minister,André Malraux,it was bought by the city and is now part of the administration of the Hunting museum and part private Club.
The present day importance of the Marais results from the rich legacy of seventeenth and early eighteenth century houses which have survived the neglect and abuses of two centuries to be discovered ,restored and celebrated as the oldest ensemble of Aristocratic houses in Paris. Most of the important building in the Marais belongs to the seventeenth century and was the direct result of Henry IV’s initiative in building the Place Royale (now Place des Vosges) at the beginning of the century. Royal approval encouraged the wealthy and influential to build in the Marais and in the space of 120 years over 500 town houses or Hotels were built. Society hostesses of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries held their salons here where they were edified or at least entertained by philosophers,dramatists and poets – in fact the cream of educated society.Here they would discuss the ideas of Descartes and Pascal, or be entertained by the plays of Molière and Corneille,or ponder the moral lessons of Madame de Lafayette and La Fontaine. The cobble stones of the Marais would have rung with the constant clatter of horses and carriages,with the endless toing and froing of liveried servants ,of noblemen and their retinues. From being a marshy ,neglected area only good for growing vegetables and grazing sheep the Marais became an area of tremendous activity,of wealth,fame and splendour. But it was to last a mere 120 years as by the early 18th century the aristocracy chose to move further west to a new district where there was more space to build large comfortable houses with large gardens.It also helped that going to the west of Paris was on the way to the Palace of Versailles. In 1682 Louis XIV had declared that Versailles was to be his main residence and he expected the aristocracy to attend him there.Versailles was a means of controlling the King’s more influential subjects. 107 years’ later in 1789 the outbreak of the French Revolution put an end to this absolute monarchy.
The Marais was abandoned firstly to the Bourgeoisie and then once they were tempted away to the new and fashionable western parts of Paris the working classes converted the once elegant mansions into tenements,workshops and warehouses.About 150 Hotels of the Marais disappeared. Fortunately Paris rediscovered the old Marais after the Second World War and the Malraux Law passed in 1962 halted all property development and created a special protected area. However social historians find the trickle down descent through the social classes fascinating and studies can be made of the immigrants and new arrivals who found a home in the Marais district rather like the history of Spitalfields in London which passed from émigré Huguenot Silk merchants, to Jewish migrants and now to Indian,Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities.Indeed between the two World Wars the Marais saw a great influx of Jewish refugees fleeing the pogroms of Eastern Europe and Nazi Germany.
From the Hotel Guénégaud go back into the rue des Quatre Fils. The road takes its name from an old inn sign that represented the four sons of Aymon,the hero of an epic poem or ‘chanson de geste’ recounting heroic exploits in the time of Charlemagne. At the crossroads,where the road meets the rue Vieille-du-Temple there used to be a wooden cross which marked the spot the waters of the Seine reached during floods in 1496.This intersection was known as Croix Marque L’Eau or Water-Mark-Cross. As it was also a meeting place for prostitutes it wasn’t long before the name was distorted to Croix-Maquereau. ‘Maquereau’ being the French word for ‘pimp’. At times even the Parisians have a sense of humour and several other streets in Paris have similarly given rise to amusing puns.For example just a few streets away is the ironically named rue des Vertus ,which was originally a street of ill repute.
Turn left into the rue Vieille-du-Temple and a few yards further on will bring you to the imposing garden façade of the Hotel Aubert de Fontenay on your right.You can pause in the public park in front of the building and then make your way on the right past the park down the street called rue des Coutures St Gervais which you can see to the left of the building.The Coutures St Gervais recalls the ‘coutures’ or market gardens that once covered this area . Turn right into rue de Thorigny. This will bring you to the entrance courtyard of the Hotel Aubert de Fontenay at 5 rue de Thorigny. It is one of the finest examples of seventeenth century architecture in the city and certainly the largest of the Hotels in the Marais until the Hotel de Soubise was built in the early eighteenth century. The mansion was built in 1656 for Pierre Aubert de Fontenay,who had amassed a fortune as a Tax collector – he’d been one of the collectors of the unpopular ‘gabelle’ or salt tax. No doubt this is why people nick-named his house ‘Salé’ or ‘Salty’ – a name which has survived to the present day. It is said that when Fontenay was showing the comic actor Jodelet around the unfinished house,he described his plan to fill the gallery with statues,whereupon Jodelet quipped ‘Don’t forget to include Lot’s Wife’ . Well tax and art played an important role in determining the Hotel Salé’s present function as the Picasso Museum.The major part of the collection of 200 paintings and 150 sculptures was acquired as a substitute for Death duties on the artist’s estate.The French call this a ‘Dation’ not a ‘Donation .The Picasso Museum is open everyday except Tuesdays from 09H30-17H30.
With your back to the Picasso Museum façade exit right out of the courtyard and at the end of rue Thorigny bear left into Place Thorigny and then take take the road opposite you called rue Elzevir. At number 8 rue Elzevir is one of the little known museums of Paris called Cognacq-Jay. Ernest Cognacq owned the Samaritaine department store and having amassed a fortune starting collecting 18th century French art considering it to be the finest period of French civilization. Anyone interested in this period has a marvellous time in Paris ,other than visiting the Louvre, Versailles and other fine Chateaux there are a host of lesser known exquisite Museums such as the Nissim de Camondo Museum at 63 rue de Monceau in the 8th district near Parc Monceau and the Jacquemart André Museum at 158 boulevard Haussmann again in the 8th district.But the big surprise of the Cognacq Jay Museum is that it is completely free of charge (except for special Exhibitions).It is open everyday except Mondays and public holidays from 10H-18H00.
At the end of rue Elzevir turn left into rue des Francs Bourgeois .At number 31 rue des Francs Bourgeois is the Hotel Albret.It was here in the 17th century that Madame de Montespan ,mistress of Louis XIV, met Madame de Maintenon and hired her as a nanny for her illegitimate children she had had with Louis XIV. Later Madame de Maintenon caught the eye of Louis XIV and replaced Madame de Montespan as mistress .It is rumoured that Louis XIV had over 300 illegitimate children with his mistresses in his 72 year reign. Turn first right into rue Pavée.At number 24 rue Pavée is the Hotel Lamoignon.The Hotel is sometimes known as the Hotel d’Angouleme and was built in 1584 for Diane de France,duchesse d’ Angouleme,the legitimized daughter of Henry II , not to be confused with his mistress Diane de Poitiers.She was born in 1538 in the reign of Francis I and died at the age of 81 in 1619 in the reign of Louis XIII. Inside the courtyard you’ll notice that the decoration of the façade is no longer compartmentalized by each floor but the pilasters,between the windows, rise the whole length of the façade – this was the first example in Paris of what is called the Colossal Order.On the curved pediments there are numerous allusions to the name Diana, Crescents,stags horns and hunting hounds,recalling that Diana was also the name of the goddess of hunting and the moon.To learn more about the Hotel Lamoignon :
In the seventeenth century the mansion was acquired by the President of the Parliament,Lamoignon, and it became one of the most important Literary Salons in Paris frequented by Boileau,Racine,the preacher Bourdaloue and the diarist and letter writer Madame de Sévigné. Lamoignon was considered a very upright magistrate and even refused to sit in judgement on Louis XIV’s disgraced Finance Minister, Nicholas Fouquet, because he said he would be biased having already fallen out with him.One of Lamoignon’s descendants , Malesherbes,who was born here, became one of Louis XVI’s defence lawyers at his trial in 1792. He was guillotined in 1794 along with his daughter and son-in-law.Above the entrance gateway is a circular pediment dating from 1708 and shows the qualities of a good magistrate – one of the figures is Truth with a mirror,the other,Prudence with a snake. The Hotel was bought by the city of Paris in 1928 and after restoration was turned into the Library of the History of Paris.It is one of the most important Libraries in Paris with a collection of over 170,000 books,80,000 engravings and 25,000 manuscripts.
Just past the Hotel Lamoignon on the left hand side of rue Pavée you will notice a fragment of stone wall and a historical plaque shaped like a boat paddle beside it. This is all that remains of the Force Prison. The former home of the Dukes de la Force was turned into two prisons in the 1780s, one for men called Grande Force and the other for women of dubious reputation called Petite Force.During the Revolution it was a political prison and it was here that the best friend of Marie Antoinette ,the Princess of Lamballe was taken. After questioning and trying to break her down she was brutally murdered , near where you are standing ,in the massacres of September 1792. Her head was cut off and put on a pike and the mob rushed to the prison of the Temple to show Marie Antoinette the head of her best friend.Luckily a servant was able to draw the curtains before Marie Antoinette saw the horrible spectacle.
With your back to the fragment of prison wall,take the right fork and continue down the rue Pavée and stop at the crossroads with the rue des Rosiers . We are now in the traditionally Jewish area of the Marais. The rue des Rosiers was known as the pletzl ,Yiddish for little Square and there are still a number of shops and restaurants reflecting this heritage. Depending on when you visit this area it can be fairly busy although in the past few years quite a few fashion shops have replaced the traditional Jewish shops.We stop in front of number 10 rue Pavée separated from the pavement by a metal fence. Set back from the road is a Synagogue built in 1913 by the architect Hector Guimard, best known for introducing the art nouveau style to Paris especially the Metro entrances with their plant like forms in green metal.It is built with reinforced concrete but Guimard has made it look like stone.He has also made the façade curvilinear and it flows like the pages of an open book. Note the two tablets at the apex of the façade representing the Torah.Despite being pushed for space Guimard has made the façade look open compared to the more regular facades surrounding the Synagogue.
Continue to the end of rue Pavée where it meets the busy rue de Rivoli. Cross the rue de Rivoli and stand by the entrance to the Metro Station Saint Paul.The rue de Rivoli was started in the time of Napoleon but this section was completed by his nephew ,Napoleon III ,in the 1860s and runs from your left , beginning at the Bastille Square in the east of Paris and goes to your right to the west of Paris ending at the Concorde Square. Indeed the rue de Rivoli replaced the far older Rue Saint Antoine and what is now called rue Francois Miron which we are now going to take on your right.The rue Francois Miron runs parallel to the rue de Rivoli .Look out for the Scottish Pub called Auld Alliance at the beginning of the rue Francois Miron. This street is probably on the site of a Roman Road, a decumanus running southeast towards the towns of Melun and Sens. Traditionally all official entrances by a King of France ,for example his Wedding day ,would proceed from the Bastille down rue Saint Antoine and then continue towards the Hotel de Ville by taking rue Francois Miron.
From the Metro Saint Paul head right along the rue Francois Miron passing in front of the Scottish pub ‘The Auld Alliance’ and stop at number 68 rue Francois Miron. You are standing in front of the recently restored Hotel de Beauvais which is today the Administrative Headquarters of the Court of Appeal of Paris. The façade looks typically seventeenth century and classical. Yet in the middle ages the land on this site belonged to the Abbey of Chaalis . The 12th century Cistercian Abbey of Chaalis was 40 kilometres north of Paris on the way to Senlis in the Oise department , mostly demolished in the Revolution, the estate was bought in 1902 by Nellie Jacquemart-André who transformed the Abbot’s Palace into a Museum for her extensive art collection. Number 68 rue Francois Miron was probably the Abbot’s townhouse with large cellars underneath to store produce from the abbey’s extensive lands around Paris. Indeed the 13th century cellars still exist under the present structure.
In the seventeenth century Anne of Austria, Queen Regent and mother of the young Louis XIV gave the land to her Ladies Maid, Catherine –Henriette Bellier, known by her nickname ‘one-eyed Kate’. Catherine had performed many intimate services for Anne of Austria,she was also her confidant and knew how to profit by her knowledge.Even though she was rather plain and had one eye she had quite a reputation which was greatly enhanced when,in 1654,at the age of forty , she bedded the 16 year old Louis XIV. Instead of being angry Anne of Austria was delighted and liberally rewarded her maid with land and money with which Catherine was able to build her own aristocratic townhouse. For twenty years Anne of Austria had had a terrible time with Louis XIII and it was Cardinal Mazarin who had encouraged the King to sleep with his wife. The result was Louis XIV born in 1638 ,who looked, according to some commentators, remarkably like Cardinal Mazarin.So Anne of Austria considered Catherine’s act as ‘an affair without consequence’. Catherine was created a Baronne and in 1658 had the Hotel de Beauvais built by the King’s architect Antoine Lepautre using stone pilfered from the building site of the Louvre – with Anne of Austria’s connivance and to Mazarin’s fury.
The architect has made a clever use of restricted space. Normally there would be a first courtyard of honour and then behind the main façade would be a garden. Here the triangular plot of land did not allow for this classic plan so Lepautre has rounded off the courtyard giving the feeling of light and space. The main staircase is on the left as you go through the porch. Note the stone plaque indicating that it was opened in 2004 in the presence of the then Prime Minister Raffarin, actually Raffarin government number three, and his political rival the Mayor of Paris Bertrand Delanoe.
As you look around the courtyard you will see Ram’s Heads on the entablature under the balcony– a reference to the owners name “Bellier” which in French means ram – rather fitting given one eyed Kate’s reputation. There are also her initials C.H.B. above the porch.
Her greatest moment was in August 1660 when Louis XIV made his official entry into Paris down the rue Saint Antoine and rue Francois Miron with his new wife Maria Theresa of Spain. On one balcony was the Queen Mother Anne of Austria, one eyed Kate, Queen Henrietta of England and her daughter, on the other balcony was the King’s general Turenne and Mazarin – who had been at the head of the procession but came to join them on the balcony. The procession lasted for three hours.As the King rode by he saluted the assembled company on the balcony ,as did Maria Theresa sitting in a carriage pulled by six pearl grey horses.One eyed Kate lived to a ripe old age and died aged 76 in 1690. Her money had run out and her son was forced to sell the Hotel de Beauvais.
In the eighteenth century the mansion was rented by Count Van Eyck ,Ambassador to the Duke of Bavaria and it was here in November of 1763 that Mozart came to stay for five months with his father and his sister . He was only seven years old but was considered a child prodigy and his father arranged a tour of the crowned heads of Europe to show off his talents. They probably stayed on the second floor facing the road. A plaque commemorates Mozart’s stay here.Their most useful contact in Paris was the german Baron and encyclopedist Friedrich Melchior Grimm who introduced them to high society and arranged for them to be presented at Court at Versailles .They spent two weeks at Versailles over Christmas and were there on Christmas Eve and for a Court Dinner on New Years Day. Mozart was granted the honour of standing behind Queen Maria Lesczcynska as she ate. He also played a duet with his ten year old sister in front of Louis XV. One of the ways Leopold financed the trip was to charge people to hear his son play. There is a watercolour painted in November 1763 by Louis Carrogis de Carmontelle showing the family with Leopold playing the violin, Nannerl singing and Mozart at the keyboard , he was so small that his legs dangled off the stool . Leopold sold engravings of this watercolour wherever he went.The aristocracy invited them into their homes and Mozart and his sister performed for the Marquise de Villeroy and the Comtesse de Lillebonne and also for the Prince Louis-Francois de Conti at the Hotel du Grand Prieur at the Temple.Another picture shows a diminutive Mozart at the keyboard and people listening and having ‘thé à l’anglaise’ in the Salon of the four mirrors of the Prince du Conti.Twenty nine years later on 13 August 1792 (one year after the death of Mozart aged 34) the very last formal meal that Louis XVI and his family ate in public was held in the same room where Mozart had played.LouisXVI was 38 years old,his wife Marie Antoinette was 37,his daughter 14 and his son was 7.That night they were not given the comfortable rooms in this house but were put in the medieval Keep of the Temple, no longer guests but prisoners.Only their daughter survived the French Revolution.
It was during Mozart’s stay at the Hotel de Beauvais that his first music was published, a series of Sonatas for keyboard which could be played with violin accompaniment – sonatas K.6 and K.7. published in Paris in February 1764. In April Leopold took the family to England for 15 months before returning to Salzburg via Amsterdam in November 1766.
We leave the Hotel de Beauvais and continue to numbers 44 -46 rue Francois Miron. This fine stone building again looks like it was built between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries but if you look through the windows of what today is the Association for the Preservation and History of the Marais you will see photographs of the cellars and a staircase leading down to them on the right. The house dates to 1585 but has 13th century cellars when it was the lodging of the Abbot of Ourscamp and students attending the University. The Association has some useful publications on the History of the Marais and a reference library upstairs.If this building is open it is worth going down into the cellar.
A little further down on the other side of the street at numbers 11 and 13 you can see two very medieval looking buildings with gables and half timbering. It is unusual to see a combination of gables and half timbering in Paris. Because of the real danger of fire householders were obliged to cover their buildings with plaster. This was fairly easy to do considering that plaster of Paris was quarried all around Paris ,for example the gypsum quarries underneath the hill of Montmartre. The basic structure of a medieval Paris house was a solid stone base, as you see here the ground floor is stone, they would have had shops originally – not ones you walked into but stone counters ,where the windowsills are now, and you were served on the wooden counter ,hence the phrase ‘above board’. Then the levels above would have been staggered back as they rose up to three or four levels with overhangs like Elizabethan buildings in England. Number thirteen has three levels of cellars.Actually these houses were over-restored in the 1960s but they do retain a certain ‘medieval’ aspect which makes them stand out .
Cross over the rue Pont Louis Philippe and continue along the rue Francois Miron until the Place Baudoyer.The large building in the Square is the Town Hall on the right , and facing it an annexe building of the Hotel de Ville, when they were building the underground car park here they discovered a cemetery with bones going back to Merovingian times probably a continuation since roman times of burying people alongside the old roman road.Facing the Square at numbers 4-14 rue Francois Miron is a series of buildings built in the 1730s with fine ironwork balconies. The other side of the street, where these building are, is raised above the level of the road by a series of steps and this is one of the original ‘islets’ or higher up areas that did not flood in the original ‘Marais’ or marsh.Notice the emblem on the second floor balconies- it is an Elm Tree. The Elm Tree in question stood in front of the Church of St Gervais St Protais at the end of the road. We now make our way to the front of this church and stand at the replacement elm tree encircled by a low chain. The original old and mighty elm was chopped down in the Revolution to make gun carriages. Why the elm was such a symbol is because people had used it for centuries as a meeting place . ‘Meet me at the elm’ as present day Parisians say’ meet me on the steps of the Opera’. This is the Place St Gervais, at number one with a blue painted front is the Maison des Compagnons du Devoir – it looks like a shop but the compagnons are skilled craftsmen the equivalent of the medieval skilled workers who built the Cathedrals and Castles throughout France. Around 21 trades are represented by this organization.
The Church of St Gervais St Protais is one of the little known churches of Paris. The façade dates from the early 17th century but the rest of the Church is much older indeed the rest of the church was begun in the flamboyant gothic style in 1494. The façade cleverly keeps the gothic verticality of the interior but updates the architecture to the classical age by using the three orders of architecture Doric,Ionic and Corinthian superimposed on the façade in three levels of columns following Alberti’s theory of the hierarchy of ‘Greek architecture’ established in the 15th century. The British art historian Anthony Blunt saw similarities with Philibert Delorme’s design for the Chateau of Anet in the mid 16th century.It is possible that the architect of the façade was Salomon de Brosse who had begun the Luxembourg Palace for Marie de Medecis in 1615 perhaps with Clément Métezeau who also worked on the Luxembourg Palace.
Go inside the Church by using the door on the left. In the side aisle on the left in the first chapel with the font is a 5 metre high model of the façade of the Church. It is a very rare survival of an architect’s model and was carved by Antoine de Hancy who also did the doors of the church.It survived because it was used as the backdrop to the altar in the chapel of the Virgin.
On Good Friday 1918 the church was hit by a shell fired by the German long range canon ‘Big Bertha’ it took six minutes to travel 75 miles .The shell took out a column causing the collapse of part of the vaulting killing 50 people and injuring a further 200. The yellow looking window in the side aisle on your right commemorates the victims of this tragedy.
The interior has recently been restored and is light and bright. The organ dates from the 17th and 18th centuries and five generations of a family called Couperin were the organists living at number 4 rue Francois Miron. ‘Couperin le Grand’ (1668-1733) was the best known being also a composer as well as an organist. He began playing the organ here at the age of eleven.
Walk up the nave and stop by the choir stalls. There are some interesting carvings on the ‘misericords’ – misericords were so named because during the frequent religious services the monks could perch their bottoms on the folding seats and it looked like they were standing – it means to have mercy .One misericord shows a Cordonnier or Shoemaker at the counter of his shop- just like the shop counter outside at number 11-13 rue Francois Miron.Behind him hang shoes and he is cutting out the soles of shoes on the counter. Cordonnier came from the word ‘Cordoue’ or in English ‘Cordoba’ because some of the best leather was fashioned in Cordoba ,Spain. Even leather wall covering was fashionable in 16th century France, a very good surviving example of this is in the Chateau de Cheverny in the Loire Valley. It is called Cordoba work.
Behind the altar and to the right hand side of the church there are some interesting tombs. Reclining in white marble on a black cenotaph is a Minister of Louis XIV called Michel Le Tellier (1603-1685), he was Minister of War and Chancellor, his son known as Louvois completely reorganized the army and encouraged Louis XIV’s aggressive foreign wars.Both father and son were favourable to the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes which led to the emigration of many Huguenots. Another tomb is that of Philippe de Champaigne (1602-74),born in Brussels but spent his life in France as a painter and found favour in the time of Louis XIII,Cardinal Richelieu and Marie de Medecis. His paintings can be seen in the Louvre. One other picture in the Louvre byEustache Le Sueur (1617-1655) really should be returned to this Church –“St Gervais and St Protais before Anastasius for refusing to Sacrifice to Jupiter” which was commissioned as a cartoon for a Tapestry and seized during the Revolution.
Services are held at 7am,12H30 and 18H00, on Sundays there is a mass at 11H00.The Church is run by the Order of Jerusalem, the same community that looks after the great Romanesque Church on a hill in Burgundy called Vézelay from where St Bernard preached the Second Crusade in 1147. In wintertime you may find a greater than usual gathering of down and outs or ‘clochards’ as the french say.Often their sleeping bags are rolled up and tucked between the columns of the façade and they come in for warmth. The Order of Jerusalem has left the countryside to come and administer to those suffering in the cities.
To exit the Church go to the left of the altar, there is a door at the far end. On the way you will pass an impressive Christ on the Cross carved in oak. This is by a little known sculptor Auguste Préault ,a contemporary of Eugene Delacroix. He sculpted this forceful agony of the dying Christ in the mid 1840s. It was too avant garde for the time and nobody wanted to take it as it was too intense and too realistic.
Now leave by the double doors in front of you and you will find yourself in the rue des Barres.Almost opposite you is number 12 rue des Barres. Formerly a convent it is today one of three youth hostels in the Marais (called MIJE). If you look through the windows you will see the Breakfast room . The building dates from the 16th century. Turn left along the rue des Barres ,a street that goes back to the mid 13th century. Then go first right and cross the rue du Pont Louis Philippe and into the Allée des Justes facing you. This street was renamed in 2001, it had been called rue Grenier sur L’Eau since the middle ages. On your right is a wall with a list of names of all the ‘Justes’ or ‘Righteous’ ones who saved Jewish people in France in the Second World War. As the generation who witnessed the Second World War is dying out ,the French are coming to terms with a very sombre moment in their history. This is particularly poignant here in the Marais district where there was ,on the eve of the Second World War, a large Jewish population. Many of them were recent arrivals from the East of Europe fleeing the persecution in Russia and Nazi Germany.In 1939 there were about 300,000 Jews in France,with about 76,000 to 80,000 in Paris. By the Liberation of Paris there were only around 2,500 survivors. What had happened here in France during the war ? Read the black marble plaque in French on the other side of the Allée des Justes next to the school : “Arrested by the Police of the Vichy government, complicit with the Nazi occupiers, more than 11,000 children were deported from France between 1942-44 and murdered at Auschwitz because they were born Jewish. More than 500 children lived in the 4th district. Among them pupils from this school. Never Forget Them”.
Vichy is a spa town in central France. When in 1940 during the space of 6 weeks France was defeated by Nazi Germany ,a new government was declared at this spa town in the unoccupied zone of France headed by Marshal Pétain ,hero of the First World War , but in his eighties. Vichy was chosen as it had a large number of hotels to lodge the civil servants and officials of this new government. Unlike Charles de Gaulle who had served under Pétain, and who preached Resistance, the Vichy government actively collaborated with the Germans.One of the consequences was the collaboration of the Paris Police in the rounding up of the Jews supposedly to send them to labour camps. What was so shocking is that if they were going to labour camps ,why send the young children ? Indeed early Nazi propaganda made a point of disguising the death camps as labour camps.Yet the Vichy government so actively collaborated that all Jews were rounded up.
At the end of the wall on your right at number 17 rue Geoffroy-l’Asnier is the Mémorial de la Shoah .Originally there was a large bronze green urn known as the Memorial of the unknown Jewish martyr dating from 1956, inside are the ashes of unknown concentration camp victims with the names of the camps on the outside of the urn. Now the Memorial has reopened with a research centre and a permanent collection and temporary exhibitions devoted to the Holocaust.It is open everyday except Saturday 10H-18H00. Entry is free.
Each Year on April 24 ,the Yom Hashoah ,the list of the 76,000 victims is read out. It would take two full days to read their names. So for 24 hours half the list is read one year and the other half the next.They list the convoy number and the names of each person to give them back the dignity they were denied in death. The President of the Foundation for the Memorial of the Shoah is Simone Veil , a former Minister in the Mitterand Government, she was deported in convoy number 71 which left the Drancy internment camp on April 13 1944 . She was the only survivor, her mother and sister never came back.
We continue to the bottom of rue Geoffroy- l’Asnier and turn left along the rue de l’Hotel de Ville. You are now beside the River Seine with a view across to the Ile Saint Louis , one of the most expensive addresses in Paris and the second island in the middle of the Seine behind Notre Dame and the Ile de la Cité. We finish our walk at the Metro Station Pont Marie (Line number 7) just a few yards in front of you.