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Secrets of the Marais quarter

2012-10-22

1-marais-titul.jpgOn Sunday autumn morning a group of the lovers of Paris meet in front of the Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protait church, accompanied by Michel Faul, a guide, historian, an expert for stories hidden in the history of Paris. Through his words, anecdotes, explanations of details of this Parisian quarter, the name of which comes from the bogs, we are moved back to the Medieval Paris.

The Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protais church, located behind the Parisian townhall H2-marais.jpgôtel de Ville, was built during 150 years. Thanks to our guide, we identify all three architectonic orders on the church fasade, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian. Michel Faul takes out of his large bag old pictures that show us the disaster from 1918, when the church was bombed b a German cannon. It is said to have happened by accident, but it is still curious that it happened right during the service of the Saint Friday. We learn that the tree which dominates the small square in front of the church, is not here without reason. It symbolizes a place where in the Medieval times important contracts and agreements were signed. Often an elmtree was planted in front of the manor houses and castles gates, or in front of churches and the place where it was planted was a place of meetings, dancing and the clerks were coming here to make the justice, since the Court did not exist yet. In French there is also a proverb "Attendez-moi sous l’orme" (Wait for me under the elmtree). The tree was cut off during the revolution, but in order to remember the tradition, a new tree was planted on the same place.

Only several steps behind the church we find ourselves in front of a typical Medieval house with a semi-hatched fasade, and the guide reveals us the story of this house f3-fontana-wallace.jpgrom 1540. In 17th and 18th centuries there were many fires in Paris, and that’s why there was a practice to plaster the fasades of buildings and thanks to this practice several Medieval houses remained in Paris. Plaster was extracted on Montmartre and from the plaster extraction there comes also the name of the metro station "La Blanche" (The White). On the street "rue François Miron" there are two other Medieval houses.

Passing by the green fontain with fur women statues, so typical for Paris, Michel explains us how they spread out in Paris. In 1870 France lost the regions of Alsace and Lorraine, in Paris there was lack of water and food. A rich French speaking Englishman Richard Wallace in 1871 financed the construction of the fontain system. The important criteria were that the fountains are visible and produced from a simple material (cast iron). The symbol of the fountains are four women, who represent either four seasons or four virtues (beauty, charity, simplicity, soberness). Initially there was always a glass by the fountain but it was removed because of the hygienic reasons. The "Wallace" fountains are copied also in other French cities and even abroad.

The next stop is the wall by "Mémorial de la Shoah",4-marais-3.jpg we stand by the wall called also "Mur des Justes", where under the autumn leaves of the surrounding trees we look at the list of 2693 names, people, recognized by Israel, who helped in France to save the Jews. Inside of the Memorial there is a wall with the name of 76 000 Jews deported from France and the tomb symbolizing million dead Jews.

The king Henri IV did a lot for the Marais Quarter, he attracted the aristocracy and thanks to him the private castles and manor houses, so called "hôtels" started to be built here. We stop by the "Hôtel de Beauvais", which is interesting by its "mascarons" (sculpted heads of people, animals, devils, fantasy features). The heads in the form of lions represent the king and the heads in the form of sheep (ram) might represent Catherine Bellier (Bellier means a ram in French). One of the "mascarons" in the yard is a portrait – head of Catherine Bellier. The story of this architektonic jewel is interesting. Since Anne of Austria was worried about the virility of the future king Louis XIV, she asked her servant and confident Catherine Bellier to give to the future king a necessary sexual education. And since Catherine Bellier (called also Cateau-La-Borgnesse), in spite of her lack of beauty and age, carried out her task of sexual teacher of the young future king very well, as a reward she could build this castle in 1656. The c5-village-st-paul.jpgurious facts related to the "Hôtel de Beauvais" are the facts that Mozart stayed here during his visit of Paris when he was 6 or 7 years old. The movies on the sculpter Camille Claudel (in the main role with Isabelle Adjani) and the Kundera‘s "Unbearable"lightness of being".

The next stop full of history are the remnants of the Parisian walls, which initially was in a shape of heart. In 1200 the king Philippe Auguste participated in calvaries and in order to protect Paris in his absence, he built the walls with 77 towers. As it is typical for Paris, even the remnants of the walls is a place where the history marries with the present. Today there is a school yard of the High School "Lycée Charlemagne". Right in front of the walls remnants there is an entrance to the magical yard called "Village St Paul". 6-hotel-de-sens.jpgWe learn that the prince Charles V ordered to build "Hôtel de Pol", but nothing remained from this manor house, only the space which is filled with restaurants, tiny shops and an interesting market with the antiques, place rich in beautiful objects, many colours and pleasant conversations.

The castle "Hotel de Sens" is also rich in spicy stories from the history. Till 1622 Paris was not an archiepiscopate, the seat of the archbishop was in Sens. In Paris there was only a bishop, but when the archbishop visited Paris, he stayed in "Hotel de Sens". The king Henri IV married the queen Margot, but it was not a marriage of love. Margot settled in the castle "Hotel de Sens" and here she received her numerous lovers. And so this religious castle became a house of love. In front of the castle a fig tree was planted, that’s why the today’s name of the street is "rue du Figuier". Many carriages were going in and out, and because of a dense traffic the queen Margot had the fig tree cut off. Today the castle serves as a library.

At number 1 of the street "rue de Fourcy" we stop under the stone board, one of the oldest signs from 1767, representing the craft of the knife sharpener. The original board can be found in the Carnavelet Museum.

The name of one of the most known streets of the Marais quarter "Rue pavée" (Paved street) comes from the fact that in the 15th century there were not many paved street7-louis-xiv.jpgs in Paris. Here we walk by the Synagogue of the "art nouveau" style, designed in 1913 by Guimard, who got famous by his project of the metro entrance design, which has become of the symbols of romantic Paris. Guimard was not given a lot of space for the synagogue and so he designed it vertically, the inside space is not very large but it has several floors.

By the street "rue Pavée" we enter the Jewish quarter of Marais. On many places we hear the attractive voices "Mesdames messsiers, falafels". "Falafels" is a culinary special meal, the balls from chickpea or beans fried in the oil.

One of the busiest places in Marais is a small square in front of "Marché des longs manteaux", on the crossing of the streets rue Vieille-du-Temple, des Hospitalières Saint-Gervais and rue du Marché-des-Blancs-Manteaux. In 1811 the emperor Napoleón decided that Paris must have markets and so in 1813 the first stone of the market place was put down. From the hygienic reasons in 1823 the butcher part was separated, the fasade of the butchers hall is decorated by two fountains, two heads of bronze bulls cranking out water.

One of the last stops is the nádvorí of the Carnavalet Museum. We listen to the story of the only original king statue that remained in Paris. During the revolution all the statues of the kings were casted, except this Louis XIV. statue which was hidden. The position8-place-des-vosges.jpg of the king is interesting, one hand is generous, symbolizing the good, but with the other hand he points down with his finger, showing the place of ordinary people compared to him.

The expert guide tour ends on the square Place de Vosges. It leaves us curious to know more and confirms the fact that Paris is endless.

The source of all the information in this article is the expert guide Mr. Michel Faul.

Maria Dopjerova-Danthine, Paristep