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Curious facts from Saint Germain

2014-01-11

saint-germain-01.jpgA planned Sunday walk in the Saint-Germain, with a professional guide Axelle, a young passionate in Paris and its history, begins of course in front of the Saint-Germain-des-Prés church. The first question that everybody wants to ask is "where does the name of Saint-Germain come from?" The Saint-Germain-des-Prés Abbey was established in the 6th century by the bishop Saint-Germain on the border of Paris (the reason of the word "prés", meaning the border, the edge). In spite of the fact that today the church is only a ssaint-germain-02.jpgmall witness and memory of the history, a large abbey in the past was an important intellectual centre. In the 9th century it was burnt by the Vikings, the church was built again. During the Revolution, there was a stock of gun powder what caused an explosion of the church. 

After having jumped to the distant history, let’s get closer to the present in front of the entrance to the historical coffee place "Les Deux Magots". "At Two Mandarins" was initially a shop with Chinese goods and in 1885 it became a coffee place which got famous thanks to the personalities such as Picasso, Hemingway or André Breton. Statues of the two mandarins are even today the major decoration of the coffee place. A competition place with a snobbish moment enjoying coffee or a hot chocolate is the coffee place "Café Flore", which was opened two years later, in 1887. Artists, such as Appolinaire or Sartre used to work here and then for a lunch or dinner they moved across the street to the restaurant "Lipp", opened by an Alsatian who got it renown by a delicious sauerkraut.
 
After having walked several steps we get to the square "Place de Furtembesaint-germain-03.jpgrg", built in the 17th century as a part of an abbey palace, which was completely reconstructed in the 20th century and for the moment is again being restored. Nowadays there is a Catholic Institute in the palace. The ground floor of the buildings surrounding the tiny square served for the horse stables and the first floor was accommodating the servants of the palace. The corner building of the square was the house of Victor Baltard, the architect of 12 pavilions – little houses forming the marketplace of "les Halles" in the middle of the 19th century. Standing in the middle of the square, listening to our guide Asaint-germain-04.jpgxelle in our mind we travel several centuries back and my eyes follow the man behind one of the windows with small movements ironing his shirt and in the next window a bowl of mandarins.
 
Our Sunday exploring the Saint-Germain quarter continues in the street "rue de Buci", so irresistibly Parisian, with its coffee places, shops, restaurants, a seller of the bakery making gestures above the golden coloured Epiphany cakes "galettes des rois", colours of flower shops, colourful chairs of the restaurant terraces, a dense concentration of people exsaint-germain-05.jpgisting everybody for himself/herself and at the same all together. Axelle draws our attention to the fact that it was in this street that Jean-Baptiste Poquelin took his pseudonym Molière. You are surprised that you have never heard the name Poquelin? Do not feel guilty; even his closest friends did not know his right name.
 
An obligatory stop in the Saint-Germain quarter is a covered passage "Passage du commerce", one of the miracles that connects the historical Paris with the present. It is one of the places in Paris with visible remnants of the stone wall built by the king Philippe August. A restaurant «Un dimanche a Paris" (in translation "Sunday in Pari") is worth stopping by for a weekend tea with a pastry, however just looking by the window inside enables you to notice a big piece of the historical wall right in the middle of the restaurant. By the restaurant, sitting on the steps there are two waitresses chatting during a cigarette pause and maybe they do not even know that they are sitting close to the stone step, the lassaint-germain-06.jpgt one in Paris that used to help the women in large skirts and dresses to saddle up the horse. A famous historical attraction of the passage is the historical coffee "Le Procope", a less known curiosity are the prints of the old guillotine on the cobble stones. A mechanist Tobias Schmidt installed here a testing guillotine, on which he hang the sheep in order to test how the mechanism functions.
 
Heading towards the Luxembourg garden we stop in front of the Odéon Theatersaint-germain-07.jpg, which was inaugurated at the end of the 18th century by Marie-Antoinette. The theatre became famous thanks to the fact that here for the first time the spectators on the ground floor were seated, they did not have to stand. Before the seats were only in the theatre balconies. The Odeón theater burnt several times and in May 1968 it was a shelter for many students since it was located in the part of Paris where the revolts started.
 
After several meters we find ourselves in the old well known Luxembourg saint-germain-08.jpggarden, in front of the Senate building and we learn that behind the construction of this palace there is a love story from the 11th century. King Robert II was excluded from the Church because of his relationship with Berthe from Burgundy. Since by this illegal love relationship he made himself a lot of enemies, he decided to settle outside Paris, on the hill Vauvert with vineyards (Val Vert – green hill) on the place of the present Senate building. The nowadays place of the Luxembourg garden was at that time outside Paris and there was a castle called "Château Vauvert" which got to the history as a "haunted castle". An interesting information for the French speakers, the metaphorical expression "aller au Diable Vauvert" (go to hell!) has this love story in its origin. Right behind the Senate building there is a large "Orangerie" building – a winter garden, where all the exotic plants from the Luxembourg garden are sheltered for winter. It is a pleasant experience to observe in the spring the gardeners how they move out all the plants to the sun of the garden.saint-germain-09.jpg
 
We get out of the Luxembourg garden on its other side, walking by the tea room Angelina, with a line of people patiently waiting for a free table. We cross the street and under the arcades we find ourselves in front of other historical curiosity, "le mètre étalon" - a measure of one meter carved in the wall, coming from the time of Revolution, when in 1791 it was decided to unify all the measures and stop using the thumb and foot of the king as measure units. Thisaint-germain-11.jpgs engraved measure of one meter served especially to the sellers so that they get used to the new measure unit. In Paris two "mètres étalon" have remained, one by the Luxembourg garden and the second one on the Vendôme square.
 
A Sunday walk in the Saint-Germain quarter ends up in front of the Saint Sulpice Church, the second biggest church (after Notre-Dame) in Paris. This church comes from the 17th century, its construction lasted 130 years and because of the lack of finances (the same was with the Saint Eustache church) it was not finished. The bell tower on the right side is not finished. After entering the church, on the right side you will notice the frescos of the painter Eugène Delacroix.
 
A walk full of curiosities and historical facts started in front of the Saint-Germain-des-Prés church and ends in front of the Saint-Sulpice church, by the Parisian carrousel which are free of charge in the Christmas season.
  
Maria Danthine, Paristep
Source of information: guide Axelle from the Parisian blog Paris ZigZag.