Saturday, June 14, 2014

A Day in Le Marais

Samedi, 14 juin.

After four days of alone time (punctuated by my day-brightening interactions with lost tourists), I finally spent today with a friend! A friend of mine from school has spent the past semester studying abroad in Paris and, luckily for me, she's hanging around for the summer! We met up for lunch in the Jardins du Luxembourg -- what a gorgeous place. (Molly and I spent time there last fall and absolutely loved it. It's not exactly a "secret" but it does feel somewhat isolated from all the hustle and bustle.) After lunch, we walked around the neighborhood, stopping by the Eglise de Saint-Etienne-du-Mont (where they filmed THE steps from Midnight in Paris) and the Institut du Monde Arabe. (They currently have THE Orient Express on display outside. I'll have to go back an check it out!)

We were headed for a photography museum, but wound up just wandering through Île Saint-Louis (where I took some of my photos yesterday) and back into Le Marais. Le Marais is one of "those" famous Parisian neighborhoods. Located within the third and fourth arrondissements, it has an incredibly rich history ... although not quite as rich as the people who now shop in its extremely expensive boutiques!

Although it's now home to posh boutiques and fancy scooters, the area's origins are pretty humble: it was originally a swampland on the outskirts of Paris. (The term marais means "marsh" in French.) The area first belonged to religious orders, who grew food in the fertile soil, but was eventually developed by nobles looking to expand. Le Marais first became truly chic in the 17th century, under the reign of Henry IV, who built a royal court in the center of the neighborhood.


Over the centuries, Le Marais has experienced several waves of decline and resurrection. Its "Pletzl" district was established as the Jewish Quarter in the late 19th century and although it was heavily affected during German Occupation in the 1940s, there are still streets bustling with kosher bakeries and falafel stands. In the 1960s, however, the area was in such bad condition that it was in danger of being entirely demolished! However, the city government decided to renovate and restore instead of tearing down. Now Le Marais is welcoming new populations, with a reputation as both an elite shopping/art gallery district AND as the home of Paris' gay community.

As you can see in the photos below, it also contains some of the only remaining medieval houses in Paris. The two in these paragraphs were only recently 'uncovered' -- their wooden beams had been plastered over centuries before!


Le Marais is home to several museums, including the Musée Carnavalet, better known as the Museum of the History of Paris. (Okay, maybe not "better known as" but definitely "more logically known as.") I visited it yesterday by myself, but made a point to show it to Lynn today!

The museum is situated in two preserved hôtels particuliers, or historic townhouses. While the building itself is historic and lovely enough, I was pleased to discover that the museum also contains a lot of really interesting paintings and artifacts about the history of Paris. Exhibitions trace Paris from its earliest roots all the way through modern times. One room (pictured below on the left) was full of example of all the signs that Parisians used to use to mark their homes and businesses before the numerical system was introduced. (I just loved the giant scissors!)


Other rooms contained recreations of famous historic salons. One of the building's stairwells even had a giant mural that had been preserved from another historic Parisian building. Chouette!

One of the neatest sections of the museum was its top floor, dedicated to the French Revolution. The picture below on the left is a scale model of the Bastille (which was destroyed by angry citizens during the revolution). This (and other models like it) were built out of stones taken from the destroyed building and sent out all over France, to be displayed in celebration of the new republic. On the right, there are some more remains from the destroyed building.

Other museums in Le Marais include the Musée Picasso and National Archives. However, it is possibly most famous for the beautiful Place des Vosges. Originally known as the Place Royale, this square was commissioned by King Henry IV at the beginning of the seventeenth century. As such, it is the oldest planned city square and became a model for all other European squares that followed.


I took those photos yesterday during my first foray into the historic square, but it was just as lovely (if a bit more crowded) today. In fact, amongst the crowds of sunbathers and picnickers we saw the coolest thing! There was a whole group of (presumably Parisian) people dressed up in period costumes. There were guys in old-fashioned uniforms, women in 1940s era dresses, and a ton of folks just wearing red, white, and blue. I took this sneaky photo of them...

Lynn and I were both so intrigued, but didn't want to go up and ask. Were they at a wedding, or a themed dinner? Was it all just a coincidence? THE WORLD WILL NEVER KNOW.

On our way into Le Marais, we passed a particularly stunning building. I went back later and learned that it's called the Hotel de Sens. It's one of the last remaining medieval structures in the area, although it was updated during the Renaissance to reflect current architectural styles. It was built as the residence of the Archbishop of Sens, but now houses a large library. The history of the building is really fascinating ... click here to learn more. (And kudos to my mom for discovering THIS fun fact: there's actually a cannonball lodged in one of the building's walls!) The building and library were closed, but I enjoyed sitting for a little while in the quiet garden.

Lynn and I had a wonderful day exploring and people-watching in this quirky, historically rich corner of Paris. We topped it off with pastries along the Canal Saint-Martin, another beautifully photogenic site located a little further north. (I'll have to go back next time and spend some more time there!)

We even stopped and took pictures in an old-fashioned photo booth in an adorable children's store called Bonton -- so cute!

If you've lost track along the way, here's a map marked with all our major stops in Le Marais and its surrounding area. Enjoy!

Want to learn more about Le Marais? I loved this article about its history and current popular sites. Another fun site takes you on a guided walk through the quartier, complete with photos and fun facts. And, as always, if you're curious and want to learn more, you can always ask me -- just comment below!

1 comment:

  1. Merci pour un autre tour inoubliable de mon pays...