To the Marais
is a historic district in Paris, spread across parts
of the 3rd and 4th arrondissements
on the Rive Droite
or Right Bank,
the north side of the Seine.
The Marais started as a swamp. It became the aristocratic district of Paris in the Middle Ages. Nobility and royalty built residences here. After the Revolution, royalty was gone and the nobility was frightened. They stayed far away and the great houses of the Marais fell into disrepair. The district became a busy commercial district.
Immediately after World War II, the Marais was a working-class area and the former mansions and palaces decayed further. Then in 1964, Charles de Gaulle's Minister of Culture made the Marais France's first secteur sauvegardé or "safeguarded sector", a designation to protect and restore areas of special cultural significance.
Today the district has been rehabilitated, gentrified, and then some, filled with nice restaurants and stylish shops.
Before the RomansNeolithic
A group of hunter-gatherers had a camp in today's 15th arrondissement about 8000 BCE. Another group had a settlement in the 12th arrondissement around 4500-4200 BCE. This was long before the megalithic culture spread into northwestern Europe.
The Celtic Parisii tribe, namesake of the city, settled on the banks of the Seine around 250-225 BCE. They built a fort and some bridges, minted their own coins, and began to trade with other river settlements.
A Roman army defeated the Parisii in 52 BCE and established a garrison town they called Lutetia. The Roman town was on the Rive Gauche or Left Bank, the south side of the Seine. Caesar had described the large marsh on the north side of the river, the south side was higher and drier. The Romans laid out their traditional town design with a major north-south axis. The main street followed today's Rue Saint-Jacques. It crossed the Seine and the larger mid-river island, today called Île de la Cité.
The walls first built by the Romans were needed in 451 to keep out the forces of Atilla the Hun. They worked. Atilla bypassed Paris and attacked Orléans.The Loire river valley, heart of French culture
Clovis I, or Hlōdowig as he was called at the time, defeated the last Roman armies in 486, becoming the ruler of all of Gaul north of the Loire river. He established the Merovingian dynasty, the first king of the Franks to unite all the Frankish tribes under one leader. He moved into the former Roman palace in Paris, making it his capital in 508.
In the 800s, Norsemen repeatedly sailed up the Seine to attack the city. Viking is an activity, Norsemen were the people controlling the northern coastal area of today's France and going on viking raids. The name they called themselves changed slightly to Normans, and so they called their new homeland Normandy. Björn Ironside almost destroyed Paris in 857. The Normans staged a one-year siege in 885-886, and attacked again in 887 and 889. The Seine river and the walls around the perimeter of the Île de la Cité kept them out.
Visiting the Marais TodayBudget hotels
I stayed at the Hotel Rivoli, seen below, on three trips from 2005 through 2012. At the time, you could stay in room #25 for 35€ per night. It's the room with the narrow dormer at the corner on the very top level. Like most of the other budget hotels along Rue de Rivoli, it has been renovated and rooms now cost about three times what they did when I stayed there.
They may have installed an elevator. When I stayed there, it was a long climb to the top floor.
But once there, the view was great. Below, I'm looking into the courtyard beside the hotel.
There are nice places in the neighborhood for breakfast, café et croissant. This is at the café on the ground floor, with seats in the courtyard. Le Gribouille, "The Scribble". It would be a good place to do some writing.
The Jews are Expelled and Recalled, Repeatedly
The Jewish people were expelled and allowed back into France multiple times. Expelled under King Philip II in 1182, with their property confiscated, then he recalled them in 1198.
Then Louis IX burned 12,000 manuscript copies of Jewish religious texts in 1243, as directed by Pope Gregory IX. He then had all Jews involved in money lending expelled from France and their property confiscated, to fund the Seventh Crusade. He ordered restitution in 1257-1258, decided in 1268 to arrest the Jews and seize their property, and then changed his mind again the following year. The Christian money-lenders who had taken their place had turned out to be a greedy group with horribly brutal tactics for forcing payment.
King Philip IV, "The Fair", decided in 1306 to banish the Jews and confiscate their property. Nine years later, in 1315, Louis X of France recalled them.
In 1394, Charles VI suddenly published an ordnance expelling the Jews. And on and on.
During the times the Jews were allowed to live in France, they generally weren't allowed to live within the city of Paris. The Marais was the swampy area outside the Paris city walls as late as 1400. It became the intermittently occupied Jewish settlement.
The Marais through the Middle Ages to Today
The Knights Templar, a Roman Catholic military order, built a fortified church in 1240 in the northern part of the Marais, just outside the Paris city walls. That became the Temple Quarter, where many other religious institutions were built.
In the mid 1200s, Charles I of Anjou, King of Naples and Sicily, and brother of King Louis IX of France, built a residence on today's rue de Sévigné. Then in 1361 King Charles V built a mansion called the Hôtel Saint-Pol, and the royal court lived there during the reigns of him and his son.
From then through the 1600s, the Marais was the favored place of residence of French nobility. Hôtels particuliers or urban mansions multiplied.
The French Revolution killed much of the royalty and some of the nobility, and drove away the rest. The hôtels particuliers began to decay as the Marais became a successful commercial area.Jim Morrison
The old buildings began to be renovated in the 1960s. Rue Beautrellis 17, below, is where Jim Morrison and his girlfriend Pamela Courson lived in 1971.
Several of the large hôtels particuliers in the Marais have been restored and converted into museums. Among others, the Picasso Museum is in the Hôtel Salé, and the Paris Historical Museum is in the Hôtel Carnavalet.
Beaubourg, an area along the western edge of the Marais, is now filled by the Centre Georges Pompidou, the National Museum of Modern Art.
The abandoned priory of Saint-Martin-des-Champs in the rue Réaumur is now home to the Musée des Arts et Métiers, an engineering and industrial design museum housing a collection of scientific instruments and inventions.
Or, you can simply wander the narrow streets of the Marais.
The population of the פלעצל or Pletzl, Yiddish for "little place", grew through the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The new Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe were fleeing persecution.
Rue Ferdinand Duval is now named for a 19th century member of the city council. It was called "Street of the Jews" from 1500 to 1900.
The plaque at the corner of the Rue des Rosiers and the Rue Ferdinand Duval says:
Fleeing persecution, Ashkenazi Jews flooded into Paris beginning in 1881. They found places living among their co-religionists already established in the Marais. By 1900, about 6,000 had arrived from Rumania, Russia and Austria-Hungary; 18,000 more arrived in the years preceding the First World War. Installed in considerable numbers in the Rue des Écouffes, the Rue Ferdinand Duval (named "Jews Street", until about 1900), and the Rue des Rosiers, they constituted a new community, the "Pletzl", the "little place" in Yiddish, and they created the Israelite Trade School at 4B, Rue des Rosiers.
The life of this community was evoked in the Roger Ikor novel, Les Eaux Mêlées. More than half of them perished in the Nazi concentration camps.
Ikor's novel, "Agitated Waters", won the 1955 Prix Goncourt, annually awarded to the author of "the best and most imaginative prose work of the year". It's the best known and most prestigious of the "big six" French literary awards.
An estimated 75,000 to 77,000 Jewish citizens of France were killed during World War II. Some were killed where they lived, many others were transported east to the death camps.
The Vichy government collaborated with the Nazis, assisting in or even carrying out raids in which French citizens were abducted and shipped to death camps.
Three synagogues remain in the Pletzl in the Marais, at 17 rue des Rosiers, at 25 rue des Rosiers, and at 10 rue Pavée.
There are several Jewish businesses in the Pletzl.
This place where you can "Taste authentic falafel" proclaims that all their meats and other products are strictly kosher. Cacher is French for "to hide", but it's also how the French spell "kosher", which has me a little more confused than usual.
Falafel is a famous offering of this district. But this place makes a point of offering New-York-style Jewish delicacies. Bagels, biały, pletzel, lox, and more.
Place des Vosges
The Hôtel des Tournelles, a royal residence, along with its gardens, once stood here in the Marais. King Henri II was wounded here at a tournament and died in 1559. His wife, Catherine de' Medici, had that Gothic hôtel demolished and moved into the Louvre Palace.
King Henri IV had Place Royale built here in 1605-1612. 140×140 meters in size, it was the first planned square in Paris. It later came to be known as Place des Vosges.
This gateway leads from rue Rivoli into Place des Vosges.
Place des Vosges was the prototype of residential squares that would be built in European cities. All the buildings were constructed to the same design.
Vaulted arcades on square pillars make a covered passage around the perimeter of the square.
Cardinal Richelieu lived at No 21 from 1615 to 1627.
The Marais is now home to many of Paris' art galleries. Several are along these vaulted passages, along with cafés.
Victor Hugo lived at No 6 from 1832 to 1848, in what was then the Hôtel de Rohan. His home is now a museum.
Place des Vosges was originally called the Pavilion of the King and of the Queen, although no French royal figure has ever lived in the square. Anne of Austria did live here briefly.
This square was just the start for Henri IV. Over the next five years he oversaw an ambitious building scheme for the city, building extensions to the Louvre Palace, the Pont Neuf across the Seine, and the Hôpital Saint-Louis.
Today the square is planted with linden trees set in grass and gravel.
Some nobility stayed here until the Revolution. The square was renamed Place des Vosges in 1799, to honor the département of the Vosges which had become the first to pay taxes supporting the Revolutionary army.
Many pedestrians stroll through the Marais on pleasant Saturdays and Sundays.
Maison Godard specializes in foie gras.
French produce shops are beautiful.
Le Pick-Clops gets busy at the end of the afternoon.
Seats are available during slower times. This is a Belgian Morte Subite.
Les Étages is a popular café. Informal, with a trendy crowd.
Sit near the doorway and you can watch the world walk past.