Le Marais. Discover the hidden Paris of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (book)
The imperial capital that has destroyed a centuries-old city
In this article, I’ll talk to you about my favourite neighbourhood in Paris. I first knew it as a tourist, but I really discovered it when I once lived in it. If you go to Paris today, you’ll see a city with huge avenues, large squares and imposing façades around them. Amongst them, historical monuments of many centuries, reminding that Paris is a very old town.
But this image is not as old as it may seem.
Until 1852, Paris was a medieval town, with narrow and irregular streets and high residential buildings or luxurious private mansions, all mixed together.
In 1852, however, Emperor Napoleon III, nephew of the well-known Napoleon, decided to turn Paris into an imperial capital worthy of his grandeur.
Thus, mass demolitions began to open the boulevards and squares we see today.
Paris became an imperial capital. But the price was heavy. Entire historic quarters with architectural ensembles of centuries have been lost forever.
Le Marais. The old Paris that survived
A neighbourhood, however, escaped by chance. Of all the avenues that were opened and swept everything in their passage, accidentally only one crossed Le Marais: the famous rue de Rivoli, which crosses the entire right bank of the Seine, forming one of the fronts of the Louvre.
So, right and left of rue de Rivoli is still preserved one of the most historic districts of the City of Light.
Here you can see the map of Le Marais https://email@example.com,2.3588974,16z?hl=en
Le Marais was integrated into the city of Paris quite early. During the second half of the 14th century, the district experienced a period of prosperity. At that time luxurious mansions were built.
In the second half of the 16th century, the personalities of the kingdom acquired old residences, embellished them and enlarged them.
In the early 17th century, King Henry IV performed or supported major residential and town planning interventions. The top one was the Place des Vosges we’ll see below.
Le Marais. The decline and revival of the historic Paris
But in the 18th century, the wealthiest inhabitants of Le Marais began to move to the newer and more modern districts on the west and the left bank of the Seine, in the well-known Quartier Latin.
Thus the decay began, which resulted in the transformation of Le Marais into a popular neighbourhood, with the related consequences: plots were fractured, arbitrary buildings added to the courtyards of private mansions, buildings were deformed or even demolished.
In the 19th century, an attempt was made to save a few listed buildings. The effort became stronger in the 20th century.
However, it was always about individual buildings. The value of historical centres as ensembles had not yet been estimated.
It was only in 1964 that the first listed area of Le Marais was created. It was the first attempt worldwide to protect an entire historic district. When the Minister of Culture was the poet André Malraux who made the famous Malraux law for the protection of the French cultural heritage, which is still in force today.
Over the next years, hundreds of cities across Europe will follow Le Marais’s example.
We start from the most classic attractions. Place des Vosges
The centre of Le Marais is Place des Vosges, created in the early 17th century. It’s the first square in Paris that is the result of organised urban planning. All of the buildings are homogeneous and one of them houses the Victor Hugo Museum, as it was the residence of the writer of the ‘Miserables’.
Place des Vosges is perhaps the most beautiful square in Paris, full of art galleries and cafés behind the porticos that surround it. The green space in the centre of the square is a favourite relaxing place of the Parisians, as relatively few tourists come here.
We continue with the private mansions of Le Marais. Hôtel de Sully
Witnesses of Le Marais’s prosperity are the famous private mansions, now housing cultural functions. They are all of the same type: a tall and impermeable wall hides a large courtyard. Here is the majestic façade of the mansion. The rear side, on the other hand, faces a lovely garden.
Leaving Place des Vosges, we first meet Hôtel de Sully in rue Saint-Antoine. Today it houses the Centre of National Monuments (Centre des Monuments Nationaux). The mansion was built in the early 17th century. Immediately afterwards it was bought by the Duke of Sully, which explains its name.
Hôtel de Sully. The courtyard
The rest of the article, in this book
About the author
Hello! I am Denis, an architect based in Athens, Greece. I teach history of art and architecture in higher education. That’s one passion of mine. The other one is hiking, in and out of town. If you follow me, I’ll share my discoveries with you.
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