Le Marais is one of the most vibrant quarters of Paris, filled with surprises, virtually at evert street corner. The cosmopolitan population, the individuality of the shops, the numerous art galleries and multicultural restaurants enliven the narrow lanes. Here, the traditional architecture has been wonderfully preserved, characterized by the elegant palaces built by the nobility in the 17th century.
Le Marais is also home to the City Hall of Paris, the Hôtel de Ville, which stands proud and lofty, forming a splendid introduction to the quarter. Even in medieval times the city fathers had their official seat here, at what used to be the port of the city.
On the hill behind the Hôtel de Ville the first documented building stood one thousand years ago on the right bank of the Seine, a small chapel – surrounded by marshland, where the Church of Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protais", now points its mighty façade heavenwards. The classical front of the church, dating from the early 17th century, is divided up by three rows of columns, and has a semi-circular gable, making the Gothic style of the interior all the more of a surprise.
Rue François Miron
The Rue François Miron was once the main street of the southern Marais. It joined the Hôtel de Ville with the Bastille and the city gate there, until it was replaced in the 19th century by the Rue de Rivoli as the main traffic route. Nevertheless the older of the two streets is still the more interesting one. At No. 13 there are two of the last xhalf-timbered houses in Paris; there are old shops such as the bakery at the corner of Rue Tiron and the little restaurant opposite, which has a wine store.
A little farther along Rue François Miron is the Hôtel de Beauvais # (No. 68), one of the large 17th-century palaces of the nobility. The young Mozart stayed here in 1763 when he visited Paris on his first tour of Europe. The Hôtel Hénault $(No. 82) has been incorporated into the new Maison européene de la Photographie which shows exhibits from the municipal Photographic Collection (entrance in the new building, round the corner, Rue des Nonnains d’Hyères).
Le Marais' Medieval Remains
The narrow Rue du Prévôt leads to one of the most peaceful corners of the Marais Quarter. At the end of Rue Figuier stands the Hôtel de Sens, one of the last remaining medieval city palaces. It was built around the year 1500 for the Archbishops of Sens; at that time Paris was a part of their bishopric. Today it houses a library.
Along the Rue des Jardins Saint-Paul, passageways lead into the courtyards of the houses with their many nooks and crannies. Here in the so-called Village Saint-Paul and numerous second-hand dealers have become established.
In the Pavillion de l’Arsenal'on the Boulevard Morland the most important aspects of the development of Paris are presented: the growth of the city from its Celtic origins until the present day.
Historic remains can also be found in the park between the Hôtel Fieubet and the Pavillon de l’Arsenal. The circular sandstone blocks, piled up on top of each other, are the last remnants of the Fortress of the Bastille; they now lie a few hundred meters from their original historic site and serve as a reminder of the French Revolution.
Hôtel de Béthune Sully
One of the most significant buildings in the shopping street Rue Saint-Antoine is the church of Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis ), which has one of the oldest domes in Paris. It was dedicated in 1641 by Cardinal Richelieu and since the early 1800’s has been the local church of this quarter.
The magnificent Hôtel de Béthune Sully is now the headquarters of the Department for the Preservation of Historic Monuments. Constructed as a typical hôtel of the 17th century, the exquisite façade ornnamentation shows typical features of that period: masks, draperies and garlands lessen the severity of the walls. Four sculpted reliefs depict the four elements, water, earth, fire and air. Above the portal, which is guarded by two sphinxes, Bacchus is portrayed as autumn and a shivering old gentlemen as winter. The beautifully laid out courtyard was the perfect backdrop for the film “Dangerous Liasons” in which the Marchioness of Merteuil carries out her intrigues.
Place des Vosges
The Most Beautiful Square in Paris The “square of squares,” once known as Place Royale, was the largest and only square in Paris used for festivities such as tournaments and was bordered by 36 noblemens’ residences. Henri IV commissioned the laying out of the square in 1604 but did not live to see it completed. The harmonious Renaissance square, is today named xxPlace des Vosges +, as Vosges was the first Département to pay taxes to the revolutionary government. Below the arcades there are exquisite fashion shops, art galleries and restaurants and usually there is the sound of live music in the air. The author Victor Hugo lived at the southeast corner of the square from 1832 to 1848. His house, the Maison de Victor Hugo, is now a museum with plenty of memorabilia about the author of “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.”
The Rue des Francs-Bourgeois links the Marais and the Place des Vosges with the Halles Quarter. Between the many unusual shops which characterize this street there are some of the very first city palaces which existed in the Marais. At the corner of the Rue de Sévigné, for example, there is the Hôtel Carnavalet, the main section of which was built as early as 1546. It is thus the oldest building of this type still to exist in Paris. Today it forms the entrance to the municipal historical collection which can be seen in the Musée Carnavalet and the adjoining Hôtel de Pelletier de Saint-Fargeau. The exhibitions document the history of the city with models, furniture, paintings and manuscripts.
The Old Jewish Quarter
In the Rue Pavée where there is another, rather less well-preserved hôtel, dating from the 16th century, the Hôtel de Lamoignon -, the Jewish Quarter of Paris begins, an area characterized by narrow medieval streets. The Quartier Juif is still dominated by felafel stalls, and kosher restaurants, foods stores and bakeries, such as that of Florence Finkelsztaijn, which also sells the flat, unleavened bread, mazze. However, alongside Orthodox Jews, more and more trendy figures from the“in crowd” are being seen here, for in recent years the Jewish Quarter has become a refined address for art galleries and fashion designers. A stroll through the Rue des Rosiers, the main street of the quarter, is particularly rewarding on Sundays, for then the shops are open, but the delivery traffic is absent. The Jewish community of Paris is, by the way, the largest in Europe (400,000 members).
Hôtel de Soubise
Returning to the Rue des Francs- Bourgeois, the richtly decorated turret of the Hôtel Hérouet/, shows that even in the 16th century the Flamboyant style of the late Gothic period was still in favour.
The Hôtel de Saint-Aignan 0 where the large and very interesting Musée d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaïsme, the Museum of Jewish Art and History, is accommodated, has been newly renovated.
The more wealthy the builder, the more splendid was the palace. Money alone, however, was even in those days not sufficient to be able to afford a residence of the dimensions of the Hôtel de Soubise. The builder was an illegitimate son of the Sun King. With the assistance of his father he was able to have this enormous city residence built between 1705 and 1708. The size of the Cour d’Honneur (court of honour) alone is impressive: its arcades with a double row of columns lead up to a massive dwelling house. The façade, on which sculptures by Robert de Lorrain depict the four seasons, repeats the theme of the columns in the ornamentation. The interior of the hôtel has an extravagant rocaille décor, which it is possible to see during a visit to the Archives Nationales.
The second section of the National Archives, in which innumerable documents on French history are kept, is located in the adjacent Hôtel de Rohan2which is in the Rococo style. The relief Watering the Horses of the Sun (18th century) by Robert de Lorrain which adorns the portal of the royal stables, is also interesting.
Musée Cognacq-Jay / Musée Picasso
The large city palaces are nowadays seldom used as dwelling houses; the majority now house municipal offices, cultural institutes or museums. It is thus possible to see inside some of these palaces. Visits to the Hôtel Donon (Cognacq-Jay Museum) and the Hôtel Salé (Picasso Museum) are particularly worthwhile.
The small Hôtel Donon is now occupied by the Musée Cognacq-Jay (8, rue Elzévir) in which the superb collection of Ernest Cognacq and Louise Jay, the founders of the department store La Samaritaine, can be seen. In partly very small, even personal rooms, furnishings and art works from the 18th century fascinate the visitor. Particularly impressive are the original 16th century roof beams.
In the Musée Picasso (5 Rue de Thorigny) the art of the 20th century is united with the masterly architecture of the past. The Hôtel Salé is one of the best-preserved city palaces from the 17th century and has a richly decorated staircase and a basement, also preserved in its original state. Since 1986 Picasso’s own collection of art works has been exhibited here: a very few works by his friends and many of his own most significant works, from all phases of his career.
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