Bastille Quarter: Opéra Bastille
For some time now the east of Paris has been undergoing renovation. Former factories are being turned into lofts and old workshops converted into elegant apartments. Rents are rising and the “simple people” can scarcely afford to live in the Bastille Quarter any more.
What set this process in motion was the construction of a new Paris opera house. François Mitterrand, the former Socialist President, promoted the construction of the Opéra National de Paris-Bastille – intended to be a People’s Opera House, open also to those social strata which had never been inside an opera house. On July 13, 1989, as the opening event of the celebrations of the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution, the opera was inaugurated. The building is not one of the finest architectural achievements of the Mitterrand era. The square marble slabs on the façade are too much lacking in imagination for that. But the accoustics of the auditorium and the technical features of the stage received wide acclaim.
In the center of the Place de la Bastille, where markings on the pavement are a reminder of where the prison once was located, before the storming of the Bastille in 1789 ushered in a new era, the Colonne de Juillet (July Column) stands. It is a memorial to the revolution of 1830 and the overthrow of King Charles X. The names of those who died in this uprising are immortalized in golden letters on the column and at the top a gilded, winged figure, the spirit of freedom, cuts their chains asunder.
Port de l’Arsenal
Directly beside the busy Bastille Square is the Port de l’Arsenal, the yacht harbor of Paris. A yacht harbor in the center of Paris? That is not as illogical as it may seem at first – hobby sailors can navigate the Seine northwest to the English Channel and southwards to the network of French canals leading to the Mediterrranean Sea. This begins in Paris with the Canal Saint-Martin, which at first runs underneath the Boulevard Richard Lenoir and connects the River Seine to the northeast of the city. Twice a day tourist excursion boats leave from Port de l’Arsenal going to La Villette. The three hour trip allows you to experience a particularly tranquil aspect of Paris.
Near the Bastille, on the Boulevard Beaumarchais music dealers and photographic and video specialist shops have become established. The only historically significant building from the heyday of the boulevards is the Cirque d’Hiver 7 (winter circus), an octagonal, richly decorated hall, built in 1852 in which the best circuses as well as concerts and other events take place. In the neighboring Clown Bar you can take a refreshment break (114, rue Amelot); everything in the bar has to do with circuses.
Rue de Lappe
When the new opera house was built at the Place de la Bastille, prices for accommodation, in what used to be rather a shady area rose rapidly. Gallery owners discovered the sleepy narrow streets, discos and pubs opened, providing nightlife – and the whole district experienced an unexpected boom.
Evening by evening you can plunge into the nightlife around the opera house in Rue de Roquette, Rue de Lappe and the adjoining lanes. There are bars in the style of the 1980’s and the “resurrected” Balajo, an almost forgotten dance hall dating from 1936, which when the boom in the district started suddenly became mega-in as a disco. On Saturday and Sunday afternoons you can still dance musette waltzes here, accompanied by nostalgic accordeon music.
Faubourg Saint-Antoine: The Quarter of the Cabinetmakers
The Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine, actually the main street of the district behind the Bastille, leads you into a completely different world. This is the center of the furniture trade in Paris.
All styles, from really old to avantgarde- modern are represented here. And behind the shining façades, in the courtyards and passageways which branch off both sides of the street – a beautiful example is the Cour de l’Étoile d’Or 9 with its sundial – there are still workshops in which historic furniture is restored.
The department stores and supermarkets did not drive the retailers out of the district: around Place d’Aligre: a large, bustling market for fruit, vegetables and flowers, the Marché d’Aligre, takes place every morning (except Monday), which thanks to the many Maghrebian traders has real multi-cultural flair. There is also a small flea market where you can find old cutlery and crockery and other junk.
Viaduc des Arts
The Embankment of the Artists New creations in Paris are frequently rooted in existing traditions. Where once suburban trains traveled to Place de la Bastille, a new, attractive shopping zone has been created. Today in the shops underneath the rounded arches of the almost two-kilometer-long Viaduc des Arts; on the Avenue Daumesnil you can purchase designer furniture, art and crafts goods, from embroidery to ladies’ hats and creations in glass, and, in some places, even watch the artisans at their work.
Above the shops is the Promenade Plantée, filled with green plants; on Sunday lovers and those out for a stroll meet here. Families come, children play in the park, senior citizens take a picnic to the shady arbors – and everyone enjoys the view over the rooftops of Paris.
Gare de Lyon: "Le Train Bleu" Restaurant
In the midst of this quarter of hustle and bustle and many small businesses, there is the most splendid station restaurant in the world. In the Gare de Lyon, built in 1900, the station from which, in 1981, the first high speed trains raced at 300 kilometers per hour, taking just two hours to reach Lyons, you should at least take a glance inside the restaurant Le Train Bleu to see the opulent decoration with gilded stucco and frescoes. Once it was a kind of upper-class gastronomic waiting room for well-off travelers, waiting for the luxurious PLM express, Train Bleu, to take them to the Côte d’Azur. Today it offers passengers finest Lyons cuisine in nostalgic surroundings.
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