A few weeks ago, I wondered where were the oldest houses in Paris. I decided to walk from house to house, not to settle on a clear path beforehand but to note what other places, things or atmospheres I would discover on the sidelines – not really a Situationist drift (Dérive), but I had psychogeography in mind.
My list mentioned 5 houses only, since there is not much left of old Paris. Paris is mostly a 19th century city, as Haussmann nearly completely changed its aspect from 1852 to 1870.
I started from the Left Bank and crossed the Ile Saint Louis. Though very touristy, beautiful and ancient-looking, the buildings of the Island date back from the 17th century at most.
Right Bank seen from Ile Saint Louis:
When I reached the Right Bank, I stumbled immediately upon this very nice corner around Saint Gervais Church (1494 – 1620), which I had never visited before:
There was an Icons exhibition and some 19th century paintings by Auguste Gendron.
While I wanted to focus on houses, there are several medieval churches in Paris – Notre Dame Cathedral the best-known of them – as well as other “hotels” or towers like the Cluny Museum,
the Jean-Sans-Peur tower
or the Forney Library.
In front of the Saint Gervais East entrance, stood the first house I wanted to see:
According to this interesting article in French, a first 13th century building stood there, built by Blanche of Castille. It was rebuilt in 1540 and nuns lived there from 1664 to 1790.
Walking north to take the Rue François Miron, I stopped at the sight of a large queue slithering into a pastry shop, Aux Merveilleux de Fred. The Merveilleux turned out really tasty, very soft, sweet and “light” (yeah, I know). I took Chocolate and Cherry “minis”.
The sweet-tooth I am was delighted to eat them while gazing at those two magnificent medieval houses (the only decent picture I managed to take during this walk…):
Number 13 and 15 are breached by the rue Cloche-Perce, which I decided to take:
I do love old street names, they are really varied, funny and (now) original. The funniest one I know is the Rue de la Truie qui File (the street of the “thread spinning sow”…) in Le Mans. Why this name, will you ask?
I then reached the rue du Roi de Sicile and opted to go on rue Vieille du Temple.
A nice graffiti covered lane rue Vieille du Temple:
I stared at this wonderful blue door for minutes:
Near the Espace Blancs Manteaux – a place for contemporary art exhibitions – you can see a medieval house! Jean Hérouet’s, 1510 (now housing a posh clothing brand, Marais oblige):
The next house I wanted to see was westward, so I had to turn at some point. I chose the rue des Blancs Manteaux (White Coats street). Here, the Charles Victor Langlois garden:
The Fontaine des Haudriettes – Haudriettes fountain, 1764 :
The Place Renée Vivien. You can’t see it here since I had to stop taking pictures, but dusk brings to those Paris streets a mysterious and imposing atmosphere. Half-shadowed graffiti seem like modern ghosts haunting ancient surfaces:
I was beginning to feel this eerie mood, out of time – and a bit cold, too – when I had to stop and “squee”:
Because of this: http://www.lecafedeschats.fr/
Another old building – 18th century, not as old as my Quest required – rue Michel le Comte: the hotel d’Hallwyl, one of the last Parisian buildings created by Claude Nicolas Ledoux:
I felt I had entered another realm when I got out near the Beaubourg Center, in a wide street leading to the 20th century Quartier de l’Horloge, “Clock District”.
I hid again in the narrow streets nearby, and found the Auberge de Nicolas Flamel:
This is now a restaurant I have to try!
To see the last house on my list, I crossed what I later learnt was Little Whenzou, the oldest Chinese district in Paris.
More about Little Whenzou here. The rue au Maire and the Chinese shop windows were waking with dusk, lively-looking and warming the atmosphere.
The 3 rue Volta building houses a Vietnamese restaurant, Taing Song-Heng, apparently very good – I want to try it too.
More about the “fight” between Montmorency and Volta here. This house was probably wrongly dubbed as medieval in the 19th century, when Baron Haussmann cut the old Paris into pieces. Many Romantic figures and History nostalgics fought to preserve Paris heritage and tried to protect ancient buildings like this one.