Medieval Paris - Right Bank



Coming from Ile de la Cité, we take the two briges of Ile Saint-Louis: pont Saint-Louis and Louis Philippe to reach the old Marais streets, where we will stop especially at:    

*        Rue du Grenier-sur-l’Eau
*        13, rue François-Miron
*        Hôtel de Sens
*        Rue des Jardins-Saint-Paul
*        Rue du Prévôt
*        Cloître des Billettes - 22-24, rue des Archives (Cloister)
*        Hôtel de Clisson - 58, rue des Archives
*        3, Rue Volta
*        Rue de Montmorency - Oldest house (Nicolas Flamel's)
*        Le prieuré de Saint-Martin-des-Champs       

Rue du Grenier-sur-l'Eau

Rue du Grenier-sur- l’Eau
Atget - 1899
(Musée Carnavalet)

We are now standing at the corner of rue des Barres and rue du Grenier-sur-l’Eau. This  half-timbered house, probably built in the 17th century looking over the cobbled street with a central gutter looks quite medieval.
At Atget’s time, the street was much more narrow and the old corbelled building was almost reaching the other house across the street, which had been destroyed in 1943.

In 2000, the part of the street behind us has been renamed Allée des Justes, in tribute to Righteous people who risked their lives to save Jews during war from 1939 to 1945. Since 2006, their names  appear on the wall of the Holocaust Museum, located in the near 17, rue Geoffroy-l’Asnier.  

Rue François-Miron

13, rue François-Miron
Atget - 1901
(Musée Carnavalet)

“ For one of the radical differences of the cities of that time and the cities of the present day is that now the fronts face the streets and places, whereas then it was the gables. During the last two centuries the houses have turned round. “
The Hunchback of Notre-Dame – Victor Hugo (1831)

For safety reasons, gables were prohibited by law in 1667 and from then the axis of roofs is parallel to the streets. These two old gabled houses were built between 14th and 16th century. The corner beams are made of a single piece of wood and are specific of the old medieval building techniques. When the houses were meticulously restored in 1967, the architect removed the plaster covering their half-timbering. In fact, in 1607, it was ordered that  wooden elements be covered with plaster in order to prevent fire hazards. Using old documents, the architect also built a replica of two medieval shops with the sign of the Reaper for number 11 and the sign of the Sheep for number 13.

Hôtel de Sens

Hôtel de Sens
viewed from rue de l'Ave-Maria
Atget - 1899

Bishopric of Paris was under the control of the archbishops of Sens until 1622. This is why the archbishop Tristan Salazar built himself this mansion between 1475 and 1507. This also explains the name of the mansion and also why the style of the building is in between late Gothic and early Renaissance.  

The mansion did not house only pious people … It housed also Reine Margot, wife of King Henri IV of France in 1605. At that time, she was not any more the beautiful young lady which beauty was praised by the poet Ronsard and the philosopher Montaigne. Though 53 years old and fat, she was still having love affairs with very young men. There is this story which happened in front of the Hôtel de Sens …Whereas her lover Saint-Julien was handing Queen Margot down from her carriage in front of the  Hotel gateway, he fell shot down by a 20 year old rival, the earl of Dumont. As he was rapidly captured,  dragged in front of the Hotel gateway, Marguerite came to a window and shouted: “Kill him, kill him! If you have no arms, take my garter and strangle him with it.' Three days after, the poor guy was beheaded in front of the hotel that Reine Margot immediately left for an other residence.

Later deserted, the hotel became office of stagecoach, then sold during the French Revolution to house various activities. Very much damaged and ruined, it was bought by the city of Paris in 1911. Its outstanding restoration took several years – from 1934 to 1960 – and its facade over the garden had to be almost completely rebuilt. Today, the hotel is housing the Forney art library.

Rue des Jardins-Saint-Paul

Rue des Jardins-Saint-Paul
Atget - 1899

It is rather difficult to compare the street as photographed by Atget in 1899 and the street that we can see today.  

On Atget's photo, the street is rather narrow and is lined with buildings on each side.
Today, the street is broader, the buildings on the left side were demolished. This demolition have made visible a large piece of the wall of Philippe-Augustus. Today, in place of the demolished buildings there is a small playing field at the foot of the wall, closed by a gate… Since the street is now broader, we have also a better view on the rear of the Saint-Paul Saint-Louis church.

Some explanation to better understand … The name of the street – Jardins-Saint-Paul - reminds us that in the past gardens  were spreading up to the wall of Philippe-Augustus erected in 1190. Outside the wall, the street opened in the 13th century was  following the wall between rue de l’Ave-Maria and rue Charlemagne.
A large portion of this wall, the biggest that you can see today in Paris has been perfectly saved. Why? Because the wall was used as a robust support for the construction of a convent (Couvent des Soeurs de l’Ave Maria) and later
was used as a common wall between the convent and houses. The convent was later demolished in 1868 and replaced partly by Lycée Charlemagne. At the beginning of the 20th century, though hidden, the wall was well identified on old maps. Its external side was made visible when the buildings that we see on the left on Atget’s photo, were demolished. This large piece, 60 meters long, showing remnants of two towers  was restored in 1981 and in 1998 a playing field was built at the foot of the wall. In medieval times, the wall was higher – between 8 and 9 meters.  

  • Wall of Philip Augustus in 2005
    (Photo Le Marais - Parigramme)

Rue du Prévôt

Rue du Prévôt
Atget - 1901
(Musée Carnavalet)

This narrow street, only three meters wide, is still looking very much medieval. Looking darker on Atget's photograph, it is a remnant of the old streets before their demolition by Haussmann.

Let's notice the peculiar corner of the street in order to reduce the right angled corner of the street and enable carriages to turn into these narrow streets.  

Cloître des Billettes - 22/24, rue des archives

Cloître des Billettes
Atget - 1898
(Musée Carnavalet)

There is a legend associated with this place … It is told that in 1290, on the Easter Day, the Jew Jonathas, a pawnbroker, tried to destroy a host with a knife. As the host was bleeding, he threw it in boiling water which turned into blood. Neighbors panicked when they noticed the blood leaking under the door and called constables for assistance. Jonathas was arrested, burned alive, his property taken away, his wife and his children converted to Catholicism.

On the site of the house where “God was boiled”, a citizen of Paris, Rainier Flamingue, had a chapel built in 1299 that King Philippe le Bel assigned to the Hospital of Charity Notre-Dame. The monks were called Billettes, probably because the garment  they were wearing had the shape of a heraldic piece, la billette. Their church became more important and the cloister, the only one still remaining from the Middle Ages today in Paris, was built in 1427. The church, rebuilt in the 18th century, was later on assigned to the Lutheran church by the city of Paris in 1812. Before the street was called rue des Archives, it was called the street where God was boiled. Feeding antisemitism for a long time, the legend passed to several countries in Europe and can be seen in a series of six paintings done by Paolo Ucello in the 15th century, the Miracle of the Profaned Host, that can be seen at the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, in Urbino.

Hôtel de Clisson - 58, rue des Archives

Hôtel de Clisson
Atget - 1898

From the medieval house owned by the constable Olivier of Clisson in 1380, there is still the fortified entrance, flanked by two conical roof towers. The two carved medaillions and Clisson’s motto “Pour ce qui me plet” (“For what appeals to me “) were added in the XIXth century during the restoration of the two towers. This restoration gave the good surprise to clear the two painted shields above the entrance; they bear the symbols of the Guise family who owned the house in 1553 and transformed it into a lavish palace under the lead of Primaticcio, Italian architect and painter.

During the French war of religions, the catholic house of Guise played a key role. Considering the Huguenot leader, Admiral Coligny might be the architect of the assassination of François of Guise, it is suspected that his son Henri Duke of Guise (also called the Scar face) prepared his revenge. When the  Queen Catherine de' Medici called Duke of Guise to take the lead of the Saint-Bartholomew's day massacre to kill Coligny and the Huguenot leaders around him,  Duke of Guise was certainly able to unleash vengeance when Coligny was thrown out the window to the pavement below.

In 1700, the hotel was completely transformed by the Prince of Soubise and only the fortified entrance and the chapel were kept. The architect Delamair had to create a new entrance 60, rue des Francs Bourgeois for the new main pavilion and huge courtyard. In 1808, Napoleon I decreed that this beautiful residence to become the National Archives; later Napoleon III decided to extend it as Museum of French History. The visit of the Museum gives certainly a good opportunity to visit the beautiful apartments of the mansion created by Germain Boffrand.

3, rue Volta

Old house and old shop
3 rue Volta
Atget - 1901

For a while it was thought that this house was the oldest one in Paris, until someone found a certificate of sale dated 1654 … Therefore,  the oldest house is Nicolas Flamel's, rue de Montmorency that we will see next. Whatever its date of construction, 17th and not 14th, this type of structure with the half timbering and the stone ground floor looks certainly medieval.

Although you cannot find the oldest Parisian house in this street, you will find together with the next street, la rue au Maire, the oldest Asian district … About 100 000 Chinese people came from mainly the city of Wenzhou to work in France during the first World War, covering the absence of workers away on the front lines.  Many of them stayed and settled in this district where basically you will find  only Asian shops and restaurants.

51, rue de Montmorency

Nicolas Flamel's house
Atget - 1902

This is the oldest house in Paris and much mysterious as well … for a long time it was told it had some magical power.

It was built in 1407 by Nicolas Flamel, who was a renowned copyist and academic but also known as an alchemist … The façade of the house is entirely made of stone, what only rich men in Middle Ages could afford.  There was much talk on the sudden fortune made by this modest manuscript seller. It was said he discovered the Philosopher's  Stone, that he used to turn metals into gold. Perhaps there is some more prosaic explanation … Some Jews persecuted during the revolt of  Maillotins - Parisian insurgents named from the lead mallets they used as weapons against tax officers and Jews – would have entrusted their goods to Nicolas Flamel who would have invested in them and got his part of the profit made…

The house, recently restored, was used as a shelter for poor people on the condition they said the daily prayers for the Dead. We can read this on the inscription engraved on the pediment renovated in 1900:  “We, working men and women living beneath the porch of this house, built in 1407, must each say an Our Father and an Ave Maria every day, to ask the grace of God to forgive poor trespassed sinners. Amen.”

Priory Saint-Martin-des-Champs

The bell tower of the church before its restoration in 1913
(Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts)

It is one of the oldest churches in Paris, largely unknown.
The Roman sanctuary dates from 12th century. If you go up to the corner of rue du-Vert-Bois and rue Saint-Martin, you will see an old castellated tower built in 1273, which is a remnant of the  long wall of the priory Saint-Martin-des-Champs.

The church is part of the interesting museum Arts et Métiers, which was created in 1794 to exhibit inventions and machines. Among the 2400 inventions, you will find the Blériot's plane, the Foucault pendulum, the Blaise Pascal's calculator, the first Lumière brothers' camera, the Jacquard Loom and the original model of the Statue of Liberty …

Year 2016 - text and photos - Martine Combes