La Bastille and district of Saint-Antoine



The Faubourg Saint-Antoine is nowadays more commonly called La Bastille since most all of the craftsmen – cabinetmakers, gilders, mirror manufacturers – and metal workers have now been replaced by designers, architects and communications consultants working in the old yards and passages of the district.
Even avoiding too much backward looking, there is some nostalgia floating above some yards which have kept old workshops, sign boards or even a factory chimney which look like some ghosts of this furniture industry established since medieval times up to the end of the 20th century.
this feeling is easily replaced by the stimulating vision of a young generation of  designers, software engineers and architects working in the modernized workshops. It is also very nice walking in the quiet and green yards and passages isolated from the traffic.  And it is also very nice and easy to find modern and attractive cafés and restaurants where to take breaks.  

We will start this tour from rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine,
we will stop by the living Aligre market,
we will go in streets where revolutions took place in 1789, 1830, 1848 and 1870;
we will walk in yards and passages with old and evocative names like Main d'Or (Golden hand), la Bonne Graine (the good seed);
we will go rue de Lappe, which was in the past the territory of people coming from the French region Auvergne and today crowded in the night by young people enjoying the  numerous dance bars;
we will end Place de la Bastille which provides a strange mix of French Revolution and Classical Opera.

Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Antoine

This old and narrow street goes from La Bastille to La Nation. Per decision from Haussmann, it was divided all along its axis between two arrondissements : the 11th on the odd-numbered side of the street with many cobbled courtyards and passages and the 12th on the other side.

When going out of the metro, we have on our right the Saint-Antoine hospital built where was standing the Saint-Antoine des Champs Abbey built in the 12th century. It became Royal Abbey with king Saint-Louis in the 13th century and continued to get significant importance in the following centuries. In the 15th century, king Louis XI authorized the abbey to become a free labour territory for the craftsmen employed by the convent. This was bringing several huge improvements to the carpenters; they were then able to implement their workshops very close to the Parisian port where the wood was delivered in Paris (Port de la Râpée).  More importantly, this freed up craftsmen from the constraining rules imposed by the corporations. Under the Abbesses' protection the carpenters mastered new techniques and acquired expertise like in wood marquetry.

  • Fontaine de la Petite Halle, Louis XV
    184, faubourg Saint-Antoine
    1900/1901 – Atget

This fountain was inaugurated in 1719 to be used by a butcher shop, called the Petite Halle, established in 1643. The butcher shop was run by the nuns of the abbey of Saint-Antoine des Champs, as the nuns had the monopoly on the sale of meat in all the faubourg. The butcher's shop buildings destroyed in 1940 appear on the photo taken by Atget. Each side of the square fountain are now visible. 

Corner rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine and rue de Montreuil

Let's now walk up to the corner of rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine and rue de Montreuil.
This is where Réveillon implemented in 1765 a wallpaper manufacture in the  park of  a mansion.
The first balloons were assembled in the gardens around the manufacture and in 1783 this is from where Pilâtre de Rozier flew the first balloon.
Though Réveillon applied progressive ideas like unemployment compensations given to his employees, a riot broke out in April 1789, as a first sign of the Bastille Day. Possibly anticipating a proposal made to the Government to cancel taxes to some goods entered in Paris, Réveillon announced a reduction of wages. This liberal idea in a district where many workers and craftsmen were living was rejected and only the wage reduction was heard and understood. The Reveillon manufacture was destroyed, the riot expanded to the district where many people were killed and wounded as it was  harshly repressed.


  • Faubourg Saint-Antoine

Let's now come back on rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine and turn left in rue d'Aligre up to Place d'Aligre.

Baudelaire's shadow is floating as a close street named after him ... 

Paris may change; my melancholy is fixed.
New palaces, and scaffoldings, and blocks,
And suburbs old, are symbols all to me
Whose memories are as heavy as a stone.

The Swan – Parisian scenes – The flowers of Evil (1859) Baudelaire

Place d'Aligre

A la Grappe d'Or,
(The Golden Grapes)
4 Place d'Aligre.
Atget - 1911

I suggest you come in the morning, any day of the week, but on Mondays, in order to enjoy the quaint Market Beauvau more commonly called Market Aligre where you will also find a compact flea market.
The origin of the flea market comes from a privilege granted by the Abbess, Madam de Beauvau Craon to the clothes sellers so that the poor from the neighborhood could buy clothes at low price.

The faubourg had been knowing many popular revolts, starting with Bastille Day. Haussmann will remember them when he will divide the district into two arrondissements for a stronger control. Many barricades were built in this district with narrow streets and many passages where to take cover.
There are very few traces of this past, but with a closer look you can notice some remnants of the rebellious spirit like the associative café of the Aligre free community located at 3, place d'Aligre.
This is an other cafe selected by Atget for its old wrought iron sign board. And this is an other time, all gone. The pretty bunch of grapes within the door frame and the gates are  gone, only the name of the café – la grille (the gate) sounds like a pale ghost.

Let's come back rue d'Aligre, then rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine and on the left rue de  la Forge Royale. Let's  continue rue Saint-Bernard  up to the church Sainte-Marguerite.

Eglise Sainte-Marguerite

Old cemetery Sainte Marguerite
Bust representing Georges Jacob
(Musée Carnavalet)

This quaint charming church with a small garden was built in 1624 (under king Louis XIII). During the French Revolution, three hundred bodies were buried in its cemetery; first, the seventy three victims beheaded place de la Bastille, where the guillotine stood for three days,  before its withdrawal when citizens in the district were showing anger; then the victims place de la Nation (called at this time la place du Trône Renversé - the overturn throne).
A mysterious story ran about the Prince Louis XVII who according to the official story died in 1795 in Le Temple and was buried in the cemetery, as told by the gravedigger. However, exhumations ordered in the 19th century revealed that the body discovered in the grave was that of a youth aged 15-18, when the Prince was ten year old according to the official date of his death.

The cemetery, closed in 1806 and nowadays closed to the public, contains other several tombs, like this one captured by Atget which is the tomb of Georges Jacob, a Parisian cabinetmaker (1768-1803), identified as Georges II Jacob or Georges Jacob son, to avoid misrepresentation with his famous father.
The 1777 old cross that can be seen on Atget’s photo is nowadays  standing in the cemetery.   

  • Old cemetery Sainte Marguerite Church
    rue Saint Bernard
    Atget - 1905
    (Musée Carnavalet)

Several passages ... Passage Lhomme

Passage Lhomme

Let's come back rue Saint-Bernard, then on the right rue Charles Delescluze, an emblematic figure of La commune, the 1871 revolutionary government.

Let's continue rue de la Main d'Or (the Golden Hand) where two old wine bistros, one of which with an old signboard “Bois, Charbons, Vins et Liqueurs” (Wood, Charcoal, Wine and Liqueurs) give a note on how the Faubourg was like in the past.

Let's take on the left the narrow passage de la Main d'Or which ends rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine. On the right, let's walk up to the n°17 where opens the passage de la Bonne Graine (the Good Seed), named from a  seed business which was there in the past.
This alleyway leads to the passages Josset and Lhomme which open rue de Charonne. On this side of the alleyway, passage Lhomme is locked with a code. If you are not successful, I recommend  you visit this charming passage from rue de Charonne where it is opened. You will see the chimney of an old 19th factory standing over old buildings. Even though there is no more any activity, it is worth to visit this green and peaceful place.

The huge fans of the film director Cédric Klapish will have a break at the Pause Café where he filmed several scenes of the movie "Chacun cherche son chat" (When the cat's away) entirely taking place in the district.

From rue de Charonne, let's take rue des Taillandiers on our left. The street is named from an activity done in the past. Taillandiers (edge-tool makers) were craftsmen manufacturing cutting tools.

When we arrive rue de la Roquette, let’s turn on our right.

70, rue de la Roquette

rue de la Roquette
(Mission du Patrimoine Photographique)

This pretty fountain with shells, fruit and garlands of flowers standing like a small temple between two buildings was built in 1846.  

Let’s come back and let’s walk up rue de la Roquette up to passage Thiéré.   

Passage Thiéré

Old shop
23, passage Thiéré

In the past many workshops, scrap yards, tinsmiths and copper smiths shops could be found in this street, as shown by Atget's photos. These craftsmen were coming from Auvergne, French Central region. They took advantage of the privilege granted by Louis XIV to the craftsmen established in this free zone; The iron smiths were essential suppliers of woodworking machines used by the joiners and cabinetmakers.

At n° 13, passage Thiéré, an outdoor tennis court has replaced the buildings standing on the right side of the yard Veissière, at n°11. The cobbled yard covered with grass  and the small house in the back are still right there.  However nothing reminds the craftsmen activity as shown on Atget's photo and today the bikes, the cobble stones covered with grass, the plants rather remind a rural scene.

  • Cour Veissière
    11, passage Thièré
    Atget 1913
    (Musée Carnavalet)

Passage Thiéré,
hôtel Sainte-Anne, mère des Compagnons Charpentiers
Atget vers 1913
(Musée Carnavalet)

The Hotel Sainte-Anne captured by Atget reminds us that there were many carpenters working also in the Faubourg and Sainte-Anne was protecting the confraternity of the carpenters. On Saint Joseph day,  patron saint of carpenters, they were marching in the streets with their masterpiece in the center of the traditional parade. They were wearing gold earrings with their emblems, the compass or a square. We can see these emblems  on the sign board of the hotel photographed by Atget. 

At n° 27, passage Thiéré, let’s  now follow passage Louis-Philippe which ends at n° 21, rue de Lappe.




Rue de Lappe

"Au joueur de biniou" - (Bag pipes player)
19 rue de Lappe
Atget 1911
(Musée Carnavalet)

Like passage Thiéré and rue de la Roquette, people of Auvergne were living and working in rue de Lappe which was named for a long time “the little Auvergne”.   On Sundays, they were meeting and dancing la bourrée (a typical Auvergne clog dance) to the musette which was like a bagpipes instrument, in small ballrooms like the one captured by Atget, Au joueur de biniou (at the bagpipes player).

Then later, the accordion replaced the binious, and the javas and tangos were danced in popular ballrooms named the Musette balls. Coming from Ménilmontant and Belleville, bad guys nicknamed the Apache were coming with their women nicknamed the gigolette. This gave a rather bad reputation to the street that it has still today for many Parisians. Still, young people are crowding the street on Fridays and Saturdays to enjoy the multiple bars and night clubs playing Latino, Cuban, Caribbean and African music.

The sign board of the wine shop captured by Atget Au Lion d'Or (at the Golden lion) is a pun used in the past by many inns: Au lion d'or can also be heard au lit on dort ( a bed to sleep in)...

All is gone, the shop, the gates, the sign board. Only the wrought iron piece above the door has been kept...

  • Wine shop "Au lion d'or",
    old sign board and gates
    45, rue de Lappe
    Atget 1913
    (Musée du Carnavalet)

Of course, the sheet metal shop is gone and has been replaced today by the first Cuban restaurant implemented in Paris in 1997.
On the other hand, the ballroom  that can be seen on the left of the photo taken by Atget is today a famous dancing, the Ballajo at the n° 9, rue de Lappe. It was created in 1936 by Jo France who re opened the Ball Vernet sold by his owner after a prostitute was killed in the hotel above the ball room. It was decorated by the painter Henri Mahé who also decorated the cinema theatre le Rex and le Moulin Rouge. It still has the same walls ornamented with sky scrappers and the same blue starred ceiling. There is still the traditional French musette music played on Sundays afternoons whilst more modern music is played the rest of the time.

My grandfather Jean, born in Paris in 1909, spent all his childhood and youth at rue de la Roquette, his parents were coming from Saint-Poncy a small village in Cantal, a region of Auvergne. I can imagine him  dancing a Musette waltz with his love, my grandmother Madeleine. I like to imagine them, dancing in a small ball room, happy to be together, looking tenderly at each other.

  • Sheet metal shop Grouffau - 15 rue de Lappe
    (Musée du Carnavalet)

Cour Saint-Louis

Cour Saint-Louis,
26 rue de Lappe
Atget, ca 1912
(Musée Carnavalet)

Quite unexpected in this street, there is a very charming yard, at n°26 that can only be discovered if somebody let you in as it is locked with a code.

Now let's walk up rue de Lappe where we can have a stop at the shop Aux Produits d'Auvergne, at n°6. This shop, opened in 1870, is selling products coming directly from Auvergne. It is very difficult to resist to the view and the tempting aroma coming from the sausages and cheese... 

Cour Damoye

Cour Damoye

Let's cross rue de la Roquette to join rue Daval where there is a most pretty passage, cour Damoye.  First, you will be struck by the blessed peace of this long cobbled alley with vines plants gently curling around the buildings.  Then, you will be surprised to discover that what looks like a calm scene of the past is also quite a modern place where new services activities can be identified behind the windows of the finely renovated workshops.

When we go out of the quiet passage, in stark contrast, we  have arrived at the busy place de la Bastille.    

Passage du Cheval Blanc

Since the construction of Opera Bastille and the progressive disappearance of the craftsmen, Parisians do not refer to Faubourg Saint-Antoine any more and rather speak simply of La Bastille. The opera wanted by François Mitterrand and inaugurated in July 1989 for the bicentennial celebration of Bastille Day has established a new prestigious cultural space in a district marked over a long period by craftsmanship and popular rebellion. The new gentrification trend which has started in the close Marais district has also impacted the district around la Bastille as passage Damoye is a good example.  

Here ends our tour. If you still have some time, before you take the metro at the near station, I suggest that you visit the close passage du Cheval Blanc at n° 2, rue de la Roquette.    

  • Faubourg Saint-Antoine
    View from rue de la Roquette
    Atget - 1909
    (Musée du Carnavalet)

Year 2016 - Text and photos: Martine Combes