I have found very few photos of Belleville taken by Atget. However, following his steps, we can cover three themes all typical and symbolic of this district:

- above the Belleville aqueduct, the water manholes serving several purposes: collecting water, inspecting and maintaining the underground water pipes.

- the traditional proletariat and the working class elements of Belleville with la Bellevilloise, a worker cooperative, located rue Boyer

- the last days of the Paris Commune (French revolution from March, 28 to May, 28, 1871), rue Haxo.

We will also discover many green village-like places with pretty small houses and gardens. However, some places like Cité Leroy had to fight to keep and develop their environment. Indeed, you will understand as soon as you arrive at Place des Fêtes, how much the massive urbanization, starting in the 70s, could transform this country village like district. Cost effectiveness led to several architectural errors and many places of the old Belleville disappeared forever within the concrete.

Every year in May, artists of Belleville open  their studios to the public. Beyond their obvious artistic interest, it is a very nice opportunity to discover quaint narrow alleys and courtyards, which can provide an insight of the old village.      


We will arrive at metro station Place des Fêtes. We will see Belleville manholes above the aqueduct, starting with the manhole de la Lanterne, rue Augustin Thiery, going on rue des Solitaires, rues de la Palestine, then reaching rue des Cascades where we will see two other old manholes.

Then we will walk to rue Boyer to see this historical place, la Bellevilloise, a former worker co-op. Better to come during the week-ends in order to enjoy this place, escaped from the control of property developers. It is now a centre with a restaurant, a terrace providing concerts and multidisciplinary events.

Before reaching rue Haxo, we will take hidden pathways: Villa de l’ Ermitage, Cité Leroy, Villa du Borrégo. We will continue using other country like spots, passage du Monténégro, rue Paul de Kock and rue Emile Desvaux and finally stop at the metro station Télégraphe.


Belleville aqueduct - Manhole la Lanterne

Manhole la Lanterne
3, rue Augustin Thierry

Manholes are the visible remains of the old underground pipelines supplying Paris with spring water. These small stone buildings were giving access to the pipelines for their control and maintenance.  
The Belleville Aqueduct which was capturing the water running on the southern side of the Belleville was starting at the manhole of la Lanterne (historic monument). This massive stone construction built in the 16th century includes a set of stairs leading to a basin where the water was collected and then distributed to the aqueduct. Generally, it can be visited during the Heritage Days.      

Let’s go back rue Petitot and let’s continue straight on rue des Solitaires.    

Belleville aqueduct - Manhole des Marais

Former manhole des Marais
41, rue des Solitaires
Atget 1901
(Musée Carnavalet)

Today, from the fifteen manholes controlling the Belleville aqueduct, very few are visible. Thus, the manhole des Marais, captured by Atget was demolished in 1904.

Let’s turn left on rue de Palestine.

Belleville aqueduct - Manhole du Chaudron

As shown by the photo taken by Atget in 1901, the former manhole du Chaudron was outside. It looks quite a small hut with the barrel and the hen house.
Today, at 6, rue de Palestine, the manhole du Chaudron fills all the available space of the tiny courtyard. For the nice guy, an Ukrainian, who kindly let me enter in, the manhole seemed to appear a mysterious small building, a little bit bizarre, and his amazement was as high as my enthusiasm … 


  • Former manhole
    6, rue Palestine
    Atget – 1901

Let's go on rue de Palestine where we can see now the rear of the church Saint-Baptiste. The church was built in the 19th century per a very popular neo-gothic style. The former church, standing in the centre of the village of Belleville surrounded by the cemetery, was destroyed in 1854. The new cemetery of Belleville, was relocated on the former Ménilmontant Park.

Let's cross rue de Belleville and let's take rue de Jourdain up place des Grandes Rigoles (Large Channels square) ; this name like rue des Cascades (Waterfall Street), rue des Rigoles (Channels Street), rue de la Mare (Pond Street), rue de la Duée (Spurting Source Street) recall how plentiful was the access to spring water in Belleville.

Let’s take rue Levert to the right up place Henri Krasucki, then rue des Cascades on the left.  

Rue des Cascades

Our tour in the district of La Bastille is referring to the Apaches, or young gangsters, who in the 1900's, were coming from their headquarters in Belleville to the dance halls called musettes rue de Lappe.
These apaches are the characters of the movie Casque d'Or (the Golden Helmet), directed by Jacques Becker, with Manda the carpenter (Serge Reggiani) and the member of a criminal syndicate led by Fèlix Leca (Claude Dauphin).
44, rue des Cascades is one of the shot locations, as this is where Leca is living; This is where the blond and beautiful Marie, called the Golden Helmet (Simone Signoret) comes to seek help from Leca and arrange her lover Manda's escape from prison.

The movie is ending with the music of the song Le Temps des Cerises (The time of Cherries). This song is also strongly associated with the Paris Commune and it is not surprising that it is the name of the libertarian cultural space, located to the near 42 ter, rue des Cascades. Quite a symbol of the community spirit which has always made its mark on the district. The goal of this association, created by Lucio Artabia is to support young artists outside the usual commercial channels.

Belleville aqueduct - Manholes Saint-Martin and du Messier

Manhole des Messiers

After the curve in the street, at Nr 42, we will find the Saint-Martin manhole, at the top of rue de Savies. Since the 12th century, the Belleville's springs were also used by the religious of the Saint-Martin-des-Champs abbey and by the Templar all located in the same area. The spring water was flowing out rue de Savies on a land belonging to the Saint-Martin-des-Champs abbey, then drained and conducted to the Saint-Martin manhole from which a special pipe was bringing water to the Knights Templar.

A little bit further at nr 17, rue des Cascades, the Messiers manhole is still visible in a yard beneath the street.

Let's now continue up to rue de Ménilmontant, that we take on the left, then we turn on the right in rue Boyer.

  • Former manhole and fountain belonging to the religious of Saint-Martin-des-Champs Abbey,
    42 rue des Cascades
    Atget – 1901

Rue Boyer

Since 2006, la Bellevilloise is a large space with cafes and terraces dedicated to concerts, events, markets (books, producers), fairs (like the grand salon de l'art abordable - Affordable Art Fair).

Initially it was a worker co-operative funded in 1877 by mechanics. Their motto is sounding today quite modern: “From the producer to the consumer”. Besides the selling of commodities at a reduced price (grocery, meat, coal, hardware), the cooperative was offering social and cultural activities; there was a café, a library, a solidarity fund, a popular university …

In 1892, the creation of a bakery at 23, rue Boyer was the starting point of its implementation in the street. Starting 1897, it bought all the plots between Nr 19 and 25 of the street, opened a deli, a café at Nr 19. In 1910, the cooperative built the buildings that we see today between Nrs 19 and 21: the House of People. Its success was big and it was backed by almost ten thousand members in 1914.

To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, la Bellevilloise built the red brick building at n° 25, which shows their membership to the communist party in 1924 with the motto Science and Work and the hammer and sickle on the entablature. Then, with the crisis in 1930s, it started to collapse. Each building was sold and hosting various activities like a factory of bags and satchels, a school of dance, a pension fund … until 2000 when it was pried out of the hands of real estate agents to become this trendy and informal space.

Wine merchants
21, rue Boyer 19, rue Boyer Atget – 1910/1912
(MoMA) (BnF)

These great photos by Atget showing two wine merchants rue Boyer make me think to the following lines of the book the Belly of Paris (Le Ventre de Paris) written by Emile Zola:

“Through the clear glass windows you could see the interior, which was decorated with festoons of foliage, vine branches, and grapes, painted on a soft green ground … The counter or “bar” on the right looked especially rich, and glittered like polished silver. Its zinc-work, hanging with a broad bulging border over the sub-structure of white and red marble, edged it with a rippling sheet of metal as if it were some high altar laden with embroidery. At one end, over a gas stove, stood porcelain pots, decorated with circles of brass, and containing punch and hot wine. At the other extremity was a tall and richly sculptured marble fountain, from which a fine stream of water, so steady and continuous that it looked as though it were motionless, flowed into a basin. In the centre, edged on three sides by the sloping zinc surface of the counter, was a second basin for rinsing and cooling purposes, where quart bottles of draught wine, partially empty, reared their greenish necks. Then on the counter, to the right and left of this central basin, were batches of glasses symmetrically arranged: little glasses for brandy, thick tumblers for draught wine, cup glasses for brandied fruits, glasses for absinthe, glass mugs for beer, and tall goblets, all turned upside down and  reflecting the glitter of the counter.  “
(Translation : Ernest Alfred Vizetelly

Villa de l'Ermitage

Let's come back, then cross rue de Ménilmontant and take the opposite street, la rue de l'Ermitage. At the nr 14-16, let's take on our right Villa de l'Ermitage, then Cité Leroy.

Villa de l'Ermitage is a charming lane between 14-16, rue de l'Ermitage and 313, rue des Pyrénées where it joins with Cité Leroy. With the grass growing on the pavement, the small gardens, the colourful shutters, we feel like strolling in a country village.


Cité Leroy

Cite Leroy almost disappeared in 1993 to be replaced by a large complex of about one hundred and thirty apartments. However, thanks to the mobilization of the inhabitants who approached Paris and 20th district City Halls, the housing project was discontinued.

Let's come back rue des Pyrénées, and on the left let's walk to the pretty place du Guignier, then rue du Guignier on the right, and after rue des Rigoles on the right. Let's turn left in rue Pixérécourt, and on the right passage de la Duée. This passage used to be a narrow street, one of the latest and narrowest former paths in Paris. Since a renovation project in 2000, the 80 cm (31 in) narrow lane lost as much charm than it won several meters width.

We now turn left in rue de la Duée. Between 1900 and 1908, the headquarters of the Human Regeneration League were located at Nr 27. The league aimed to convert the working class to birth control to achieve a better economical condition and was providing access to contraception through public conferences and brochures. After its dissolution in 1908, it was replaced by an other group (Génération consciente) until 1920 when a law forbade any propaganda around contraception.

Now let's cross rue Pelleport and go to rue du Borrégo. The shop located at the nr 18 is supplying products from local producers less than 200 kilometers from Paris. This reminds quite well the motto of Bellevilloise, more than one hundred years ago. “From the producer to the consumer.” Exactly the same one of the shop: “Local supply, low price for the consumer, solidarity to producers.”

At n° 33, villa du Borrégo, we can see pretty and quiet houses. A little bit further, Villa Amélie has some charm too. We now arrive rue Haxo that we take on the left.

  • Place du Guignier

  • Villa du Borrégo

  • Villa Amélie

Rue Haxo - Villa of the hostages

Villa of the Hostages
may, 1871
rue Haxo
Atget – 1901

During the bloody week, marking the defeat of the Paris Commune May 29, 1871, many violent street-fighting opposed the Communards and the government troops. Villa of the hostages (Villa des Otages) has remembered one of these last days of the insurrection. On Friday, May 26, fifty prisoners, mainly priests and gendarmes were taken from La Roquette prison to 85, rue Haxo, to a Commune command post near the Walls surrounding Paris, where they were all killed.

Later in 1872, the Jesuits bought the land between 83, rue Haxo and 55, rue du Borrégo in order to recall the event, a little bit forgotten today. The church of Notre-Dame-des-Otages (Our Lady of the Hostages) was built later between 1936 and 1938. In a yard behind the church, recalling the massacre, there is a memorial laying above a fragment of the wall against which the hostages were killed and a door from La Roquette prison where three Jesuits were locked up.

At 85, rue Haxo, nothing remains from the Villa of the Hostages, but the name of the passage where at the end we can still see the wall against the hostages were fired.

  • Villa of the Hostages
    where the massacre took place, May 8, 1871
    rue Haxo
    Atget – 1901
    (Musée Carnavalet)

Rue Paul de Kock

Let's now walk rue Haxo up to Passage Montenegro on the left. Arrived rue de Romainville, lets' stroll in the streets Emile Desvaux and Paul de Kock.

We will then take back rue de Romainville and we will end at the metro station Télégraphe in front of the Belleville cemetery. The Hostages of street Haxo were buried in this cemetery within a monument. A memorial recalls also the Paris Commune.

Located on the second highest hill of Paris after Montmartre, the metro station is very deep. Its name, Télégraphe recalls that Claude Chappe experimented here his invention, the optical telegraph, which brought Parisians with the news of the victories in Fleurus and Jemmapes on 1792.

rue des Cascades (Pierre Gayacan)

Lastly, I would like to end with some street-art works that I could enjoy during my last stroll in Belleville. I know, this is a theme quite far from Atget ! I recognize … but it seems difficult for me not to mention them, especially since Belleville offers many street art spots. If interested, there are many street art walking tours that you can join …

  • Ender - Rue des Cascades

  • Ender - Rue des Cascades

  • Fred le Chevalier
    rue des Solitaires

  • Fred le Chevalier
    Villa de l'Ermitage

  • Fred le Chevalier
    Villa de l'Ermitage

  • Rue Boyer - La Bellevilloise
    Jean Jaures - Morège

  • Rue des Cascades

© Copyright Year 2017 - Martine Combes author for text and photos of today Paris