Chinatown in Temple district


This stroll between the Musée des Arts et Métiers and the northern part of Le Marais district encompasses the original Chinatown.
Usually, many people refer to the 13th district of Paris when speaking of Paris Chinatown. However, the influence of the Little Asia of the 13th district is essentially Indochinese, even though the refugees who arrived in Paris in the late 1970s from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were ethnic-Chinese for a large part. In the 3rd district, the community is clearly Chinese, essentially from Wenzhou, a southern province of Shanghai.
They came to France during World War I, to replace the men who left the yards and factories for the front. The French Ministry of Labour sent a commission to China in order to recruit voluntary civil workers. When the war ended, some workers went back to China, others stayed in France. They worked on the reconstruction of railways and roads. Or as related in the novel "The Great Swindle" by Pierre Lemaitre, they were hired to clean the battlefields or in the military cemeteries to bury the bodies of soldiers. About one thousand Chinese were in France in 1929. They settled in the northern part of Le Marais only at the end of World War II, and took over flats and Leather Goods activities left by the large number of deported Jews.
Even though the Chinese wholesalers moved massively to Aubervilliers (a north-eastern suburb of Paris) these last years, there are still many Chinese shops and restaurants in the district around rue du Temple, rue au Maire, rue Volta and rue des Gravilliers.

The last time I went there, it was just after the Chinese New Year. Many red lanterns were hanging everywhere in the streets, contrasting with the classical buildings of the 17th and 18th centuries.


I suggest you take metro line 11 and stop at the Arts et Métiers station, beautifully redesigned in 1994 by François Schuiten, a Belgian comic book artist, best known for Les Cités Obscures.

We will pass by the Musée des Arts et Métiers, the churches of Saint-Martin des Champs and Saint-Nicolas des Champs, we will walk through the streets of the Chinese Quarter, then through the charming Passage de l'Ancre and we will finish by the Marché des Enfants-Rouges before we return to our starting point.

Link to itinerary

Arts et Métiers metro station

I suggest you take metro line 11 and stop at Arts et Métiers.  The station was designed in 1994 by François Schuiten, a Belgian comic artist, known for the graphic novel Cities of the Fantastic.

Stepping out of the train, you immediately embark on Jules Verne's Nautilus. With its copper walls, the subway transforms into a submarine operated by the huge cogs on the ceiling. Along the platform, the portholes open onto some of the collections presented above in the Musée des Arts et Métiers (Museum of Arts and Crafts). It is a shame that it is not sufficiently known, as it presents a vast array of machines invented through the centuries.

Jules Vernes in his own way was quite an inventor himself. As a matter of fact, that is his main focus in his novel, Paris in the twentieth century (Paris au XXème siècle). He imagined  Paris in 1960, thus a hundred years ahead of his time when he wrote it. In a stunning and quite visionary way, he painted a highly technological world at the service of money where culture became marginal, if not an exception. He described a machine that could give immediate result of complex depreciation and interest calculations with all possible rates simply by pressing keys on a keyboard. So close to a computer! Yet so far from machines already known at his time, like the ones invented by Pascal, Perrault and Thomas de Colmar, that all can be seen in the interesting Musée des Arts et Métiers.

Musée Arts et Métiers

Going out of the metro station, let’s go southwest towards rue Réaumur and turn right onto rue Réaumur where the museum is located.  (Map directions)

In the courtyard of the museum, the first bronze model of the Statue of Liberty is welcoming the visitors. Being the achievement of the combined talents of the sculptor Bartholdi and the engineer Eiffel, it is indeed a fine symbol for this museum of Arts and Technology.
The old church of Saint-Martin des Champs, built in the middle of the 11th century, is the remains of the former priory suppressed during the French Revolution in 1789 and transformed into the Conservatory of Arts and Crafts in 1794. Part of the museum, the medieval church displays the Foucault's pendulum along with Ader's and Blériot's airplanes, creating an amazing contrast.

Church Saint-Nicolas des Champs

Let’s carry on straight ahead and turn left onto rue Saint-Martin to see an other church, Saint-Nicolas des Champs.

During the Middle Ages, many churches were under the patronage of Nicolas, protector of sailors and boatmen.
At the beginning of the 12th century, Saint-Nicolas des Champs was a chapel, located in the country outside the walls of Paris, belonging to the Abbey of Saint-Martin.
The edifice was expanded and in 1420 completely rebuilt. However, at the turn of the 16th century, the church was not big enough for the ever growing population. In 1576, the proportions of the church were considerably enlarged with new constructions. 
The church that we see today is one of the longest in Paris and we are actually more impressed by its size itself than by its very simple architecture. This simplicity may come from the fact that the church was hidden by high surrounding houses and basically only the gate was exposed on the southern side, rue Cunin Gridaine.

This small elegant gate on the southern side is a copy of a gate of the Royal Hotel des Tournelles, demolished after King Henri II died there in 1559 from the wounds he received in a joust.

The last time I entered into the church, it was Valentine's Day and it was around noon. I was immediately stunned by the religious fervor of the people gathered there for the daily mass. The clear voice of the priest singing was rising along the high arches of the church. Outside, lovers were celebrating Valentine's Day. Inside, the priest was celebrating the brothers Cyril and Methodious, the Apostles to the Slavs. What a contrast!

When comparing with the photo taken by Atget ca 1898 showing the side of the church at the corner of the streets of Saint-Martin and Cunin Gridaine, there are few changes visible;  a new clock, barely visible, the walls of the mass grave have been removed and replaced by a fence.

After strolling along rue Cunin Gridaine, where I saw very impressive ravens, let's cross rue de Turbigo and go onto rue au Maire.

  • Gate
    Church of Saint-Nicolas des Champs

  • Gate - Church of Saint-Nicolas des Champs
    Atget – 1901 /1902

  • Saint-Nicolas des Champs
    Atget – 1898 / 1900

Rue au Maire

We are now entering into the Chinese district, centered around the streets au Maire, des Gravilliers, Chapon and Volta. The change of scenery in this part of le Marais is guaranteed! The classical buildings tell us that we are still in the northern part of le Marais, yet they are all lined up with Chinese shops. Most of them are wholesalers of leather bags, imitation jewelry, and clothes together with food stores and restaurants.
I was surprised to see that the quaint clothes store photographed by Atget was neither replaced by a Chinese clothes wholesaler nor by a Chinese mini-market, but just an ordinary cheap supermarket. Only the headless mannequins and the "nombreuses attractions" (numerous attractions) are all gone, leaving a blank wall, all grey and dirty.

  • Shop, 61 rue au Maire

Rue Volta

We are now walking past rue Volta where can be seen a half-timbered house looking so medieval it was long thought to be the oldest in Paris. In fact, the oldest house in Paris is the house of Nicolas Flamel, built in 1407 located nearby rue de Montmorency.  (Medieval Paris)


Rue des Vertus / Cour de Rome

Cour de Rome
Rue des Vertus
Atget - 1901

If possible, enter into Cour de Rome (private lane) at no 7 of rue au Maire to arrive rue des Gravilliers. Otherwise, turn right onto rue des Vertus and right onto rue des Gravilliers.

Rue des Vertus actually means Street of Virtues. Without a confirmed origin of the street name, there can be no certainty that it was related to prostitution. In any case, in a book about Paris, I have found these lines potentially confirming that yes indeed prostitution took  place in all the area:

Dans la rue des Gravilliers
Elles y sont par milliers,
Dans la rue Pastourelle
Autant de putains que de maquerelles ;
Dans la rue des Vertus
Autant de coupeaux que de cocus

That I would translate as follows ...

In the street of Gravilliers
Thousands of hookers here to play,
In the street of Pastourelle
As many whores as brothels
In the street of Vertus
Plenty of cuckolded spouses

Rue des Gravilliers

Let's take the shortcut on n°19, rue des Gravilliers leading to rue Chapon.
Created in 2015 by the artist unSolub, a giant wall fresco ranging from white to deep black covers all the walls and the ceiling. It is as if entering into an incredible scenery of a comic strip. Flying machines inspired by Gustav Mesmer's universe swoop down on impossible staircases, among vegetation and huge cogs; a door opens if you cut round the dotted lines.
Towards the end of the path way, close to rue Chapon, former mechanical workshops have been replaced by art galleries which initiated the fresco.

Rue Chapon

At nr 13, we can see on Atget’s photograph that the 17th century old mansion was occupied by several craftsmen like an engraver, a photographer and a jeweler. Today free of the large commercial signs, the porch shows the remaining smiling faun.  

With its ornate balcony, its  wrought iron banisters and its arched side wings, the courtyard is very elegant too.

  • Front door
    13, rue Chapon
    Atget – 1902

At nr 22, a pair of sphinxes are guarding the entrance of the mansion. Their Egyptian aspect is in contrast with the red Chinese lantern; though it should not be taken as a proof of the theory claiming that the Chinese civilization would come from Ancient Egypt! …

We turn right onto rue Beaubourg and left onto rue des Gravilliers.   

On rue Beaubourg, I walked by a funny car, it was Marius’, the on-site knife sharpener. By appointment, he was driving his black London taxi to offer on-site sharpening services: for all types of knives, sewing and hair cutting scissors. His list of clients included famous chefs like Thierry Marx and Cyril Lignac, to sharpen their kitchen knives, for very reasonable fees: 3 euros the knife and 5 euros the scissors.
(Update Jan 2022: I have recently noticed on his Facebook page that Marius is now living in the country and he traded his beautiful cab for a horse-drawn wagon).

  • Knife-sharpener
    Atget – 1899

rue des Gravilliers

The small mansion, Hôtel d'Estrées, at nr 70, rue des Gravilliers has also quite an elegant courtyard.

It is just located in front of an other d'Estrées mansion built by the grandfather of Gabrielle d'Estrées – the mistress of King Henry IV of France. At the back of the pretty courtyard, you will find the entrance of Derrière (the behind ...), a trendy, quite a good restaurant with a funny cosy decor as they have some sense of humour.

We turn now on our left onto rue de Turbigo up to nr 30 where we enter into the charming passage de l’Ancre.  

  • Mansion
    70, rue des Gravilliers

Passage de l'Ancre

The passage de l'Ancre is aligned with the passage de Bourg l'Abbé across boulevard de Sébastopol (Covered Passages). But, this one is an open-air passage and older since created in 1792.  Although it has very few stores, it does not lack charm.
Until January 2021, there was Pep's, the last umbrella manufacturer and repairer in Paris.
There is still a shop that I like very much, La Mécanique du Pull, manufacturer of eco responsible sweaters. This is really beautiful work that lasts. The creator is a passionate person. He comes from a family tradition in knitting for three generations. His grandfather had his weaving machines in the heart of Paris, passage Vendôme.

Going out of the Passage, we arrive rue Saint-Martin that we cross to go onto rue Chapon. Then turn right into rue Beaubourg. There are plenty of Chinese restaurants for a lunch break providing excellent value for money and serving home-made rice noodles and rolls, such as Royal China, rue Beaubourg.

  • Passage de l’Ancre
    223, rue Saint-Martin
    Atget – 1908
    (Bibliothèque historique
    de la Ville de Paris)

Rue Beaubourg

In the past, there was a Carmelite convent located between nr 15-25 rue Chapon, nr 16-28 rue de Montmorency and 62-64 rue Beaubourg. During the French Revolution the convent was closed and demolished in 1796. Later, it was replaced by several buildings and Theatre Doyen theatre that were photographed by Atget before their demolition in 1914 and their replacement into a school and an office building.

In 1851, several streets were merged resulting in the present rue Beaubourg. One of them, rue Transnonain was between rue au Maire and rue Michel le Comte.

No sign today reminds us the violent repression against a popular uprising which occurred here on April 14th, 1834. The day before, several riots ensued in reaction of several measures decided by King Louis-Philippe's government to restrain freedom of expression and ban political associations. During the night of 13th to 14th, several barricades formed in all the district around rue Transnonain were rapidly suppressed by the soldiers. As the fight seemed over, a shot was fired from the house at the corner of rue de Montmorency. This was followed by a brutal slaughter under the orders of General Bugeaud who subsequently got the surname of the Butcher of rue Transnonain; image rather far from the famous nursery song having to do with Bugeaud's cap, that led children to believe in a friendly General... The soldiers entered the building shooting all the inhabitants, men, women and children. Of the lithograph made by Daumier memorializing the horrible event , Baudelaire wrote: Under this cold mansard, only silence and death reign.

Let’s turn left onto rue de Montmorency.

  • Rue Beaubourg – Former Theatre Doyen and
    the house where the massacre occurred
    rue Transnonain on April 14th, 1834
    62 , rue Beaubourg (since 1851)
    Atget - 1901

Rue de Montmorency

This street gets its name from the oldest noble family in France who had a property in the area from the 13th century until 1632, when Henri II de Montmorency was beheaded in Toulouse. His death was decided by Richelieu, chief Minister of King Louis XIII, for having participated in a rebellion against the King together with Gaston d'Orléans, brother of the King. All the properties of de Montmorency were confiscated by Richelieu, including the two statues made by Michelangelo offered to the Constable Anne de Montmorency by King Henri II.  These two statues, the Dying Slave and the Rebel Slave can be seen today in Louvre Museum, after having been owned by Richelieur and further saved by Alexandre Lenoir during the French Revolution (see Hotel de Massa).

Twenty years later, in 1651 the mansion de Montmorency located at Nr 5 got a new owner, Nicolas de Fouquet, famous for his ambition which lost him. His second wife received this house as a dowry and they lived there for a while, among many other properties. In 1653, he became Superintendent of Finances and acquired an enormous wealth. He built the magnificent chateau in Vaux-le-Vicomte and hired France's greatest architect: Louis Le Vau, its greatest interior designer: Charles Le Brun and its greatest garderner: André Le Nôtre, who all worked later on Versailles. After having been invited to a spectacular party given in his honor in Vaux-le-Vicomte, the King Louis XIV was deeply affected and suspected Fouquet of misappropriation of public funds. Fouquet was arrested and thrown into the prison fortress of Pignerol where he died 20 years later.

Strange and funny to know that the mansion owned by Fouquet, rue de Montmorency is now occupied by services of the Ministry of Finance…

Further in the street, we can see a beautiful old shop front.

Now let’s turn right onto rue du Temple, turn left onto rue des Haudriettes and continue onto rue des Quatre-Fils.

  • Hôtel de Montmorency
    5, rue de Montmorency
    Atget - 1900

Rue des Quatre-Fils

From Nr 24 of rue des Quatre-Fils, we can see the back of the Hôtel Guénégaud des Brosses, today Hunt Museum (Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature– entrance 62, rue des Archives). Built by François Mansart, also known as the architect of the château de Maisons-Lafitte, the mansion was later used from the middle of the 19th century by small commercial and industrial companies, as shown by the photograph taken by Atget. It was later acquired by the City of Paris in 1961, restored and transformed into a museum with a rich collection.

  • Mansion
    24, rue des Quatre-Fils
    (Musée Carnavalet)

At the Nr 20 the Hôtel Le Féron, also known as Hôtel de Brabançois was inhabited between 1800 and 1828 by Raymond Romain de Sèze, one of the three defence lawyers of Louis XVI when the king was tried in December, 1792.
He shared this quite overwhelming and risky task with Malesherbes and Tronchet. One may wonder what was missing in the final argument to save the king. One may also wonder if a secret ballot would have been held, how different would have been the results of the death penalty.
After the execution of Louis XVI, de Sèze was arrested and thrown into the prison of La Force before being transferred to another place where he managed to lay low. Under Louis XVIII (brother of Louis XVI) who succeeded to Napoleon, he was made as a peer and a member of the French Academy. When he died in 1828, the famous writer Chateaubriand read the funeral oration.
Malesherbes was less fortunate as he and his family were guillotined in April, 1794, whilst Tronchet managed to hide and lay low until the end of the French Revolution.

During the construction of the new district around la Madeleine, three new streets in 1824 got the name of the three defense lawyers. The smallest one got the name of de Sèze, but still an honor as assigned when he was still in life!

Inside, an elegant staircase can be seen …    

Between nr 16-18, the mansions were partially reduced with the transformation of the street. However, at the Nr 18 we still can see the old hotel de le Rebours behind the modern wall. The mansion at Nr 16 was partially destroyed in the 1930s, however, its impressive porch was kept.

Let’s turn onto rue Charlot.

  • Hôtel de Brabançois – 1747
    Unhabited by de Sèze,
    defense lawyer of king Louis XVI
    20, rue des Quatre-Fils
    Atget – 1901

  • Staircase, Hôtel de Brabençois
    20, rue des Quatre-Fils
    (International Center of Photography)

  • Hôtel de le Rebours
    18, rue des Quatre-Fils
    Atget - 1901

  • Hôtel de Crisenoy
    16, rue des Quatre-Fils

Rue Charlot

Former hôtel Claude Cornuel
7, rue Charlot

Like everywhere in le Marais, the eyes are caught by the many shops and galleries. Since then, we can be distracted and may forget to notice the mansions, especially since some of them are not easily visible from the street, like the one at Nr 7, rue Charlot. Built in 1616, there are still remaining parts from that time.

A little bit further at the nr 8-10, in front of the Armenian Cathedral Sainte-Croix Saint-Jean under renovation, there is another old mansion built in 1611, the hotel de Turmenyes. One of his inhabitants was Maurice Debelleyme, a magistrate quite dedicated to the public order. As a prefect in 1828 he embarked on a series of reforms. One of them was to increase the number of Paris policemen – the sergents de ville and to give them a blue uniform and a bicorne hat. Paris has been grateful for these measures since a street no far away bears his name.

  • Former hôtel de Turmenyes
    8, rue Charlot
    Atget - 1901

Marché des Enfants-Rouges

Marché des Enfants-Rouges
Atget – 1898
(Musée Carnavalet)

Let's now enter into the Market des Enfants-Rouges (Children in red), at nr 35, rue Charlot.
It is the oldest covered market in Paris, and after having been near destruction to become a parking, it was saved and renovated in 2000. It is always a pleasure to stop there either to buy products or to have a nice lunch with Italian or Oriental meals.
This quaint market was created in 1615 and got its name from the hospital founded by the King Francis I and his sister Marguerite de Navarre to take in orphans, dressed in red as a symbol of charity.


Rue de Bretagne

Let's exit from the market onto rue de Bretagne. I love this street where it is so nice to wander with all the tantalizing shops: an interesting bookstore, plenty of (good) food stores, bistros, delicious pastries in a coffee shop with a tiny cute yard at Nr 57, … yummy!

We are here in the Temple district, so dear to my heart. I remember when my great grandfather, a watchmaker, was taking me with him on Thursday morning, as there was no school on Thursdays when I was a child. He was regularly purchasing components in this district traditionally specialized in watch components and silvery. We were going to Vénot, a long shop, where the salesgirls in white coats were opening small drawers. From these, they were removing tiny watch components with tweezers and slipping them in glassine bags. After that, we were going to the Temple public garden that we can see now on our right. We were finding a bench where we were eating a pastry or an ice- cream depending on the season before coming home by taxi.

Today, there are very few shops selling watch and clock components; the jewelry wholesalers are primarily Chinese.

Let’s walk up to rue Réaumur where we will stop at the metro station Arts et Métiers.

Year 2019 - Text and photos: Martine Combes