Monday, 2 May 2016

Paris: République - Temple - Bastille

Place de la République

We have just arrived in Paris for a short break and we thought we'd begin by doing this short walk from the Place de la République, near to where we are staying. It comes from Giles Desmons's Walking Paris. For most of the 19th century this large square was called Place du Chateau-d'Eau, but was renamed when the statue of the virtues of the Republic was installed in the 1880s. Both square and statue seem to have currently acquired strong overtones of political protest. One of the banners on the statue reads "Frontiers kill. Solidarity with the migrants."

We headed west along Boulevard St-Martin, passing a house with lovely tiles on its façade.

A little later came the Théatre de la Porte de St Martin. Desmons tells us that Cyrano de Bergerac was premiered here in 1897. And amazingly it is still playing today!

At the next junction there is the Porte. It is a triumphal arch for Louis XIV built in 1674 on the site of a medieval gate.

We turned left into Rue St-Martin, apparently the joint oldest street in Paris, whatever that means. You would never guess – it looks no different from any other. On the right I noticed a wonderful inscription above a doorway: Property of the Civil Society for the Future of the Proletariat.

We passed the Museum of Arts and Crafts and round the corner found the church of St Martin in the Fields, said to be the first gothic building in Paris. You can see the transition from Norman to gothic as your eye moves from the apse towards the nave.

Now along the Rue au Maire, an old but undistinguished street. At the bottom, in Rue Volta is this lovely half timbered house which is allegedly the oldest in Paris – or maybe an 18th century fake. It certainly looks like the old houses we have seen in Dijon or Rouen.

This whole neighbourhood seemed a bit run down, but I just loved this grafito on a wall in Rue des Vertus. The name is ironic as it was apparently once the haunt of prostitutes.

Soon we reached Rue du Temple and I spotted this interesting gatehouse off to the right in Rue des Archives. According to the nearby plaque, it is the gate of the Hotel of Olivier de Clisson, Constable of France in 1380. The massive box-like Archives building just intrudes from the left.

At the end of this street you arrive at the Square du Temple, where the Knights Templar once had their palace. There fine covered market is Le Carré des Templiers.

We enjoyed a drink in a pavement café nearby and then continued in our route to reach the Rue de Bretagne where I happened to spot this fabulous art deco doorway on an otherwise uninspiring building of 1926.

The last section was uninspiring, but the walk ended on a high at the Place de la Bastille.

This was once the site of the notorious prison, stormed in 14 July 1789. The rather lovely column however does not commemorate the revolution of 1789, but rather that of 1830. The bones of those who died in that short-lived revolution were placed in an ossuary underneath the column, as were the dead of the 1848 revolution. According to our book you can climb the column and get a great view. There seems to be nobody up there however.

The building on the left is the Opéra de la Bastille, completed in 1989. Worth exploring another time. 

Conditions: warm and sunny.

From: Walking Paris by Giles Desmons (New Holland, 1994). References to shops, bars and restaurants may be out of date, but it remains a good guide. There is a 1999 edition.

Distance: 2 miles, but slow going because there are many twists and turns.

Rating: four stars.

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