Maps, The Marais

Medieval Graffiti

11 Place des Vosges 75004

Today I’m taking you to the Marais and the picturesque Place des Vosges. The oldest square in Paris, this picturesque park was built in the early 1600’s by my favorite king, Henry IV on the site of an old palace.

The Hotel des Tournelles (in the center towards the left) in 1550 at where Places des Vosges is today

Originally known as the Place Royale, this is where all the big shots of French aristocracy lived and gathered; duels used to be fought in the park and the engagement party of Louis XIII and Anna of Austria was held here. This is also where King Henry II got a fatal woodchip in his eye after a joust gone wrong in 1559.


What is remarkable about the square are the original 36 luxurious residences that surround it, all built around 1610 and constructed with the same brick exteriors (or facades if you want to be fancy). The ground floor is one giant square covered arcade with arched ceilings and if you are lucky, you can come to listen to opera singers belt out acoustically magic arm hair raising tunes in exchange for your pocket change.

Place des Vosges isn’t a regular on most tourists’ bucket lists, but if you are a 3rd or 4th time PahRee visitor, this park is a MUST, preferably during summer when park guards are feeling generous and let you picnic on the grass. (For most Paris parks, grass is meant to be admired, not sat on 🙄)

Place des Vosges is loaded with history. Victor Hugo (author of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Miserables) lived at number 6 from 1832 to 1848; it is now a museum that is worth an hour or two of your time. Madame de Sévigné (if you don’t know about this witty 17th century LEGEND, don’t fret- I’ll be introducing her eventually) was born at number 1, and many other Parisian elite have always called Place des Vosges home.

Victor Hugo’s digs, now a museum

From an architectural and historical point of view, despite the insanely high worth of the homes here, Place des Vosges is slowly destroying itself in the lap of luxury. Because few can afford to live here, many buildings are vacant and not being taken care of. Just like Toy Story’s Woody and Buzz Lightyear, abandoned homes want to be lived in. Without heat, ventilation, and a load of other things that happen behind our walls, these buildings are slowly decaying.

Anyways, to my historical gem! There isn’t much background to give here, but on a stone pillar at number 11, you can find the oldest verified graffiti in Paris. Sure there is probably older graffiti, Paris is over 2,000 years old, but nothing earlier that can be dated or given ownership.

Carved by Nicolas Restif, it simply reads Hit Up Nicolas for a Good Ti… err I mean 1764 NICOLAS. (Not sure how he accomplished this, I can’t write this well with a pen and paper, can’t imagine carving this in stone) Nicolas was a Burgundy born writer and printer who was known to go for late nights to think and clear his head.

Like an 18th century Banksy, Nicolas became known as the Le Griffon (the scratcher or scribbler) because he had a habit of tagging various buildings with his name and the year during his midnight strolls. This is the only one that survives today.

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