latin quarter, Maps

The Medieval Arch Under the Post Office

30 rue du Cardinal Limoine Paris 75005

Going to the Post Office is never a pleasant affair, and is ranked #3 Worst Things To In Paris (after going to the bank and dentist). The hours are always inconvenient, you can expect to wait in a half assed line full of annoyed Parisians murmuring “ça fait chier” (This sucks) and standard postage stamps are nearly a euro each.

However there is a historical exception to this normally unpleasant experience. In the depths of the 2nd underground level beneath this post office, you can view a stone arch that was once imbedded in the medieval fortification wall that encircled Paris 800 years ago. This 12th century stone rampart was erected to defend Paris before King Philippe Auguste took off on his 3rd Jimmy Buffet cruise. I mean religious crusade.

I did this tour two year’s ago when each first Wednesday of the month at 2:30pm, a tour guide from the Paris Historical Society came to the Post Office to take anyone who is interested into the parking garage down to the -2 level.

And there, behind a large metal door and in a small concrete room, sits the 800-year-old stone archway. What is it?! Where did it come from? Why is it here?! What WOULD Jimmy do??

Before the aforementioned wall was built around Paris, in this location there was only the Abbey Saint Victor and a small river called the Bièvre. This river was rerouted to create the Canal of Victorins, which provided an irrigation system to water plants and turn windmills for the residents at the Abbey. King Philippe’s wall was built right over where this river ran, so an archway was created to allow the water to pass through it. As this open archway could comprise the safety of the wall, a metal grill was inserted inside it. After 1356, a ditch was dug around the wall to further secure it against potential invaders and the canal was eliminated.

The Abbay Saint Victor in 1655, engraving by Merian

The ramparts of Philippe August were eventually demolished (kinda, sorta) and the ditch filled in; entombing this archway as Paris became larger and a new, larger fortification wall was built. Fast forward to 1989 when workers discovered the arch while constructing a new (and hideously modern) building at this location. A historic preservation company was assigned to survey the site (if I could go back to school for anything this would be it) and see what other goodies were hidden under the dirt. They found 400-year-old shoes, currency, and even plaster remains from an old sculpture shop that was located at this corner in the 19th century.

As for the archway; it was dismantled and each stone was labeled, then reconstructed Tetris style in this room in May 1991, where you can see it today; two levels below the street and not far from its original location at the wall of Philippe Auguste.

Plaque outside the post office “Wall of KIng Philipe Auguste. Here was the Entry Saint Victor built in the 13th century, rebuilt in 1568, and demolished in 1684”

There are several other locations in Paris where you can still see traces of this 800 year old wall I’ll eventually share. For now, I’ll leave you with the inspirational speech King Phillipe allegedly gave to his team of royal wall builders. “Build me something tall and strong.Make it long remain, before I go away. It’s only half past the twelfth century, but I don’t care- it’s crusade time somewhere.”

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