latin quarter, Maps

The Forgotten Paris River

Rue Berbier du Metz Paris 75013

This area of Paris is one of my favorites because there is loads of history here that is often overlooked by the tourists who don’t venture past the 5th arrondissement. The neighborhood is known as Les Gobelins and is named after the royal tapestry factory that has existed here since the early 17th century when ornate rugs decorated walls as well as floors. I’ll be honest, I’ve done the museum a few times and I found it to be boring and not very big, but they do interesting expositions from time to time. What really interests me here is the buildings and area behind the museum facade, which are normally off limits to the public.

The Manufacture des Gobelins


The Rue Berbier du Metz is also directly behind the Manufacture des Gobelins and is named after the guy formerly in charge of the Mobilier Nationale which also borders the street.
This place is France’s equivalent of your grandpa’s shed, where you toss furniture you can’t bear to part with in the hopes that someday you’ll reupholster Aunt Fanny’s velvet sofa but let’s be honest probably not.

Mobilier National – warehouse for important home furnishings


Prior to 1935, this street was the ruelle des Gobelins (not to be confused with the nearby rue or avenue des Gobelins) and it dates back to the 16th century. It’s wild to compare it on various maps and see how it hasn’t changed shape through the centuries.


When I first moved to Paris eight years ago, I lived nearby and was intrigued to learn this street was one of the stinkiest in Paris since it once had a river flowing down the middle of it that was more septic tank than quaint canal.


The waters of the Bievre attracted unsavory blue collar trades like fabric dyers and tanners (if you aren’t familiar with how leather is made, look it up) who flourished in this area.


Obviously this river STANK and was a cesspool for all kinds of nasty shiz so they basically kicked some dirt over it in 1912 and hid it away beneath the cobblestone lining the street today.
I always wondered how a river could just be buried and I discovered a few old photos that show the process.

I highlighted the Saint Louis Chapel (built in 1723 for the Gobelins Factory, a classified historic monument) for reference.


Today the Bievre is mostly out of sight, out of mind, SURE, but there is a local association that wants to restore the mighty Bievre to its old glory, minus the odors and mutant pizza eating turtles that undoubtedly currently inhabit it.

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