Maps, Saint Germain des Près and the Eiffel Tower

Here The Boy Became King, Kinda Sorta

8 Rue des Grand Augustins 75006 Paris

Just around the corner from the famous restaurant Lapérouse coyly sits another fine dining establishment I’ll probably never have a 6 course meal at, Le Relais de Louis XIII.

If you look on the wall there is an inscription stating “Here the young Louis XIII was declared king, one hour after the death of his father King Henry IV”.

While I respect the hustle, me thinks this cleverly named restaurant is capitalizing a bit on the location’s history to sell their 20E desserts.

Despite the building’s old appearance, this elegantly stenciled testament to history is a bit vague on the HERE part.

17th century map showing the Convent

Instead, HERE was actually the Grands Augustins Convent (destroyed during the French Revolution) and it was HERE that 8 year old Louis XIII- who suffered from crohn’s disease, shitty teeth, and an embarrassing studder; was given the horrible news that his “Papa” (King Henry IV insisted his children call him by this rather than the more appropriate Monsieur, just another reason why he’s my favorite King) was murdered by the religious fanatic Ravaillac on May 14, 1610.

Which went as followed (by my interpretation)
“Hey kid, eh, I got good news and bad news. Well your old man kicked the bucket in a violently painful death BUT on the bright side, you are now King! Cheerz! “

While he wouldn’t REALLY wear the crown for another 7 years thanks to Mommy Dearest, the ambitious Marie de Medici, he did last an impressive 33 years as K.O.F.
Unfortunately, Louis didn’t make much of a name for himself in comparison to the reigns of his father and his future sun, I mean SON, King Louis XIV.

Maps, Saint Germain des Près and the Eiffel Tower

The Theft of the Mona Lisa : Part One

Whether you agree that she is smiling or not, there is certainly no argument that The Mona Lisa (AKA La Joconde if vous parlez Francais or La Gioconda if.. ahh, YOU-A SPEEKIE ITALIANO) is one of, if not the number one, most recognized piece of art in the world.

From her Renaissance Mastermind, Leonardo da Vinci- to her insurance value- 820 million dollars!! to her background support in Jay Z and Beyoncé’s Louvre themed music video, (because nothing says priceless Renaissance masterpiece like “poppin’, I’m poppin’, my bitches all poppin’!”) her face is as well known as Jesus Christ and Donald Trump. But have you ever wondered WHY?

If we are being honest, there isn’t anything SUPER remarkable about this painting and unless you’re into the no eyebrows look, Mona probably isn’t giving anyone a chubby. The colors don’t catch your eye like a Gustav Klimt and there isn’t much to analyse in the portrait itself like a trippy Salvador Dali. The question of “is she smiling or not?” certainly brings attention, but what else is there behind this painting? Well I’ve got answers! But first, a little background..

What is it about this painting?

There are a few discrepancies surrounding Mona’s background, but most experts agree she was painted by Leonardo Dicaprio in early 16th century Florence for Francesco del Giocondo and the portrait is of his wife Lisa. (Mona is an old school Italian way of saying Madame). Some controversy comes from the fact that no one is 100 percent certain that the picture we know as the Mona Lisa at the Louvre is the same one that Leonardo is attributed to having done in a biography written 30 some years after his death.

Leonardo DiCaprio

The Louvre released a statement in 2005 explaining, “Leonardo da Vinci was painting in 1503 the portrait of a Florentine lady by the name of Lisa del Giocondo. About this we are now certain. Unfortunately, we cannot be absolutely certain that this portrait of Lisa del Giocondo is the painting of the Louvre.” However, most experts agree this is her.

Moving along, for reasons unknown Mona was never given to her namesake and remained with Leonardo until his death in 1519, before being bequeathed to his assistant Salai. Despite his Italian Stallion heritage, Leonardo was tight with France’s King Francois I, (I imagine they were Renaissance drinking buddies) and Mona wound up in his possession in the early 1520’s.

Leonardo da Vinci on his deathbed, at Cloux in 1519, with Francois I and members of the royal household in attendance. Engraving by James Scott (c. 1809-c. 1889) after William Fisk (1796-1872)

She stayed in the French royal art collection a few hundred years and moved around to various castles before she came to the Louvre after the French Revolution in 1793. There she remained, admired but relatively unknown, until 10AM Monday August 22, 1911 when a Louvre employee happened to notice a vacant spot on the wall of the Salon Carré at the Louvre. He cried out, “Someone has stolen La Jaconde!”

Wondering what happened? Stay turned for the answer, next time, on Paris History of our Streets! (Or just look it up on google you god damn killjoy) And if you’re wondering what kind of amateur professional historian I am to mix up Leonardo DiCaprio with Leonardo da Vinci HAHA JOKES ON YOU! Just making sure you are paying attention…

Maps, Saint Germain des Près and the Eiffel Tower

The First Photographs of the Paris Catacombs

Place Denfert-Rochereau Paris 75014

We all know and recognize the famous photographers of a picturesque old Paris like Robert Doisneau and Henri Cartier-Bresson, but have you heard of Felix Nadar? He was the pioneer of adventure photography in the mid 19th century and the first to capture the city from above in a balloon as well as underground in the 200 miles of tunnels that make up the Paris Catacombs.

Selfie of Nadar in his “office” 1861. Notice the glass bottles of chemicals at his feet

It is estimated that 6 million bodies are stacked in these former limestone quarries, (a history in itself which I’ll leave for another day) and tours have been given to curiously morbid visitors since 1810 when Louis Etienne Héricart de Thury, who was the director of the Paris Mine Inspection Service, had the idea to turn the disorganized piles of bones into artistic and aesthetically pleasing (look honey, its a heart made of human skulls!) shrines to the dead. The tunnels are illuminated by electricity today, but you can still see traces on the ceiling from when visitors were guided by torches.

“HAULT! Here is the empire of Death!” Notice the smoke trail above?

Nadar, who opened his photography studio in 1855, began by taking portraits of the Parisian elite like Victor Hugo and Charles Baudelaire, but soon became attracted to more ambitious shots after he invented a new method where he could create copies of his photos, unlike the Daguerreotype predecessor. He began taking pictures underground in the catacombs around 1861 and because there was no light, he faced his first challenge of creating it artificially using an early battery. Named after their German creator, Bunsen batteries had not yet been used below ground and Nadar needed to adapt to their bulkiness by attaching them to leads which could be run from the city down to the tunnels below.

A stroll in the Paris sewers

Revolutionizing this process, as well as his fearless use of equipment and chemicals in these narrow underground tunnels was a dangerous venture that seemed to thrill the ballsy young photographer. After much trial and error, (his assistants impatiently quipped that they would die down there before they could successfully get photos) he was finally able to successfully capture images of the ossuary; becoming the first to photograph some of the oldest human remains in existence.

It’s interesting to note how it wasn’t just about the photos, but the experience he wanted to share in visiting such a remarkably significant place. He wrote in his memoirs “the fragment that your foot just bumped into, this debris without a name, is perhaps one of your grandfathers.” Because the picture exposure was as long as 18 minutes, he used mannequins dressed as catacomb workers to give people an idea of what it was like to visit these tunnels and a sense of their limited space.

Can you spot the mannequin?

Thanks to his efforts, the photos he took and then presented at the 1862 International Exhibition in London would be a hit; creating a boom in the popularity of the catacombs, which still exists today as one of the most popular Paris attractions (with a notoriously long queue!).

If you haven’t seen them yet, the catacombs are a unique way to see centuries of Paris history amongst the remains of those who once lived it. And if you are worried it might be too gruesome, this tourist’s review in 1810 sums it up. “I’ve seen death, it is right in front of my eyes, but my stomach is grumbling, and I’d much rather eat”.

Maps, Saint Germain des Près and the Eiffel Tower

Here Fell… Jacques Guierre

Odeon Theater, Paris 75006

This memorial plaque marks the spot where Jacques Guierre was shot. It reads “on August 25th, 1944 here fell Jacques Guierre, 20 years old and a student. FFI* who died for France.” In charge of keeping watch over the area of the nearby Luxembourg Gardens, Jacques was shot by a rooftop sniper at 13h40 as he was leaving a nearby café where he had just ate lunch.

In the book “Ici est Tombé” we meet Anne Marie Beau, who met Jacques through her best friend Odette, his sister. She describes how she never had a romantic relationship with him, but its very obvious she loved him. Anne Marie was 18 in the spring of 1944 and looking back at her letters to her parents from that time, they all revolved around Jacques and the time they spent together discussing literature, art, and going to the theater.

She remarks how she doesn’t believe they ever spoke of the German occupation or fear of bombing. Jacques lived with his uncle in a tiny apartment on the rue Lhomond in the 5th and he wasn’t elegant or interested in typical beauty. She says he often wore his Uncle or brother’s drabby hand me downs. He was an artist, and she fondly recalls him showing her his watercolors. They lost contact after Easter and she later discovered he was in love with another young lady so she didn’t reach out to him. She learned of his death from his sister Odette and she remembers crying a lot after. She finds it fitting that he loved the theater, and he died in front of one.

Anne Marie Beau and her memories of Jacques

Taken from “Ici est Tombé : Paroles sur la Liberation de Paris“ Philippe Castetbon, 2004

*FFI stood for Forces françaises de l’intérieur and was the official name given to French Resistance fighters.

Maps, Saint Germain des Près and the Eiffel Tower

The Revolutionary Lady Assassin

Rue de l’Ecole de Médecine Paris 75006

Have you ever heard of Charlotte Corday- the murderess affectionately named The Angel of Assassination?

During the Reign of Terror, (the time during the French revolution when things were getting a little bananas) the radical, left wing Jacobin journalist Jean Paul Marat was using his popular newspaper L’Ami du Peuple (Friend of the People) to attack and denounce influential conservative leaders- ultimately sending anyone whose name appeared in his highly influential paper to their death with the flick of his quil.

Marat Lucien-Étienne Mélingue, 1879

Charlotte, a young woman of 26 influenced by Girondin ideas and wanting to prevent an all out civil war, decided to take matters into her own hands and end the massacre of so many caused by the words of Marat. As they say, snitches get stitches. Or in this case, shanked by a kitchen knife while in the bath. Acting alone, she made her way into Paris from the Normandy region, bought herself a dagger, (check out the link below to see where this was) and went to see Marat himself at his residence at 30 rue des Cordeliers (present day 18 rue de l’Ecole de Médecine)

Comparison to the current view where Marat was assasinated. His building was destroyed in 1876. It is a common misconception that his apartment is the one with the turet on the corner. Photos courtesy of

on July 13, 1793. Claiming to have insider information on an attack being led by Girondists, she was refused a few times but like any persistent AF girl with a plan, she continued to ask for entry until she got in. Now Marat had some unknown knarly debilitating skin disease and was pretty much confined to his bathtub, which was where he was seated with a glass of White Zin when Charlotte plunged her 5 inch dagger into his carotid artery, killing him nearly instantly.

“L’assassinat de Marat” The Assasination of Marat. Painted in 1880 by Jean-Joseph Weert

He was able to yell out before he died, thus attracting a crowd of neighbours and friends of Marat to seize Charlotte and take her straight to prison.

Charlotte was prepared to take one for the Girondin Team and even had a letter neatly prepared explaining why she did what she did. She went calmly to the guillotine on the 17th of July and before she was executed boldly proclaimed “I killed one man to save 100,000.” Badass. Her last request was to be painted.

Charlotte painted by Jean-Jacques Hauer before she was executed

Charlotte’s courageous action radically changed the perceptions of women’s roles at that time when they had no voice to really make a difference. No one could believe that she had acted alone and of her own free will. Insisting a strong male lover had convinced her delicate and impressionable female mind to commit the shocking crime, her body was even examined for evidence she was not a virgin.

To their surprise; she was.

Read the post below to find out Charlotte purchased her dagger.