Maps, The Marais

The Last Vestige of the Force Prison

24 rue Pavée Paris 75004

I think we can all safely say that finding one’s self in a medieval prison would not be ideal (unless you were one of the 7 lucky released inhabitants of the Bastille prison on the 14th of July 1789) but the Force prison was truly the exception for its level of disease and decay. The 18th century prison was described by Victor Hugo as being so rotted that “the ceilings had to be covered in wood so that falling stones would not kill prisoners in their beds” (Les Miserables). Charles Dickens depicted the Force as “a gloomy prison, dark and filthy, and with a horrible smell” (A Tale of Two Cities).

Originally a 16th century palace King Louis IX’s brother, the building would be converted to become a model prison where criminals went to be rehabilitated, (by the order of Louis XVI himself in 1780). The prison was separated in two parts; The Petite Force for women, and the Grand Force for men.

However, when the Revolution came along in 1789, the prison quickly became overpopulated and conditions went downhill faster than a fart in the wind. In early September 1792; 408 prisoners were examined for crimes against France. About 169 of them would be executed, including the savagely murdered Princess of Lamballe- BFF of Marie Antoinette, which you can read about in the attached post below if you have the stomach for it.

The Force prison was destroyed in 1845, and only a single wall of the Petite Force remains, just next to the History of Paris library (Hotel Lamoignon).

The prison itself occupied the space that Is today between Rue du Roi Sicile, Rue Pavée, and Rue Malheur (see the blue line in the photo, this street did not exist at the time of the prison).

image from

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.

latin quarter, Maps

Royal Mistress Un-Finishing School

16 rue Tournefort Paris 75005

You know what I freaking love about Paris history? How limitless it is. Recently I discovered I live in the same area where a teen pre-royal mistress spent a few years in boarding school.

I’ve been in the 5th arrondissement 6 out of my 8 years here and I’m still discovering new historically significant locations like this one at 16 Rue Tournefort, a street that I use almost daily. Running laterally to the Rue Mouffetard, this quiet rue is Quaint AF with its cobblestone pavement and 16th/17th century buildings. But what is behind these doors is even better..

A secret garden oasis that dates back to the 17th century.

Rue Tournefort, not a modern building in site!

See the maps below to compare how little this area has changed in 300 years. 

La communauté des Filles de Sainte-Aure was founded by a priest in 1637 to “rehabilitate promiscuous young girls by offering them an education and putting them on a righteous path to God”. They would move to this hotel particulier in 1707 where the program to put working girls on the “straight and narrow” would grow until they were replaced with more respectable young ladies. 

This whole area encompassing the current Rue Tournefort/Rue Amyot/Rue Lhomond/Rue Pot de Fer in the 5th arrondissement would eventually welcome a few different convents dedicated to the upbringing of young society ladies. 

If you can get inside the door, you’ll see a beautiful wood beamed entry

However if its true that Good Pious Girls go to Heaven, you could say that Bad Girls go Everywhere Else. Even into the beds of Kings!
Not every Sainte Aure pupil would graduate with honors; a certain Jeanne Bécu would be expelled in 1758 after spending nine years here. Eventually she would go on to become the mistress of King Louis XV and later be known as Madame du Barry.

Madame du Barry in 1782, painted by Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun
Madame du Barry portrayed by Asia Artengo in the Marie Antoinette film

The school was sacked during the French Revolution but later returned to its religious roots at the start of the 19th century. The old chapel and a basilica that was built in the 1930’s would be destroyed in 1976 (Gallo-roman era wells were discovered there at this time) after the government gave up the rights to take care of it. The remaining buildings were modified into apartments in the 1980’s. 

Sure everyone wants the quintessential Paris balcony for the views, but if you are smart you know that a terrace is peanuts compared to your own semi-private garden oasis like this one here hidden from street view. Most Parisian buildings have some sort of small communal outdoor space, but having a backyard with a 300 year old history is worth more than a tiny balcony in my opinion!

latin quarter, Maps

Deceptively Skinny Paris Buildings

You either love or hate the uniformity of Parisian buildings, where about 60% of what you see is characterized as the classic architectural style “Haussmann”. The typical six story creamy stone facades with wrought iron details are as synonymous to the idealized image of Paris as the Eiffel Tower and baguettes. Sure the city could use a bit more PIZAZZ but there are quite a few architectural oddities if you know where to look for them. My favorites are the deceptively skinny buildings you can find in the 15th, 12th, and 5th arrondissements Known in French as “façades bègues”. 

Rue Gay Lussac, Paris 5

Depending on the angle you are viewing them from, you might have the impression they are part of a Hollywood-esque movie set or the homes of ex-Victoria Secret models or Matthew McConaughey circa ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ until you change your perception and realize all is not as it seems.

Rue Monge Paris 5

There are a few reasons for this! 1. The architect simply had to make do with a narrow piece of land

Rue Beauregard, Paris 2. Photo Paris Zig Zag. This building dates to the second half of the 17th century and is known as the Pointe Trigano. It is considered the narrowest building in Paris

2. There used to be another building or structure that was previously adjoined but has since been removed, leaving the existing building awkwardly exposed. 

Rue Charonne Paris 12. Photo Paris Zig Zag

One perfect example is in the Latin Quarter at 14 rue Thouin, where this curious building dating from 1688 once leaned upon the fortified defensive wall built by Philippe Auguste that encircled Paris from 1190 until it was mostly destroyed in the late 17th century. If you can manage to sneak to the back when the gate is open, it’s possible to still see remnants of this wall today. 

latin quarter, Maps

Cutting Corners

Have you ever noticed funny looking corners on old buildings in Paris?

There is a reason!

These corners were cut concavely to reduce damages done by medi-Evil Knievel style drivers who took corners too sharp in their carriages or wagons. They were also a way for Stone Masons to show off their Stereonomy skills. (No no, not the study of stereos. This is a technique used when cutting three dimensional solids into wacky shapes)

You can find similar Anti-Carriage Wheel Damage Devices at the entrances of many buildings, known as chasse roues/wheel chasers.

Here is a picture of one of my favorite truncated streets corners in Paris.

Black and White photo taken by Charles Marville, 1866

Located at the corner of Rue Maitre Albert and Place Maubert in the 5th, if you get up real close, you can see a super illegible description behind a plate of plexiglass.

This indicates the height of the water level from a flood in 1711, as well as stating that this building was created just a year prior in 1710.