The Marais in Paris

Written by on August 19, 2014 in Paris

marais Place des Vosges

The Marais is an enticing mélange of old and traditional plus contemporary and slightly quirky. It is one of the most compelling areas in Paris. You can go to temple or to church and on the way home, pick up a hip new ensemble for visiting the gallery of modern art. You may pause to take tea at Mariage Frères on the rue du Bourg-Tibourg. They’ve been pouring from the pot for more than 150 years…

If you look on a map of the city – the Marais is east of the Louvre on the Right Bank, spilling from the third arrondissement into the fourth.  It is known by many, simply as “the 4th.”

In the 12th century, the area was marshland, (marais in French) but the Knights Templar, who had run out of Crusades to fight, cleared the land. Four hundred years on, the aristocracy began building their mansions here to be close to the Louvre, the preferred palace of royalty. But in 1682 Louis XIV packed up his entourage and headed for Versailles and the district fell out of favour. It survived the major city renovations by Haussmann during the 1860s, retaining much of the early architecture and personality.

marais Hotel de Ville ParisThe Marais is where the Hôtel de Ville (town hall of Paris) proudly sits, just a few meters from the Seine. This site has been the place of power for the city since 1357, but it has also had a wretched history with public executions held in the forecourt, at that time known as Place de Grève. Now the outdoor space hosts special displays and regular markets. The current Renaissance inspired, stone building was commissioned in 1533 by François the 1st, but it wasn’t finished until six kings later. The Hôtel de Ville survived and featured in many events of the French Revolution, but almost a century later was set ablaze by the Communards, destroying public records of the Revolution. One of the exquisite front windows made the ideal frame for Charles de Gaulle to deliver his liberation of Paris speech in 1944 and Jacques Chirac was in opulent residence during his mayoral reign of the city from 1977 to 1995.

Towards the eastern end of the Marais is Place des Vosges – this city’s oldest square. It is tiny compared to the Jardin du Luxembourg on the left bank or Jardin des Tuileries alongside the Louvre. It’s a garden bed from one of these great beauties but Place des Vosges has proportions that please.  It started in 1604 with a royal pavilion built by Henri IV. He loved it so much he requested another 35 townhouses to surround the square. The result is a triumph and it is one of the most used green spaces in the city.

marais paris rue Vieille du TempleAfter you walk the length of all four stone arcades, today occupied by restaurants, galleries and designer boutiques, settle back on a black bench and take yourself back to another time. The rows of square clipped Linden trees knew Victor Hugo.  Between 1832 and 1848 when he was writing “Les Misérables”, he lived on the second floor of townhouse six. On a still evening, with a window thrown open, he may have even heard the bells of Notre Dame, home of his hunchback hero. It’s so easy to be transported back into the past in Paris. It is all around…

About Gai Reid : “J’ai deux amours, mon paye et Paris ’’.  When I hear Madeleine Peyroux sing about her two loves, I know exactly what she means. A writer and producer in Australia, Gai says ”The next best thing to being in France, is writing about it to share my joy with others who feel the same connection.” Find out more at: www.postcardsfromfrance.com

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