Walking the historic streets of Paris

Written by on March 12, 2018 in Guest Blogs

If you know Paris, you will have walked over the Pont Neuf, the creation of King Henri IV (1553 – 1610), visionary, lover, pluralist, urban designer, and soldier, who inherited the throne (1594) as the bloody civil Wars of Religion between Catholics and the “heretic” Protestants were still raging. The fanatics hated him because he was Protestant. A pragmatist, and disenchanted to say the least with partisan religions, Henri became a Catholic to calm Catholic Paris. (There is no evidence that he ever said “Paris is worth a Mass.”) He was crowned Rex Christianissimus in Chartres.

Within a few years he had made Paris a city of tolerance. He claimed “Those who genuinely follow their conscience are of my religion – as for me, I belong to the faith of everyone who is brave and true… We must be brought to agreement by reason and kindness, and not by strictness and cruelty…”. The same year he undertook the Pont Neuf (1598)  he issued the Edict of Nantes, granting tolerance and freedom of worship to the Protestants.

Paris was still a war zone of filthy ruins after the decades of war. But Henri was determined to transform it, “to make this city beautiful, tranquil, to make it a whole world and a wonder of the world.” (He adored beautiful women, having had, according to myth and/or history, 53 mistresses and many bastards.) After opening the famous bridge over the Ile de la Cite, between the Left and Right Banks – some consider the view from the Pont Neuf the most beautiful prospect in Paris – he extended the Louvre, building its Grande Galerie; designed the Orangerie; the lovely Place Dauphine directly across from the bronze horse on the bridge with Henri in the saddle.

Place des Vosges Paris

His most superb creation was the Place des Vosges in the Marais. He envisioned a large open public space surrounded by handsome pavilions of red brick and golden stone, with vendors in the arcades, bordered by rows of lime trees, and framed by the pavilions’ salons where literature, sex, and music would entertain the rich and royal.  The Place to this day is still a dreamworld in the early morning light; in the 17th century, it was “the fun part of town.”  Sundays are festivals of families, Parisians, and tourists looking for brunch. Henri ordered his royal square coupleted in l8 months.

But then a drop-out monk, another fanatic, stabbed him to death with a kitchen knife when Henri’s carriage was stuck in traffic. All Paris changed . . . everyone began to wail and cry, with women and girls tearing their hair out.” Though Henri was reputedly a garlicky man, not fond of the bath, he is remembered in Paris “as a charmer, his eyes full of sweetness… his whole mien animated with an uncommon vivacity.” He remains the most beloved king of France.

The up-dated story of his political marriage to the much maligned Catholic Marguerite Valois – (described by male historians as a fat nymphomaniac) is told in a later chapter of this book. Her medieval hotel still stands in the quiet southern Marais, on the Seine. Her story is as complicated and shocking as her husband’s as well as the story of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre at the time of their wedding which – miraculously – did not kill them both. Margot hid Henri under her bed and inside her closet while Catholic royalty and their courtiers beheaded thousands of Protestant wedding guests and tossed their heads out the windows of the Louvre.

“Beauty is in the streets, “ they say in Paris. Travelers, like Parisians themselves, have their favorites.  And as the city evolves and erupts, the streets change, Parisians come and go. But the beauty remains. The streets’ multiple personalities – charming, elegant, dirty, broken, haunted, lyrical – wind along the past and present, through the storied worlds of Parisians, ancient and modern. Walking in their footsteps, we sense the hauntings of history, connect with sites of memory: we can feel that the city’s past is part of the present.

The Streets of Paris by Susan Cahill is a book that brings to life 22 dramatic stories of brilliant and passionate Parisian characters in their physical settings, along the streets that tell the stories of their inspiration, of how they became the icons that Paris – and history – still celebrate.

The Streets of Paris: A Guide to the City of Light by Susan Cahill is available on Amazon; Susan’s website: www.susancahill.net

Related Articles

How the Hunchback of Notre Dame got the name Quasimodo

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is one of the most famous characters in French literature. But how did he get the unusual name of Quasimodo? For centuries, French law strictly limited the names that families could give their babies. They had to come from an approved list made up mostly of Catholic saints. The laws […]

Continue Reading

Cathar Country, the Aude and the Ariège, Occitane

I first visited the Aude department in 2006 and found a rural area rich in history with great food, fabulous markets and a friendly, welcoming atmosphere. My hosts brought me to the river at Rennes Les Bains where hot water from deep under the ground pours out through a pipe in the wall.  In the […]

Continue Reading

Korrigans | The fairy folk of Brittany

With its medieval towns and villages, wild impressive coastline and abundant forests, picturesque Brittany offers its visitors so much more than just homemade cider and galettes dripping in ham and cheese. Whole days can be devoted to meandering the narrow cobblestone streets and charming squares lined with crooked half-timbered houses. But, as night falls be […]

Continue Reading

The Great Organ of Saint Omer Cathedral

The Great Organ of Saint Omer Cathedral

Written by on September 24, 2018 in Guest Blogs

Saint Omer cathedral in northern France has grace and beauty. It doesn’t have the conventional architectural detail of sculpture encrusted entrance doors. But, it does contain priceless art works so typical of the great cathedrals of France. Here those artworks hang in dark, dusty corners without pomp and formality. Saint Omer cathedral has it’s own […]

Continue Reading

Discovering the lavender fields of Provence in Sault

The chances are that if you visit Provence from mid-June to mid-August – you have lavender on your mind and in your sights. Though Provence is well known for the fragrant purple blooms, it is not grown in abundance throughout the whole of Provence, though you will find fields of the purple blooms during your […]

Continue Reading

Subscribe

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe now to receive more just like it.

Subscribe via RSS Feed

Comments are closed.

Top