My Paris Your Paris

A personal guide to the best of the city's culture and history

Category: Places and spaces

Fragments of old Paris in the 4th arrondissement

In Paris you’ll find almost always in every direction flavours of the Belle Epoque. You’ll never have to look much further to find the earlier 18th century, or indeed the 17th, but pieces of really old Paris – the medieval origins, are thin on the ground. Yet if you look hard around the 4th arrondissement, there are some fascinating survivors.

First up, and centrally from the medieval viewpoint, are the city’s walls. Not wanting to leave Paris unprotected when he went crusading, Philippe Auguste in 1190 started build walls on right bank and from 1200 started on the left. They enclosed together 253 hectares with space for the inhabitants, and, of course, the vineyards essential to human survival. (London was much smaller, not having the same idea of “essentials”.)

And these were serious defensive measures – every 70m reinforced with a rampart that stood 9m high and 3m in diameter. Yet a scant two centuries later in the reign of Charles V the fortifications were lost except for a few fragments.

The biggest of these is outside the Lycee Charlemagne. You’ll find it at the corner of the Rue des jardins saint-paul and the Rue de l’ave. (Beside is the Village Saint Paul, a fun collection of arts workshops and antique bric a brac shops arranged around a central courtyard.)
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A visit to the Place des Vosges

You don’t so much visit the Place des Vosges as be the Place des Vosges. To reach that blessed state you should stroll from the Metro Bastille, up the Rue St Antoine, then right into the Due de Birague. Then in the distance you will see that incredible warm glowing terracotta red of the brick, offset by the careful march of studied beige stone. And you are there.


To get fully into the appropriate state of mind you should then make a slow progress, a complete circuit of the arcades, stopping here and there to enjoy the objet d’art in the boutiques that line the Place. I don’t know if any academic has so named it, but there is definitely a “school of the Place des Vosges”. This is modern art, but distinctly accessible modern art.
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