Hora fugit - Un peu de Paris
This stroll in this neighborhood, dedicated for a long time to textile and clothing activities is best done on a weekday.
Although heavily impacted by the relocation of the clothing industry, the activities around Prêt-à-Porter, developed after the Second World War and in the 1950s, have been maintained in Le Sentier.
In the last years, new tech startups have been implemented in the facilities abandoned by the clothing factories.
The stroll is going through many small and narrow streets, very busy during the week, as well as several passageways built for the most part in the 18th and 19th century.
The Sentier neighborhood is limited by boulevard de Bonne-Nouvelle to the north, boulevard de Sébastopol to the east, rue Réaumur to the south and rue Montmartre to the west. Already in Atget's time, this part of Paris was dedicated to the clothing industry and the production of fashion accessories. It was also the Parisian centre for the printing industry and the press, all gone today; Only some old signs and names on few buildings have remained.
In the Middle Ages, it was the largest slum in Paris. Known as fief d'Alby, it was so dangerous and dirty that nobody entered the area, but the thieves and beggars living there. In 1784, a royal Edict decreed that the area be destroyed and replaced by a Fish market, to the great relief of the Parisians. However, this is not because this demolition was received as a piece of good news that the district took the official name of Bonne Nouvelle (which can also be the meaning of good news ...). The name of Bonne Nouvelle just takes its origin from the name of a chapel built in 1551 dedicated to the Annunciation.
The stroll starts from Boulevard de Bonne Nouvelle in front of the Gymnase Marie Bell theatre. The boulevard follows the former walls of Charles V built in the 14th century replacing the previous Philip Augustus wall on the right bank. When on their turn the walls of Charles V between the Bastille jail and the gate of Saint-Denis were demolished, they were replaced by boulevards during the reign of Louis XIV. At the beginning, the boulevards were just dirt roads lined with trees. The name of boulevard has indeed a military origin, reminding the existence of the defensive wall.
These boulevards became the Grands Boulevards, over more than four kilometers between Place de la Bastille and Place de la Madeleine. They rapidly became favorite Parisian walkways to be finally the utmost fashionable place to be in the 19th century. The Grands Boulevards take the names of the neighborhoods that they cross, like boulevard de Bonne-Nouvelle. They keep also the style of the district like boulevard de Bonne Nouvelle rather common with the close rue Saint-Denis.
When created in 1820, the Gymnase Theatre got immediate success with the first vaudeville plays written by Eugene Scribe, as well with plays written by renowned writers like Alexandre Dumas, Balzac, George Sand, Sardou. Since 1958, its name is also honoring Marie Bell a famous actress in her time.
Let's take rue Poissonnière at the corner of the movie theatre Le Rex. This giant art-deco building has some Broadway style with its neon signs and the large images projected on the impressive facade. Here is a clear boundary between the Boulevards and Sentier neighborhood quite different.
The word “Poissonnière” means a woman selling fish. It also reminds the old road used by fishmongers from the north of France to the Halles.
Fishmongers and their trolleys are gone, like the 17th century mansion demolished in 1907. Today though the impressive neo-classical building looks quite classical with its sculptures, it is a 1250 square meters data processing centre, an example of the tech activity now largely established in the Sentier district.
On our way along re Poissonière, have a look at the hotel de Noisy, an elegant mansion located at nr 2.
Hôtel de 1660
21, rue Poissonnière
Atget - 1905
(Hôtel démoli en 1907)
Continue in rue des Petits-Carreaux, then on the left rue d'Aboukir up to Place du Caire.
Place du Caire, one cannot miss the three giant heads representing the goddess Hathor on the building where there is the passage du Caire.
Passage du Caire was built in 1798 where was previously an old convent located between rue Saint-Denis and the small rue des Forges. All the area have names celebrating the Napoleon's Egyptian campaign, like rues d'Aboukir, d'Alexandrie, du Nil and Damiette.
Place du Caire
Atget – 1903
The area was the largest medieval slum in Paris. This den of thieves and beggars has been well described by Victor Hugo in his book the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Using a secret language, the Argot (slang), these thieves were beggars in the day, using tricks to counterfeit the crippled, the blind, the epilectic (using soap to play hypersalivation), the leper … in the evening, back to their den, they were removing their fake signs of disabilities, in an other word accomplishing a daily miracle, hence the name of Miracles Court.
On Atget's photo, one can notice several signs of printing companies above the passage, as it was an important activity in all the district. Printers were sharing the passage altogether with the straw hat makers.
Today it is rather common to see in the area, like in the middle of the Place du Caire several immigrant workers waiting to be called by the manufacturers. They remind old Atget's photos of porters and of Louis-Sébastien Mercier descriptions of the Parisian streets in the 18th century: “One can find Hercules and Milos of Croton at the corner of the streets, waiting to be called to move a furniture or to carry heavy trade items. One calls them, they arrive with their hook; otherwise they wait against a stone, waiting for a job.”
Today, one calls them on their mobile phone, they arrive with their trolley; otherwise they wait to be called to move boxes across the narrow streets. Boxes of clothes between trucks parked away in broader streets and the designers shops or wholesalers.
It is as if the whole district perpetuates the same jobs of poor fellows through the centuries. In the evening, one can also notice the guys picking up some pieces of fabric in the bins, like the rag picker photographed by Atget.
Built in 1798, the Passage du Caire is the oldest and longest in Paris. It includes three distinct galleries: Sainte-Foy, Saint-Denis and Caire.
An other peculiarity: the pavement was made with tombstones from the former convent Filles-Dieu. May be it was some way to make the passage more intriguing to the Parisians who from the start were not attracted by it. There was no shop, no attraction, only print shops, lithography factories for the press industry; and for the clothing industry, manufacturers of accessories, like ties, straw hats, collars and cuffs.
Today there is no tourist or stroller, either. Basically, there are only retailers and wholesellers coming here to trade fashion products and items for shop windows.
Passage du Caire
33, rue d’Alexandrie
Atget - 1909
Of course, mannequins in windows of Passage du Caires make me think of Atget's photos which were attracting Man Ray for their Surrealist style - like this one taken avenue des Gobelins in 1905 (Getty Museum)
Let's follow the Gallerie d'Alexandrie which opens in rue d'Alexandrie that we take on the right. Then turn left onto rue Saint-Denis.
Passage Sainte-Foy is at 261-263 rue Saint-Denis.
Rue Saint-Denis is famous for an older activity than the textile industry. The oldest profession in the world has always been carried on in this area, in the past by the walking girls in Court of Miracles and still today by high siliconised ladies. During one of my strolls, two of these ladies were framing the narrow entrance of the passage.
261 rue Saint-Denis
Atget – 1907
At the end of the passage, there is a small stair that takes you to rue Sainte-Foy. These steps were built above the remains of the ramparts of Charles V, built around 1370. It is rather appropriate to give one of the possible origins of the French word “bordel” (brothel): In medieval times, prostitution was only authorized outside the city walls; therefore prostitutes could be found in shacks bordering the walls; the shacks were called “bordes” .
Few steps away ahead the gate, activate the button on your left to go outside.
Out of passage Sainte-Foy, turn right onto rue Sainte-Foy up to nr 13 where there is an other passage, in reality a long and narrow bar-tobacco shop, essentially only known by locals.
Out of the bar, turn left onto rue d'Aboukir. Along the way, there are rather fancy wholesalers windows.
Turn left onto rue Saint-Philippe where many fabric wholesalers can be found. Turn right onto rue de Cléry which follows a former road outside the city walls of Charles V.
On the left, climb the fourteen steps of the shortest street in Paris leading to rue Beauregard where there is the church of Bonne-Nouvelle which gave its name to the whole neighborhood.
If you visit the church, come back to rue Beauregard to walk up to rue Chénier.
The 17th century tower is the oldest part of the church. When it was rebuilt in 1830, intact vine tendrils would have been found. They were the remnants of the vineyard cultivated in the past along the slopes of the Mont-Orgueil. It was countryside then and the name of the street (Beauregard - Beautiful view) reminds the beautiful view one had from the hill.
The church has some curio like a full immersion baptismal font built in 1990 into the pavement in front of the church altar. It has also the chasuble used by the last confessor of King Louis XVI, Abbé Edgeworth de Firmont, for the mass given on the morning of his execution.
View from rue Beauregard,
Church of Notre-Dame-de-la-Bonne-Nouvelle
Atget – 1904
ndeed, the shadows of King Louis XVI's last hours are hovering over street Beauregard. This is here at the corner of the streets Beauregard, de Cléry and Chénier that Baron de Batz tried desperately to save the king on his way to the scaffold on 21, January 1793. According to his plan, five hundred conspirators should have been grouped with him in front of the narrow and leaning house. At this time the site was very steep over the Boulevard de Bonne-Nouvelle not yet flattened. So when the convoy leading the king would have to slow down to climb the steep slope of the boulevard, the five hundred armed men would descend en masse from the Rue de Cléry, Rue Beauregard and Rue de la Lune, breaking through the National Guard and rescuing the king.
But to his dismay, the baron found only twenty-five conspirators at the meeting point. Around three o'clock in the morning of 21 January, all the conspirators were arrested, having been denounced. The Baron and a few other men owed their safety to the fact that they did not spend the night at their homes. In spite of this, he bravely threw himself forward calling; “ Help me, those who want to save the king!” After this vain attempt, without even slowing down the convoy, he managed to escape while the other few courageous fellows were tracked and killed.
Atget – 1909
If rue des Degrés is the shortest street in Paris, the building standing at the corner of streets Beauregard and Cléry is the most narrow with only one room at each floor. On Atget's photo taken in 1909, there is a wine shop “Au Poète de 93” (To the Poet of 93), as it was the home of André Chénier in 1793. The young poet was also known for his political views against the reign of Terror and his critics against Marat and Robespierre. A year after he had written his ode to Charlotte Corday, he was arrested and guillotined in 1794 at the age of thirty-one.
On Atget's photo, near the window of the first floor, the portrait of a man holding a napkin on the arm is an ad for an employment agency La Française. Today, the ad has been replaced by the street plate of the recent square Pointe Trigano.
Let's walk down rue de la Lune towards the boulevard where is standing the triumphal arch built by François Blondel in celebration of the victories won by King Louis XIV and let's turn in rue Saint-Denis where we will stop at the corner of rue Sainte-Foy and Blondel.
When the nice hairdresser Maxime with a wide brimmed hat and sunglasses saw me taking a photo of his shop, he took me in and showed me the reproduction of Atget's photo hung on a wall.
Let's leave Maxime, this nice ladies' hairdresser where some ladies walking rue Blondel go certainly to have their hair done.
If the brothels which made rue Blondel that famous are now all closed, the main activity of the street is still quite today the same …
Atget simply used the word “Brasserie” to title his photo of the house located 16, rue Blondel. Marquis de Rochegude wrote a Paris guide in 1910, same date at which Atget took the photo. In this guide, I have found the description of the house and especially its Art-Nouveau gone facade which was called "Paradis Japonais"(Japanese Paradise). Later, the address will be quite famous for the brothel "AuMoulin". It can certainly be assumed that this “brasserie” was already a sort of hostess bar where the customers could enjoy other consumption upstairs ...
16 Rue Blondel
Atget - 1910/ 1912
Let's come back rue Saint-Denis and walk up to Passage Lemoine at n° 232 fully dedicated to the clothing industry. This passage through three consecutive yards takes to boulevard Sébastopol.
Atget - 1907
Boulevard de Sébastopol, built by Haussmann, is dedicated to the clothing industry too.
N°131 was used by the French movie “La Vérité si je mens” (would I lie to you?) for several shots. The movie is about the Jewish community working in this neighborhood.
The last yard opens in rue Saint-Denis, that we take on the left.
vue prise de la rue d’Alexandrie
Atget - (BNF)
We continue rue Saint-Denis up to rue Réaumur that we take on the right. We will stay on rue de Réaumur up to rue Dussoubs on our right.
On each side of rue Réaumur, the cloth manufacturers are here rather high-end.
Coin de la rue Saint-Denis
et de la rue du Ponceau.
Vue prise de la rue Réaumur
Atget – 1907
There is a stunning building at 61-63 rue Réaumur at the corner with rue Saint-Denis. This fancy building is indeed very narrow, only 2 metre deep ! In fact, iIt was built by a fabric wholesaler with the intent to impress ... Already in the spirit of the movie “Would I lie to you” somehow …
From rue Réaumur, turn right onto rue Dussoubs, where two old wells can be seen embedded in the walls (n° 25 and 27).
At n°21 a plaque mentions that Goldoni died in this house in 1793, at the age of 86. Named the “Italian Molière”, he left Venice to settle in Paris in 1762. Part of the King's court, he taught Italian to Louis XV's daughters and directed the Théâtre Italien in Paris. He was poor when he died during the Revolution, as he had no more pension.
House where Goldoni died in 1793
21, rue Dussoubs
There are several old buildings in this street. Like at 17 and at 22 where there is a classifed mansion.
Ancien hôtel Louis XVI
17, rue Dussoubs
Atget – 1907
22, Rue Dussoubs
Atget – 1907
Let's come back to turn left onto rue Saint-Sauveur. Then to the right onto rue des Petits-Carreaux. Turn left onto rue des Jeuneurs and rue du Sentier on the right. From there one gets onto the Grands-Boulevards where the strolls ends not far from where it started.
Sentier in French means country path and the name of the street in French does sound quite poetic. Jacques Prévert wrote about the street in his book “Paris is so small” and told about a wolf during a cold winter in 1612-1613, so much starving that he came to this street in Paris.
« Bien avant les dernières créations urbaines du Baron Haussmann, les rues étaient les sentiers des villes. Aujourd’hui l’une d’elles s’appelle encore rue du Sentier. On y confectionne et vend des choses indispensables aux dernières créations de la mode à Paris.
Autrefois, cette rue n’était qu’une ruelle qui fut successivement appelée rue du Chantier, rue Centier et rue Centière.
Au cours du rude hiver 1612-1613, un loup affamé est venu jusqu’à cette ruelle. Ce pauvre loup n’eut pas l’honneur de donner son nom à une rue de Paris comme la colombe, le chat-qui-pêche, les lions, les ours, les alouettes, le renard ou la baleine qui, elle, eut tout de même droit à une petite impasse dans le onzième. »