This stroll takes us, not only in a very old district, as occupied from the 1st century by the Romans, but also to the oldest monument ever built in Paris: the Arena of Lutecia, probably built around the 2nd century.
They were partially destroyed during the barbarian invasions, then forgotten and buried, and later rediscovered in 1859 during the opening of rue Monge. Though they cannot be compared with the arena of Arles or Nîmes, bigger and far more well-preserved, they are still a place of interest. They are daily used by the neighborhood kids who can fancy themselves as gladiators and by the elderly who enjoy the quality of the arena transformed into a petanque field.

We will go to rue Mouffetard, one of the oldest streets in Paris, built itself over a former Roman road.
From there, we will go to Jardin des Plantes created in 1635. It deserves quite several visits to discover its gardens, its greenhouses with tropical plants, its galleries of mineralogy and paleontology.

Map stroll quartier Latin between Mouffetard and Jardin des Plantes

Arena of Lutetia

Arena of Lutetia

This amphitheater was built when Paris was Lutetia, a Roman city. Buried deep down within layers of sediments and limbo, the arena was only rediscovered in 1869 during the renovation of Paris undertaken by Haussmann when the creation of a new street, rue Monge, required to dig down 12 meters deep. The thirty-five stepped terraces could seat 15.000 people, quite a huge meeting place for the 20.000 inhabitants of Lutetia!

In summertime, one can enjoy the arena used by theatre and concert groups and rest of the year by the petanque players.

Let’s exit the garden toward rue Monge. Turn left onto rue Monge. Turn left onto rue Lacépède and turn right onto rue de la Clef.

Rues Lacépède et de la Clef

Great Mosque of Paris

Down rue Lacépède, towards Jardin des Plantes, there was in the past the former Hôpital de la Pitié, created in 1612 taking care of beggars, poor people and orphans.
Later, in 1660, one building of the hospital was converted into a convent for former prostitutes. It seems that few females followed the example of Pelagia the Penitent, as the convent for Female Penitents was rapidly converted into the Sainte-Pélagie prison. During the French Revolution, many prisoners were held in this prison, some famous like: Madame Roland, Marquis de Sade and the painter Hubert Robert.
Later, it held more than one hundred of plotters arrested after the failed uprising of April 15th, 1834 which ended in the massacre of rue Transnonain (see rue  Beaubourg); Auguste Blanqui, François Arago, VictorSchoelcher, Alexandre Ledru-Rollin were among these prisoners.
Eugène Atget photographed the prison in 1898, just before its demolition.
The former building of the Hospital La Pitié, also photographed by Atget, was demolished in 1911 and rebuilt close to the Salpêtrière hospital. It was largely replaced by the Great Mosque of Paris, whose minaret can be seen at the end of rue la Clef. Inaugurated in 1926, the Mosque was built in recognition to the Muslim soldiers dead during the first World War.

Hôpital de la Pitié 1 rue Lacépède Atget

Hôpital de la Pitié
1, rue Lacépède
(Musée Carnavalet)

Prison Sainte Pélagie Atget

Prison Sainte-Pélagie
Atget – 1898

Rue Lacépède

Let's now turn left onto rue du Puits de l'Ermite. And continue onto rue Pestalozziand turn right onto rue Gracieuse.
We are now walking along the nice little open air market in Place Monge open three times a week and on Sundays, in front of the huge building of the French Republican Guard.

Let’s turn left onto rue Lacépède where Atget photographed old farm courtyards! Goodbye calf, cow, pig, chickens… other kinds of baby chicks go today to the child care centre which has now replaced the former old farm.

Ferme 46 rue Lacépède Atget

Ferme – 46, rue Lacépède
Atget – 1905/1906

46 rue Lacépède

Place de la Contrescarpe

Though recently redesigned, Place de la Contrescarpe, still looks like a charming old village square. You can sit around the fountain or at a terrace of one of the many bordering cafes.
The animation of the square, especially known from May 2018 with the Benalla affair, is not new as disorders here have been known forever. I have read in the book «Connaissance du Vieux Paris» written by the historian Jacques Hillairet that disorders were so frequent that it was decided in the 18th century to install a guard station nearby.

Although the most popular tavern bordering the square was Maison de la Pomme de Pin, Atget photographed an other building. Not that long ago, from the terrace of the café La Contrescarpe, which has replaced the building photographed by Atget, we could have a direct look over the sign “Au Nègre Joyeux” (the place of the Joyous Negro). This controversial sign was finally removed. This sign from the colonial times and slavery was transferred to the Carnavalet Museum.

Grand Hôtel des Sports place de la Contrescarpe Atget

Grand Hôtel des Sports
Place de la Contrescarpe
(Musée Carnavalet)

Place de la Contrescarpe
Sign Au Nègre Joyeux rue Mouffetard before its removal

the sign before its removal

Coin rue Mouffetard rue Blainville
Café au Nègre Joyeux angle rues Blainville et Mouffetard Atget

Café « Au Nègre Joyeux »
Angle des rues Blainville et Mouffetard
(Musée Carnavalet)

Let's now turn left onto rue Mouffetard.

Rue Mouffetard

Marchand de parapluies - Place Saint-Médard
Atget - 1901
(Musée Carnavalet)

Umbrella merchant
Place Saint-Médard

Atget - 1901
(Musée Carnavalet)

The old narrow street, almost completely pedestrian, still quite picturesque is today a tourist attraction. Though the food shops, butcheries, bakeries, fish sellers, vegetable sellers, have disappeared, except few down the street, it is still a “food street” with all the lining restaurants of all sorts. In Atget’s time, as shown by his photographs, the street was all lined up with sellers between place de la Contrescarpe and the market in front of Saint- Medard Church. Not only shops, but also many street vendors selling fresh fruit and vegetables or umbrellas.

The Market at the southern end of the street, right outside Saint-Médard church is open every day in the morning except on Monday. It is quite lively especially on the weekends.
I still remember my delight, almost ecstatic,when as a young inhabitant of the close 13th arrondissement, I discovered this street and its market. And indeed, I knew many other markets and spent my youth close to the busy rue des Martyrs. However, here, it was something different and new. A bustling area, with food everywhere, with rich and heavy scents, the sellers shouting and calling the buyers, the church making it a large town market, the narrow and old rickety houses, and already many cafes and restaurants. It was the end of the seventies, beginning of the eighties. The charm is still a little bit there although many foodshops are gone replaced by many restaurants and cafes for tourists.

81 rue Mouffetard
Rue Mouffetard
Fish seller rue Mouffetard Atget

Fish seller
Rue Mouffetard
Atget – 1898
(Musée Carnavalet)

Baskets seller rue Mouffetard Atget

Baskets seller

Rue Mouffetard
Atget – 1898/1900

Porte 81 rue Mouffetard Atget

Porte – 81, rue Mouffetard
(Musée Carnavalet)

Rue Mouffetard Atget

Rue Mouffetard
Atget – 1925
(Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Laces seller ^Place Saint Médard Atget

Laces seller
Place Saint-Médard - Atget 1899/1900

(Bibliothèque Ville de Paris)

Milk coffee seller Atget

Milk coffee seller
Atget – 1898
(Musée Carnavalet)

We now arrive at the level of rue du Pot-de-Fer where lived Georges Orwell. In 1928, he spent here one year down and out in a hotel: “The walls were as thin as matchwood, and to hide the cracks they had been covered with layer after layer of pink paper, which had come loose and housed innumerable bugs”. Also,at his time, the houses were leprous, people living there rather poor, and the quarter ill fame: “At night the policemen would only come through the street two together. “

Fontaine du Pot de Fer rue Mouffetard
Fontaine du Pot de Fer rue Mouffetard Atget

Fontaine du Pot de Fer
Rue Mouffetard

The fountain at the corner of the street was built in 1624 when the new Medici aqueduct was completed (See avenue René Coty Manhole in Montparnasse stroll).
Like in rue Mouffetard, many restaurants with terraces are bordering rue du Pot-de-Fer, quite less gloomy than at Orwell’s time…

We now arrive at the level of nr 69, rue Mouffetard, where a sign, very ugly and rough, has replaced the former one, so much more delicately carved. It is said that this former sign was done in 1592 with woods of a shipwreck found in Seine river. Where is it now?

Fake sign Au Vieux Chêne 69 rue Mouffetard
Au Vieux Chêne 69 rue Mouffetard Atget

Au Vieux Chêne
69, rue Mouffetard

Sign A la Bonne Source rue Mouffetard

From the three former old famous signboards of the street, only one remains A la Bonne Source (the Good Spring), a nice sign showing two water boys around a well.

Listed Sgraffito facade rue Mouffetard

We have now arrived at the end of the street. There is a listed facade of a former delicatessen, done per the Sgraffito technique, showing a country scene in which the game is still enjoying life. Here in front of the Saint-Médard church, there are still some food shops.

Rue Mouffetard Church Saint-Médardrd
Rue Mouffetard Atget

Rue Mouffetard - Atget - 1898

The public garden around the church is rather quiet: children are playing, students are sitting on the lawn, religious congregations are discussing. It is difficult to imagine the scenes of madness which took place here in the middle of the 18th century. It is told that crowds were coming to the tomb of the deacon Pâris, a legendary place of miraculous cures. Scenes of hallucination and convulsions became so numerous that it was decided to close the cemetery in 1773. The trace of the bricked doorway can still be seen at 39, rueDaubenton. However, the closure of the cemetery did not stop the scenes of collective hysteria which continued elsewhere for more than thirty years.

39 rue Daubenton Former doors to the church and Cemetery Saint Médarda
entrée de l'église et du cimetière Saint-Médard 41 rue Daubenton Atget

Entrée de l’église et du cimetière Saint-Médard
41, rue Daubenton
(Musée Carnavalet)

Let’s now cross place Georges Moustaki to go to rue du Fer à Moulin:
Exit the roundabout into rue Pascal; Turn left onto rue Claude Bernard and turn left onto rue du Fer à Moulin. Turn right onto rue Scipion.

Rue Scipion

13 Rue Scipion renaissance mansion

The Italian banker Scipion Sardini settled here at 13, rue Scipion. Close to Queen Catherine de Médicis, he amassed so much a fortune, the legend had it that he had came to France as thin as a sardine and was now as fat as a whale.
In front of a public garden, the bold facade over the street is a little bit severe. During the week, the porch of the 17th century building is generally open. You can enter and admire the courtyard with a preserved Renaissance aisle from the former stone and brick residence built in 1565. The arcades of this old wing are decorated with terracotta medallions.

Later in 1614, the residence became a hospital for the poor and was the main bakery for the Parisian hospitals between 1676 and 1974.

Hôtel Scipion Sardini rue Scipion Atget

Hôtel Scipion Sardini
Rue Scipion
Atget – March 1925
(Getty Museum)

Yard Hôtel Scipion
Hôtel Scipion Sardini rue Scipion
Hôtel Scipion Atget

Hôtel Scipion
Atget – juillet 1899

Now, let’s turn left onto boulevard Saint-Marcel and on left onto rue Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire.

Rue Geoffroy Saint Hilaire

There was a large Horse Market in this neighborhood between 1642 and 1907. An old building from this time remains. 

Horse market building rue Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire
Commissariat du marché aux chevaux construit sous Louis XV 5 rue Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire Atget

Commissariat du marché aux
chevaux construit sous Louis XV
5, rue Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire
Atget - (INHA)

Further down the street, the horse head and the words on the façade, "Merchants of horses, ponies, double ponies of all origins and draught horses" remind as well the former horse market.

Merchants of horses rue Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire

We now arrive at the corner with rue Poliveau (nr 45) which reminds me the funny and cynical movie La Traversée de Paris (The trip accross Paris), telling about black market during German occupation.  Especially this scene in the cellar of Jambier’s grocery store with Jean Gabin yelling with his typical frank manner. 

A little bit away, a commemorative plaque into the pavement indicates the former mill Coupeau along the Bièvre river now buried with the sewer network.

The Great Mosque is now in front of us. It is always nice to have a break in its café and have a mint tea before a walk in the Jardin des Plantes.

Great Mosque Paris rue Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire

Jardin des Plantes

Jardin des Plantes cedar of Lebanon Jussieu

There is so much to see in Jardin des Plantes, that it deserves several visits:
for its huge halls where millions of zoological species, either extinct or in danger of extinction are in line below the high glass ceiling of the National Museum of Natural History; and its fabulous collection in the Gallery of Mineralogy;
its greenhouses where my mother was taking me to show me carnivorous plants or sensitive plants like the mimosa pudica.
With Christine, my high school classmate, we were going to the Botanical and Alpine gardens to complete our course in botany. In these gardens millions of plant species are carefully grown on different layouts similar to their real-life mountain environment: Alps, Mediterranean rocks, Caucasus and North American mountains…
I have never liked my occasional visits to the zoo, which is being renovated, a good thing. The last time I went there, quite a long time ago, in the eighties, I still remember the deep sad look of an ape looking at me; A desperate look,of the poor animal sprawled in the dust of a narrow cage, behind the bars blackened with soot.
It is also very nice to simply walk in the alleys behind the greenhouses, looking for the old trees like the cedar of Lebanon planted by Jussieu in 1734.

Jardin des Plantes
Jardin des Plantes greenhouses
Jardin des Plantes Gloriette de Buffon

When we follow the pathway leading to the maze, we can see the delicate Gloriette de Buffon at the top of the small hill.
No less delicate was the mechanism which once sat at the top of the kiosk.

When a horsehair thread, changed every day, was burnt by the sun's rays concentrated through a magnifying glass set on the meridian, it triggered a whole clockwork mechanism which sounded twelve strokes on a Chinese tambourine placed in the hollow of a globe. As granddaughter of a watchmaker, this gives me quite a feeling, far much more poetic than the noon cannon of Palais-Royal!

Inside the garden, along rue Cuvier, there are several old buildings.

Jardin des Plantes old building
Maison du Vétérinaire Jardin des Plantes Atget

Maison du Vétérinaire - Jardin des Plantes
(Musée Carnavalet)

We now go out of the Garden and go towards rue Linné, where we started the stroll. We walk by Cuvier Fountain, built in 1840, in honor of the founding father of paleontology.

Cuvier fountain rue Linné
Fontaine Cuvier Atget

Fontaine Cuvier
Atget -1905/1906

Texte / Photos : Martine Combes

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