Faubourg Saint-Germain - 3rd part

Gros Caillou

From Place de Invalides, we now walk down the esplanade towards Pont Alexandre III and turn left into Rue de l'Université.

Promenade Invalides Gros Caillou

District Gros Caillou

After rue de la Tour Maubourg, we now reach the district known as the Gros Caillou (large Stone), named after an ancient megalith. For a long time, this area was used for agriculture, before craftsmen and workers began to settle here during the construction of the Invalides in the 17th century and the Ecole Militaire in the 18th century.

Along Seine between Invalides and the Eiffel Tower, there were several islands gradually joined together into the Ile des Cygnes (Isle of the Swans). This island was named for the many swans bred there to populate the gardens of Versailles. The island was later connected to the land, where a very polluting factory making oil from tripe (!) was later replaced by a large tobacco factory demolished in 1909.

Plan Turgot Invalides Gros Caillou

Nowadays very much elegant and quiet, there is still something of its simple past especially in the lively streets Cler, Saint Dominique and Grenelle bordered with shops and terrasses.

American Church of Paris

We now turn right onto the rue Surcouf. We are on the site of the former Ile des Cygnes, where the tobacco factory once stood. Then we turn left onto Quai d'Orsay.

At number 65 is the American Church of Paris, built in 1931, in an English neo-Gothic style. With its small garden and its brick and stone buildings, it looks like an American college.   Not only a place of worship, It is also a place of education, with two bilingual schools, an arts centre and a centre for sports associations.

Promenade 7ème - Eglise Américaine

Let's walk along the church on rue Jean Nicot, then cross rue Saint-Dominique and take the narrow passage Jean Nicot opposite.

Church of Saint-Jean

At 147 rue de Grenelle, the church of Saint Jean stands at the end of a small flowered courtyard, surrounded by old buildings and a tiny public garden. A few Americans cross the courtyard on their way to the student residence of the American University of Paris, built behind the church.

Promenade 7ème eglise luthérienne saint jeano
Promenade 7ème Eglise luthérienne Saint-Jean

Rue de Grenelle 

At number 151, we walk past the first building designed by the architect Lavirotte. Like Hector Guimard, he was an equally exuberant Art Nouveau architect. I wouldn't otherwise have paid more attention to this rather classical building if I hadn't noticed the door handles in the shape of corncobs and lizards, so much characteristic of Lavirotte's work.. We'll see another well-known example further down Avenue Rapp.

Promenade 7ème - Immeuble Lavirotte - 151 rue de Grenelle
Immeuble Lavirotte 151 rue de Grenelle

Let's turn right onto  the rue Cler, where we will find the busy pedestrian shopping area at the end of our stroll.

Church of Saint-Pierre du Gros Caillou

We now arrive opposite the church of Saint Pierre du Gros Caillou. The reading of a discrete plaque in memory of Jean-Sylvain Bailly once again left me confused by the gaps in history. This man: 

"Member of the French Academy and the Academy of Sciences;

Astronomer, he discovered the satellites of Jupiter;

President of the National Constituent Assembly, he took the Jeu de Paume oath on 20 June 1789;

As the first mayor of Paris, he introduced the three national colours and ordered the Fête de la Fédération on 14 July 1790;

Guillotinated on the Champ de Mars on 23 November 1793, he is buried under this church".

Incredible that history has forgotten his name! I'll read later that he also helped Alexandre Lenoir to protect the French national heritage during the Revolution... It's also incredible that there isn't a street in Paris named after him...

Oh yes, but I'm also going to read that he caused demonstrators to be shot at on the Champ de Mars ... no doubt that's reason enough? and in any case without appeal!

Let's continue along rue Saint-Dominique as far as rue Dupont des Loges on the right and turn left onto the avenue Rapp.

Avenue Rapp Lavirotte buildings

Jules Lavirotte, a less famous architect than Hector Guimard, designed several buildings in the Art Nouveau style, the most breathtaking of which is certainly 29 avenue Rapp. The armed cement facade is entirely covered in ceramics in shades of yellow, green and brown, created by the ceramist Alexandre Bigot, who was already famous for his work on the Villa Majorelle in Nancy and his collaboration with Guimard on the Castel Béranger. For this building on Avenue Rapp, Bigot wanted to demonstrate the possibility of using sandstone instead of masonry, and Lavirotte wanted to demonstrate the possibility of using reinforced concrete to produce very slim structures. The building was almost an experimental work to showcase the skills of both the architect and the ceramist. The extravagant aspect of the building is reinforced by the obvious sexual references on the front door.

Immeuble Laviroote 29 avenue Rapp
Immeuble Lavirotte 29 avenue Rapp
Immeuble Lavirotte 29 avenue Rapp - Porte poignées lézard

A little further on, in Square Rapp at no. 3, is the house that Lavirotte had built for his own use, with more reserve but with equal virtuosity.

Opposite, the Theosophical Society building also catches the eye. A blend of Orientalist and Art Nouveau styles, it was built between 1912 and 1915 to house the headquarters of a spiritualist organisation whose symbols can be seen on the façade.

From here there is also a beautiful view over the Eiffel Tower, a magnificent work of metal whose elongated shape may well have inspired the obsessed Lavirotte?

Société Théosophique Square rapp
Tour Eiffel

At the end of Avenue Rapp, there are the large lawns of the Champ de Mars.  It can be tempting to take a rest there, especially on a sunny day. Personally, I don't really like these wide open spaces with straight avenues named after military men. I'm not attracted either by the Eiffel circus or by the rather austere Ecole Militaire.

Rue Saint-Dominique

I prefer to return to rue Saint-Dominique, which gives another opportunity to see a building by Lavirotte, at 12 rue Sédillot.

It also gives me an opportunity to walk past the restaurant Au Violon d'Ingre, where a few years ago we enjoyed tasting the cuisine of chef Christian Constant, elegant and tasty but without showing off. Apart from the chef, nothing has changed in this still Michelin-starred establishment ... Let's have some event to celebrate and have a diner here ...

Further along on the right, the small arched plaza at the corner with rue de l'Exposition, with the Mars fountain, is always a pleasant place to eat on sunny days.

Atget fontaine de Mars 131 rue Saint Dominique

Fontaine de Mars
131, rue Saint-Dominique
Atget – 1903

Fontaine de Mars 131 rue Saint-Dominique

We now take rue de l'Exposition to reach rue de Grenelle on the left, and further along the lively pedestrian section of rue Cler with its many shops and terraces.

This is where our stroll is ending. At the end of the avenue de la Motte Picquet, you'll find the Ecole Militaire metro station.

Texte / Photos : Martine Combes

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