We are continuing the exploration of our neighbourhood with the help of the Paris walking guide – 20 Charming Strolls. Although this trip we will take only three strolls.
There is absolutely no place in the world like Ile Saint-Louis. As you cross the Seine River, large shadows may play off the lovely, riverside homes with their luminous southern exposures and darker northern faces. But not today, since summer is well and truly over and autumn has set in with shorter days, cooler skies and rainy clouds!
It’s hard to imagine that this island with its harmonious architecture used to be swampy and uninhabited. No real interest was given to the island prior to the year 867 when King Charles the Bald gave it to Aeneas, the bishop of Paris. It became the property of the Notre-Dame chapter. As a result, the island was called Notre-Dame up through the 18th century. Around the end of the 13th century, however, it was split in half (one part called Notre-Dame and the other the Ile aux Vaches) when a large trench was dug on the lines of present-day Rue Poulletier in order to strengthen the Charles V fortress walls about the city. The grassy islands with reeds and weeping willows were good grazing for cows. City-dwellers might occasionally venture out onto the island for a swim, to dump trash, to cast a line to fish or to lay out freshly washed sheets to dry in the sun.
A period of construction and urban development was launched under Henri IV, as was a plan to connect the two islands with the right bank. In 1614 Louis XIII commissioned engineer Christophe Marie to fill in the channel between the two islands and build a bridge anchoring the island to the right bank. The construction company was also side by side with two land developers by the names of Le Regrattier and Poulletier. Financiers were their first clients. They were followed by high ranking dignitaries, well-established artists and Paris’ wealthiest people. Lords and ladies took up residence on the waterfront, while artisans opened workshops on the narrow inner streets. A century later, the island had fallen out of fashion and taken on a sleepy provincial feel. Further decline occurred in the 19th century as developers and wreckers tried to give it a new face. This led to the pointless creation of Rue Jean-du-Bellay in 1862; then came the construction of Pont de Sully in 1874, and the widening of Rue des Deux-Ponts in 1913. After World War II, the island became a prestigious place to live again, attracting painters, actors, singers, politicians and wealthy lovers of old Paris. An address on the island was a mark of refinement.
With the exception of Pont Marie, all the island’s bridges were demolished and rebuilt numerous times. In 1614, Louis XIII laid the first stone of this five-arched bridge, engineered by Christophe Marie. Fifty houses were actually built on the bridge. Each had a ground floor with a shop and kitchen, an entresol and three single-room upper floors. However, the great flood of 1658 submerged half of Paris with tragic consequences. The floodwaters took out one of the bridge’s piers, two arches and part of the bridge houses, with some sixty people and the possessions of a good many others. Communications between the island the right-bank of Saint-Paul quarter were not reestablished until 1659. After that Parisians realised that every bridge house could be swept away by floodwaters or rammed off its moorings by blocks of river ice. Numerous riverfront houses had a “water door” that opened out onto the Seine River. It was practical for suppliers, allowing them direct access to the service quarters: pantries, kitchens, etc. It was practical too for illicit romance, secret liaisons and escapades.
When summer heat is at its height, Quai de Bourbon is a delicious place for a stroll, with its quiet, old-fashioned charm. A pleasant restaurant sits at number 1. Its iron gate is decorated with curling vines. This address is on the historical register and is a vestige of an old cabaret called Au Franc Pinot. It was patronised by boatmen. But is it was not patronised by us for lunch since it was closed! This was also the spot where travelers coming into Paris from Melun would disembark. In 1716, the cabaret was shut down forever when a manuscript copy of Lagrange-Chancel’s satirical poems targeting the Duke d’Orleans were discovered on the premises.
The Hotel Le Charron is located at number 13-15. Jean Charron, having profited from his position as treasurer for the wars in Picardy, commissioned Sebastien Bruand to built it in 1637-1640. Since then it has aged graciously. It changed hands several times around the end of the 17th century. Over the intervening centuries, painters were among its most illustrious residents: Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonnier, Adolphe-Victor Geoffroy-Dechaume and Emile Bernard. The ceilings date from the time of construction. The entire building is listed on the historical register.
The Hotel de Jassaud at number 19 is a mansion decorated with three sublime pediments. Number 25 was the home of Leon Blum (1872 – 1950), a writer, politician and prime minister of France during the Popular Front in 1936-37. Novelist Charles-Louis Philippe often came and went through the lovely carriage doors at number 31.
The house at number 45, dubbed the “centaur’s house” due to two bas-relief medallions representing Hercules defeating Nessus, was frequented by Apollinaire, Derain, Marie Laurencin, Lucie Delarue-Mardrus, Dorgeles, Giraudoux, Mac Orlan and Picasso. Residents included writers Charles-Louis Philippe and Drieu La Rochelle. Princess Bibesco, a writers born in Bucharest, died here. The home dates from 1659 and was designed by Francois Le Vau, the younger brother of the more famous Louis Le Vau.
Pont Saint-Louis runs from Quai de Bourbon to the Ile de la Cite, the neighbouring island. From 1634 until the end of the 18th century, only wooden foot-bridges had ever been built on this spot. The first of the series was called Saint-Landry. City historian Jacques Hillairet related the following anecdote: “On June 5 of the same year (1634), three parish processions were vying to the first to cross the bridge, bound for Notre-Dame. Shoving and pushing ensued, causing the balustrates and guardrails to give way. Believing the bridge was collapsing, many people jumped into the river, while others were crushed to death. About 20 people died and bout 40 others were seriously injured.” Due to this incident, a proclamation was issued forbidding the crossing of wooden bridges by processions anywhere in the kingdom.
In the winter of 1709, breaking ice in the river weakened the bridge. Its successor was painted red and simply named for its colour, “le pont rouge” (red bridge). It, too, had to be demolished. It was rebuilt four times on the site of the present-day foot-bridge that connects the two islands.
Like all the other wharfs on the island, the Quai d’Orleans was constructed between 1614 and 1646. Facing south, it is most favoured by the rays of the sun. In the early 20th century, residends of the island would often see poet Francis Carco slinking about. “There on the tip of Ile Saint-Louis, where I had rented a furnished room on Quai d’Orleans, I felt like I was living in a provincial village. Barge trains would float past my windows and wake me early with in the morning with their lugubrious mooing, rippling and echoing in the thick smoke billowing from the tugboats, which could suddenly block out the daylight.”
Passing by numbers 32, 30, 28, then 22, we notice balconies, doorways and ironwork. This is also a spot that provides an exceptional view of the flying buttresses of Notre-Dame.
19th century poet Felix Arvers was born at number 12. His most famous verses are in the sonnet dedicated to Marie Nodier, …My life has a secret, my soul, a mystery… After the start of the Revolution, Pierre Royer-Collard, later elected to a seat on the Council of Five Hundred, resided here.
The neoclassical mansion at number 6 dates from 1655. It first belonged to Antoine Moreau, then secretary to the king. In 1838, it was purchased by Count Ladislas Zamoyski to house the Polish Library, made up of donations from political refugees who had fled to France in 1830, after the first Polish insurrection against Russian rule. Today, the library has over 160,000 volumes, 8,000 engravings, 5,000 geographical maps, a fine collection of old manuscripts, scores by the composer Frederick Chopin, and Chopin memorabilia. The archives of the three Polish insurrections are also kept here. The library also contains a small museum dedicated to the memory of Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz (who went into exile in Paris after 1832 and taught Slavic languages and literature at the College de France, where he was also a librarian). It was set up by his son in 1902.
Before the stone bridges, wooden bridges with toll booths connected Ile Saint-Louis to the left bank. The Pont de la Tournelle (1923) is a regrettable replacement of the older bridge built by Christophe Marie, which was embellished with niches and small columns. While the statue of Saint Genevieve, Paris’ patron saint, by Paul Landowski shows good intentions, it is of little artistic interest.
The architect Le Vau designed many houses with ornate balconies on Quai de Bethune. The street’s earlier name was Quai aux Balcons, which stuck well into the 18th century. A great many facades remain intact despite the addition of floors to the buildings. Aside from their balconies, these homes often have handsome doorways and wide staircases with elaborate handrails. Stairwells were often highly decorative, too. From outside on the sidewalks, it is hard to imagine the mansions’ splendid inner courtyards and gardens.
The 1913 widening of Rue des Deux-Ports required demolishing the corner building at number 38. Cabaret de L’Ancre stood here; it was popular with people who plied the rivers and canals.
The building at 36 was home to several Noble prize winners. Physicist Marie Curie lived here from 1912 to 1934. Rene Cassin, the 1968 Nobel Peace Prize laureat, lived here from 1946 to 1976. At 32 and 30, we heed architect Le Vau’s advice and gaze at the balconies and the beautiful layout of the facade. The 18th century facade at number 28 is particularly remarkable for its bas-reliefs of mythological figures.
Hotel Hasselin stood at number 24. It, too, was designed by Le Vau for the king’s steward of royal pleasures and ballet. His real name was Louis Cauchon. He died of indigestion in 1662 after eating some 294 walnuts, reportedly for a bet. The 1930s demolition of this townhouse, one of the island’s most beautiful, may be considered a scandal. The wrecking was ordered by cosmetics magnate Helena Rubinstein. She claimed that her old mansion’s foundations were too shaky. The Beaux-Arts architect and adminstrators are also to blame for this loss. The new building, designed by Louis Sue, kept the magnificent door sculpted by 17th century master Etienne Le Hongre. French President George Pompidou lived here. In 1974, his funerla service was held in the near-by Saint-Louis-en-l’Ile church.
A beautiful door at number 22 is topped by a chimera with wings spreading omniously like a like those of a bird of prey. The mansion at number 20 mirrors its neighbour and sister at number 22; they are two halves of a harmonious 17th century pair. The staircase has three bas-reliefs depicting the labours of Hercules. The ceiling decoration is attributed to Mignard.
While number 18 belonged to the Marshall de Richelieu (the cardinal’s great-grand-nephew), he never lived in it. The brilliant soldier frequented the royal court. His fine wit and elegance made him a favourite with the ladies and, consequently, won him a few stays in prison cells in the Bastille. The plot originally belonged to Philippe de Coulanges, whose granddaughter was Madame de Sevigne.
The magnificent Hotel de Bretonvilliers included numbers 14 to 2. It stood on the triangle formed today by Quai d’Anjou, Rue Saint-Louis-en-l’Ile and Rue de Bretonvilliers. It fell victim to greedy speculators who had little respect for the past and were quick to demolish.
There are no more bathing beauties going in and out of the old boat-house public baths that once moored at the eastern end of the island. Under the reign of Louis-Philippe in the Second Empire, the Lambert baths’ swimming school was a ladies only institution. Admission cost sixty centimes, bathing suits went for fifty, bathrobes cost twenty-five and swimming lessons were two francs and fifty centimes.
Alas, the boathouse/bathhouse sank when construction of Pont de Sully began. Paris Prefect Houssmann had dreamed of linking Boulevard Saint-Germain with Boulevard Henry-IV. The war of 1870 emptied the State’s coffers and postponed the project. But neighbourhood residents and wine merchants wanted their bridge. They got it in 1877. During the construction, vestiges of the Philippe-Auguste fortress walls were discovered, as was the mouth of a canal that carried water off the Bievre River to the Saint-Victor abbey gardens. Located on the eastern tip of Ile Saint-Louis, this iron and stone bridge spans the Seine River twice. The first portion runs from Quai Henri-IV to Quai d’Anjou; the second runs from Quai de Bethune to the point where Quai de la Tournelle turns into Quai Saint-Bernard. The bridge was originally named Pont Saint-Germain, but was later named for Sully, the powerful minister who served King Henri IV, and who, being at nearby Arsenal, was also a neighbour.
One of the four riverfront streets that surround the island, Quai d’Anjou is the one that has changed the least since it first went up. Located on the north side of the island, it was born from the unification of the Ile aux Vaches and the Ile Notre-Dame, and was named for the brother of Louis XIII, Gaston, the Duke d’Anjou. Its northern exposure gives it an austere and cold aspect that is counterbalanced by the unique architecture of its mansions, most of which were the work of Le Vau.
Practically every shade tree that once lined the street was swept away. A small green enamel plaque set in the stone of the parapet in front of 1 Quai d’Anjou explains in three words, “Crue Janiver 1910”. The great flood of January 1910 covered nearly the entire island.
Our attention is immediately directed to the lovely building at number 3 (Hotel Lambert at number 1 is under renovation and the building is completely covered by scaffolding and cloth) that Louis Le Vau added for his personal use by integrating it into the quayside facade and decorating the ensemble with a balcony “running from one building to the other”.
Jean-Baptiste Lambert got his wealth from speculation and from “managing public funds”. In 1642, he commissioned Le Vau to design a home befitting his fortune. Death put an early end to his dream, however, and his brother Nicolas inherited the property. Le Vau’s floor plan laid out the rooms in an innovative way, lining them up in a manner which would inspire the layout of Versailles Palace. His architecture is classical, not academic.
The Hotel Lambert has preserved its rich interior. While the paintings by Le Sueur were dispersed (only a few medallions remain), Charles Le Brun triumphs in the Galerie d’Hercule with his monumental achievement, heralding his later creations at Vaux-le-Vicomte, the Louvre and Versailles.
Among the residents who lived in the Lambert mansion were the Marquise du Chatelet who befriended Voltaire. He described his hostess as “the only woman of her kind, a reader of both Ovid and Euclid with the imagination of the former and the fairness of the latter”. In her 1957 novel Voltaire in Love, English novelist Nancy Mitford paints the marquise as a libertine, telling a story about how she called a newly-hired valet up to her bedroom, his first day on the job: “While she was giving him orders, she took off her nightdress and stood naked as a marble statue”.
Sold off, carved up, turned into a girls’ boarding school, then a warehouse for military beds, the property was restored to its original glory after Prince Adam Czartoryski acquired it. Mickiewicz, Chopin, Delacroix, George Sand and Charles de Montalembert were frequent guests. Later, Cezanne painted here. We can thank Baron de Rede, who bought it in 1947, for the preservation of this magnificent testimony to the elegance of the 17th century. French film star Michele Morgan lived here. Today, Hotel Lambert is owned by Guy de Rothschild and he is busy renovating it!
The small Hotel Marigny at number 5, built in 1640, was home to Rennequin, the inventor of the hydraulic machine pumped water for the fountains of Versailles. In 1903, writer Charles-Louis Philippe could be found here. A short time later, he moved to 31 Quai de Bourbon.
The house at number 7, owned by the Paris bakers’ guild since 1843, used to be an annex of the Hotel Lambert. In the 19th century, Honore Daumier (an artist and litographer) rented a third floor flat at number 9 for seventeen years. He used his studio for entertaining friends such as the painters Bonvin, Corot, Daubigny, Courbet, Millet, Delacroix, the historian Michelet and the sculptor Geoffroy-Dechaume.
The 17th century house at number 13 was frequented by numerous artists and occupied by the painter Daubigny, one of Corot’s friends. Sculptor Geoffroy-Dechaume had a studio here. Number 15 was one of the richest homes on the island. It was probably built by Le Vau for Nicolas Lambert de Thorigny.
The Hotel de Lauzun at number 17, attributed to Louis Le Vau, has sumptuous interiors decorated by Le Sueur and Le Brun. Today, it belongs to the city of Paris. It holds lavish receptions with waiters and lackeys in 17th century garb, complete with powdered wigs.
This completed the walk around the riverside streets of the island and it was time for lunch. With Au Franc Pinot closed, we went to Cafe Le Lutetia for lunch. A salad gourmande provided a healthy counterbalance to the sweet delights, one of which followed – creme brulee 🙂
Suitably recharged, we continued our stroll on Rue Saint-Louis-en-l’Ile, the island’s business and religious centre. Up to its renovation, middle class residents shared the street with shopkeepers. After Sunday Mass, there were lines outside the neighbourhood pastry shop and delicatessen. The contractors who lived and worked around the courtyards here are now history. Today, as soon as the weather turns pleasant, the street is invaded by strollers and tourists wh dispel any trace of the neighbourhood’s old village atmosphere.
Gracing the street at number 51 is a lovely 17th century building. It has an elaborately carved doorway with a faun’s head at the top and two sneering chimeras supporting the balcony. The mansion had a large garden that once continued all the way to Quai d’Orleans. In 1840, the State rented it for the archbishop’s place. It was from here that the archbishop of Paris, Monsignor Affre, set off for Place de Bastille on June 24, 1848. His intention was to intervene between the provisional government’s troops and the insurgents, but he was wounded and carried back to his mansion, where he died three days later. A decade later, the State turned this fine home into a police barracks! The garden space was then used to construct a rental building. With the exception of the staircase’s handrail, little by little, all the interior decor was stripped and taken away. The facades overlooking the street and the courtyard, however, have remained intact.
The last court-tennis hall in Paris was located at number 54. Of course, it was closed long ago, but the building still has its 17th century beams. An industrialist stored bakery ovens here for some time. Today, the structure has been turned into a hotel.
Berthillon, the most famous ice-cream maker in Paris, does booming business at number 31. The clock at number 21 sticks out like a sign, pointing to a church which used to be a small chapel. As it couldn’t accommodate the growing neighbourhood population for ever, the decision to construct a new church was taken in 1622. Completing the new place of worship took 62 years and a series of architects: Francois Le Vau, Gabriel Le Duc, then Jacques Doucet. The church was consecrated in 1726 under the name Saint-Louis-en-l’Ile. After the campanile was struck by lightning in 1740, a thirty-meter-high steeple with oval openings went up in its place.
This Jesuit-style church is astonishingly luminous. Corinthian pilasters grace the arched rows in the choir, which open onto the ambulatory. The sculptures in the nave are the work of Jean-Baptiste de Champaigne and date from the 17th century. Playwright Jean Racine had his son baptised in this church, and Le Vau was married here.
Engineer Philippe Lebon, who resided at number 12, changed people’s daily lives when he discovered the principles of gas lighting and gas heating, right here, in 1799.
At the end of the street at number 1 is the old crossbowmen’s residence which was actually part of the Hotel de Bretonvilliers. While it has hardly changed much, it did lose a bit of its pitoresque flavour when A l’Estacade, a cafe and billiards room, was closed on the early 20th century, much to the changrin of avid players.
The island also has a few side streets. At 4 Rue de Bretonvilliers, the mansion and the street share the same name. When Boulevard Henri-IV was laid out and cut a swath through the southern tip of the island, wreckers had to hear down the beautiful mansion that had once belonged to Claude Le Ragois de Bretonvilliers, the biggest property owner on the island in 1636. All that remains to titillate our imaginations are engravings, floor plans and paintings. The residence at number 6 still has its original wooden staircase.
A few old houses line Rue Poulletier. In the 17th century, the Soeurs de la Charite convent was granted the property now located at number 5bis. A sign over the doorway announced that this was the girls’ school belonging to the Saint-Louis parish sisters of charity. In 1677, number 9 was the home of Philippe-Auguste Le Hardy, the Marquis de La Trousse, Mme de Sevigne’s first cousin. Number 12 has lovely windows with wrought-iron railings gracing the facade. At number 20, a big door in Louis XIV style has two heads of Hercules in a lion skin. The escutcheon with palms has lost its coat of arms.
Rue des Deux-Ponts was the first street opened on the island (1614 – 1620). The 1912-13 street widening program made it dull and banal. Old homes were demolished, taking away much of its charm and ambiance. Painter Emile Bernard, who lived in Hotel Le Charron, did his utmost to prevent the devastation by petitioning the authorities. Although he had collected over a hundred signatures, including those of Rodin and Anatole France, his effort was to no avail. This explains why we see Louis XIII period homes on one side of the street and Third Republic period buildings on the other (from numbers 2 to 14). At number 10, home to the Halphen foundation, there is a plaque in memory of the 112 residents of the building, including 40 children, who were deported in 1942 and who died in Nazi concentration camps.
In the 18th century, one of the residents of this street was the prolific writer, tireless walker and chronicler of the sights he saw in his travels, Restif de la Bretonne. The realistic descriptions he penned showed no leniency, though he had a penchant for anecdotes. He was often taunted by passersby and gangs of children for his outlandish appearance. He died a pauper at the age of 71 on Rue de la Bucherie.
Rue Le Regrattier has conserved a provincial ambience with its old houses. The northern block of the street was called Rue de la Femme-sans-Tete from 1680 to 1870 because of the sign that showed a decapitated woman holding a glass in one hand with the written slogan “Tout est bon” (everything is good).
Baudelaire bounded up the stairs at number 6 more than once to visit his beloved Jeanne Duval. He had moved her into a small apartment while he lived nearby at 17 Quai d’Anjou in the Hotel de Pimodan (or Lauzun).
Rue Boutarel got its name from a Rue Saint-Louis dyer, a colonel in the national guard who had set up his workshop here. The creation of Rue Jean-du-Bellay in 1867 spelt the demise of the mansions of the western edge along Quai d’Orleans and Quai Bourbon.
The stroll is over and two little bears stand at the prow, on Quai Bourbon, the maritime odors and the seagulls making them dream of other travels….
But not before a visit to Berthillon. It turns out they have a Griottine with vanilla ice-cream, cherry sorbet, liqueur cherries, whipped cream and raspberry sauce. Unbelievably delicious!
Two happy little bears hop off the island, and even the sun comes out to look at them!
And where do two hyper little bears go to run off excess energy? The Louvre, of course!
The Mona Lisa. The Venus de Milo. The Winged Victory of Samothrace. The collection in the Louvre Museum in Paris is an Art History 101 checklist. And yes, you must see the works in person. No photograph or Web site has the same impact as standing dwarfed before the myriad intricacies of Renaissance painter Paolo Veronese’s 7-meter-tall Wedding Feast at Cana. But a pick-and-choose tour of famous masterpieces ignores the full scope of the collection. Begun by King François I in 1546, the 35,000 pieces are a narrative of artistic vision from antiquity through the mid-19th century.
The Louvre is the granddaddy of public art museums. In 1793 the medieval fortress-turned-royal palace was opened to all the people by order of the French Revolutionary government. Fostered later by Napoleon, who understood the propaganda value of a collection of world masterpieces, it was also a center for the education of artists. The Louvre was the inspiration for other art museums. It is the quintessential example of the museum idea: that you can go into one place and confront the surviving products of distant cultures and the finest things that have ever been made.
So how to take it all in? The only way to do it is to go back repeatedly. In the words of Paul Cézanne, “Keep good company — that is, go to the Louvre.”
And little bears keep very good company!
In the Medici Gallery admiring Rubens paintings…
Look, Puffles, I found the lady who made my lace hat!
She’s all red and noble but that baby is really ugly!
Those flowers look just like the ones we hid behind at Mauritshuis!
Checking out the Spanish paintings…
Admiring the Apollo Gallery…
The Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities Room…
Do you think they’ve got a headache from holding up the ceiling all the time?
There must have been a shortage of clothes in Greek antiquity.
And in France!
Mummy, mummy, can we have a seashell carriage like she has?
They seem in a hurry to get somewhere!
Maybe we should be going back to the hotel, it’s really late and we have another full day tomorrow!
This doesn’t look like the way out…
Do you think we are lost?
Best looking sign ever!