The Philippe-Auguste Wall again

I have already several times talked about the Philippe-Auguste Wall, constructed between 1190 and 1210 around what then was more or less Paris, with some 50.000 inhabitants, plus perhaps about the same number of students in the newly started university activities. You can still find a surprising number of relics left of this wall, which basically was destroyed during the latter part of the 16th century. You can read about some of the places where the wall can still more or less be seen here, here, here, here and here.

I recently had the opportunity to visit another remaining piece of the wall, situated under a post office, Rue Cardinal Lemoine. It was discovered when the building, housing the post office, was to be constructed in 1992 … and was saved.

It’s actually an opening in the wall, an arch, which allowed a deviation of the Bièvre River* to pass (the natural river normally reached the Seine River close to where now the Gare d’Austerlitz is situated), a canal which was created in 1151 and which reached the Seine just in front of Notre Dame (of which the construction actually started only a few years later, in 1163).

It seems that the latter part of the canal was abandoned, when a new canal deviation was created in 1370. I have tried to draw more or less where the Bièvre and its deviations used to pass -and the little red cercle inicates where the arch for the passage was - is - situated.

On the map below from the 16th century, we can see that the canal is not visible any more in its latter part, only the 1370 deviation. The red cercle shows again where the arch was - is - situated. ... and we can see the wall, which had not yet been demolished.

Today the Bièvre River still floods, but it’s completely covered (it was stinking) and is never visible inside Paris. But, parts of the wall can still be found. On the map below, you can see which places I have so far visited and showed, but there are a few more, sometimes behind closed doors and gates. I may come back… 

*/ "Bièvre" refers to beavers, of which the little river was full. 


A little restaurant with "history"

It’s not in my habits to recommend apartments, hotels, restaurants… , but this one is so much linked to the Montmartre “history” that I think it’s worth a special mentioning.

This little restaurant, 42 rue Lepic, Montmartre, has been there since 1909 and the interior decoration has hardly changed since. The eating is also very traditional – and served in generous portions.

The restaurant has always been run by the same family, now in a mixture of fourth and fifth generations.

So, as said, it’s very much related to the Montmartre myth. At the beginning, the restaurant was called “Chez Arthur”, after the name of the owner. Four years later, in 1913, the name was changed to “A la Pomponnette “, a name actually linked to a heavy wine drinking “test” – Pomponnette refers to a drinking glass without a foot, which may decrease the risk of reversing. In addition to the owner, at least two prominent Montmartre profiles participated, the painter Gen Paul and Poulbot. I have already posted on Francisque Poulbot, e.g. here and here.

Furthermore, it was during a dinner here in 1920 where Poulbot again participated that it was decided – of course for fun - to establish the “République de Montmartre”... which later among other things led to the creation of the Montmartre vineyard and its annual great festivities to celebrate the year’s harvest (see previous posts here and here about the “Clos de Montmartre”).

In 1923, Poulbot suggested, and Arthur agreed, to sacrifice the hen-roost behind the restaurant and instead create a free of charge dispensary for kids, for the "poulbots".

The walls are covered by paintings and drawings by different local artists, including Poulbot and Gen Paul,  and a lot of old photos. Actually, even the walls themselves are covered by Poulbot drawings, but you can hardly distinguish them today after about a century of smoke from food, cigarettes, cigars… 

One of the permanent occupants is “Ponette”, who this cold day had found a perfect place. 


Luxembourg Palace (2)

Referring to my previous post, about the Luxembourg Palace, here is a second one.

So, since 1799, the former Royal Castle was transformed into the legislative building it still is and the Senate (in different forms) has been housed here since, with a short exception 1940-44, when it became the French headquarters of the “Luftwaffe” and Herman Göring prepared some nice accommodations for his visits to Paris.

The Senate is the upper house of the French Parliament. The President of the Senate is ranked as number two in the French hierarchy and would replace the President of the Republic awaiting new elections. 348 members are elected indirectly by “grands électeurs” for six years. Half of the members are elected every three years.

After a first renovation of the building (see previous post), a more important one was undertaken as from 1835; the blue parts were added to the old building. The new facade was made to look exactly as on the original palace. A new senate chamber, a library, and what is called the “Salle des Conférences”, which got its present decoration in the 1850’s were added.

The“Salle des Conférences”  is highly decorated in a typical “Second Empire” style. Napoleon’s throne, when he assisted at the Senate, is still to be seen.

The senate chamber was more or less in the dark during my visit; not easy to get any good pictures, but here they are.

Unfortunately it was not possible to visit the library, but I took a photo of a photo. If you would manage to enter you would have seen a number of paintings by Eugène Delacroix. I just managed to take a picture through a door. The table is placed exactly in the middle of the building - we can (more or less) see the garden behind. To be in the middle here, means to be exactly on the old French Meridian (the “Rose Line”), which was abandoned to the advantage of Greenwich by the end of the 19th century. (As compensation, the British promised to accept the metric system. J I have talked about this already in several posts, e.g. here.)
Actually, the line does not go exactly through this room. Information corrected by a new post in February 2014. 



My intention was to make the second post about the Luxembourg Palace, but it will have to wait a few days. When it snows in Paris, I feel that you just must report on it.

After a snowfall, normally the parks are closed, at least until sanding / salting has been made … and as the snow normally disappears after a few days or hours…

Last Saturday, one of the gates of “my park” was under repairs and had not been well closed. So…

One tree was well protected, sleeping indoors, no ice on the little lake so the birds seemed happy, nobody was sitting on the benches (so nice a sunny spring day)…

The kids – some may have discovered snow for the first time – of course enjoyed it all. 

A number of snowmen were made, the nicest perhaps by two English teens, to a large part thanks to the carrot which I incidentally found on the ground and offered them.

… and then, just a closer look.

That was Saturday

Sunday morning, more snow ... and the park was really closed.

Some Sunday views from “my” streets. Hardly any cars left their parking places and the streets became pedestrian, so far to the pleasure of most people, especially the kids.

This was Sunday, but Monday the city is again supposed to “work”. The weather forecast gives some reasons to worry. 


Luxembourg Palace (1)

Together with some fellow ”greeters”, voluntarily accompanying visitors to Paris (read more about it here or click on the sidebar “Parisien d’un Jour”), I had the pleasure to visit the interior of the Palais de Luxembourg, the site of the French Senate. I already posted about the Luxembourg Gardens, e.g. here and here, but not until now about the Palace itself.

A lot is to be said and showed about this Palace, so I will split in two posts and of course (you know me) start by trying to give some historic information.

The Palace was originally built for Marie de Medici, wife, widow of Henri IV, mother of Louis XIII and grandmother of Louis XIV. As from 1610 and the death of Henri IV, until 1617, she acted as regent for the young Louis XIII. Without going into any details, there was a lot of fighting and intriguing between her, her son, her second son, the Cardinal Richelieu and others as well during her regency as later.

Marie was not happy living in the austere Louvre Palace and desired to make a building and garden similar to what she had known from her birthplace, Florence.  In 1612 she bought land and the already existing smaller castle, still there and now referred to as the “Petit Luxembourg”, having belonged to a Duke of Piney-Luxembourg.

Thirteen years later, in 1625, she could move in, but the Palace was really completed only in 1631, when she had just been forced to leave the Royal court, first exiled to Compiègne.  She then escaped to Brussels, Amsterdam, London … conspiring against Louis XIII and Richelieu… and died in Cologne in 1642. She then still owned the Palace and bequeathed it to her favourite son, Gaston d’Orléans, always in fight with the elder brother, Louis XIII.

With only some short interruptions (as museum), the Palace was then occupied by the Orléans family and later by the brother of Louis XVI, the future Louis XVIII … until the Revolution when it became a prison, the home of the Senate (“Sénat Conservateur”) and the first residence of Napoleon Bonaparte as First Consul.

1799-1805 the Palace was transformed into a legislative building, the grand central staircase was demolished and replaced by a senate chamber (blue circle). Beginning 1835 additional surface (in light blue) was constructed, keeping the original façade alike and a new senate chamber (the still existing one) was created as well as a library.

We can here compare what the Palace and its gardens looked like during the 18th century and today.

Marie de Medici had her apartments in the west wing. Almost all the original interior decoration is gone, but a few elements have been saved and assembled in a room on the ground floor (“Salle du Livre d’Or”)…

… together with some decorations of the sleeping quarters of Louis XIII’s wife, Anne d’Autriche, from the Louvre.

Marie de Medici had ordered 24 canvases from Peter Paul Rubens – to her glory. They were exposed in the “Rubens gallery” (see plan above). When the Palace was rebuilt during the 19th century, a new central staircase was built here. The Rubens paintings can now be seen at the Louvre.

Again referring to history, a very special event took place in this antechamber, referred to as “la Journée des Dupes” (the Day of the Dupes), when Marie de Medici, Louis XIII and Richelieu met in November 1630 and when Marie thought that she had got rid of Richelieu, but a day later Richelieu was the winner and soon Marie had to leave. Richelieu then lived in the neighbour “Petit Luxembourg”, now the residence of the President of the Senate.

Here are some pictures of the “Petit Luxembourg” and its still private garden.

… and here some from the central court of the real Palace.

In a next post, I will illustrate the magnificent rooms which were added, redecorated during the 19th century.                  


A private park

This is the largest non-public garden in Paris. Most of the time it’s empty of people… except for the gardeners, who keep it in a perfect shape  Since January, it’s open to public the first Saturday afternoon each month. I was there at the premiere.

We are in the garden of Hôtel Matignon, the official residence of the Prime Minister. The garden and the mansion date from the beginning of the 18th century. The place has been owned by families like Luxembourg, Matignon, Grimaldi (Monaco) until the Revolution, then by a dancer, by Talleyrand… and after the Restoration of the Royalty, by a Duchess of Bourbon, who made it into some kind of nunnery, by a wealthy American… For a while it was in competition with the Elysée Palace to become the home of the head of the State. It was then owned by the Family Galliera, who, when France again had become a Republic, invited 3000 persons here to celebrate the wedding of a French princess with the heir of the Portuguese throne.  This was ”too much” for the republicans and led to the exiling of the French throne pretenders. Matignon then housed the Embassy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, becoming “enemy property” during WWI. For a while thought to be a museum, in 1935 it finally became the headquarters of the President of the Council and in 1958 of the Prime Minister.

Obviously, few people were informed, as it was still possible to take photos giving the impression that the garden was empty. The garden is a mixture of the typical French garden and some more “romantic” parts. There is a special charm even on a grey winter day, but I may return in April or May…

There are very few statues.

At the extreme end of the garden is the building. It was Saturday afternoon, but one could see a few lights is some of the rooms, including the one of the Prime Minister. It’s obvious that at present no rest is allowed to our political leaders.

A few trees have been there for centuries, but since 1976 each Prime Minister has planted a new tree or bush – obviously with the exception of Jacque Chirac. Maybe he planted something in the Elysée Palace gardens later. 

This gives us the opportunity to check who the occupants have been since then.

I was not quite alone and some journalists were of course present. I was even interviewed by a TV channel, but I doubt that it was broadcast.

The official entrance to Matignon is on rue de Varenne, but unless you have a personal invitation by the Prime Minister, I guess you will have to use the back entrance from Rue de Babylone and go through a severe security control.