There is a street in the 7th arrondissement named after Jean Nicot. There is nothing special about this street, nor with its extension, Passage Jean Nicot.
Who was Jean Nicot? Jean Nicot (1530-1600) was a French diplomat and scholar, who for a while was the French ambassador to Portugal. There, he discovered the tobacco plant and the snuff tobacco, which was, thanks to him, soon introduced to the French court. It was immediately much appreciated by the Queen, Catherine de Medicis, and also thought to work as a pain killer, used by her son, King François II, who suffered from strong migraines. The use of (snuff) tobacco became fashionable … and this was somehow the start of the introduction and popularization of tobacco throughout Europe.
... and Jean Nicot gave his name to the Nicotiana Tabacum plant and to nicotine.
… and tobacco use spread, being snuffed, chewed, smoked… getting really popular when the cigarette was “invented” during the 19th century and of course became more than popular throughout the 20th century. It took some time before all scientists seemed to agree that the consumption of it was not really good for your health. Only a few decades ago, movie stars, doctors… spread propaganda for cigarette smoking, which has today disappeared and been replaced by the “Smoking kills” signs.
Why does Jean Nicot have his street name here? Until the beginning of the 20th century we could find here, on the Seine banks, a large tobacco factory, “Manufacture de tabac”. We can see the place it occupied on the Paris map from 1901. It has since been replaced by some apartment and office buildings, including the American Church (one of them, see previous post) and a large building (from 1937) which until the end of last century was the home of the French tobacco company, SEITA, a state monopoly until 1970. Today, there seems to be lot of office space to rent, if you are interested.
It’s rather surprising today to see how the building is decorated by frescoes more or less glorifying the tobacco culture (see also top picture).
Today, the French tobacco industry is quite limited with local cultivation and production heavily reduced, business-wise run by foreign companies.
We are close to the Invalides (see previous posts) and its esplanade. Looking on the same Paris map from 1901, we can see some rail tracks, actually under the esplanade. They led to what then was a rather modest railway station, Gare des Invalides, from 1902, which served some destinations, mostly in the suburbs, until the 1930’s. The station building is now an Air France terminal and some tracks are used for the RER line along the Seine.
But using what actually is referred to as a street, Rue Jean et Paul Lerolle, you can still visit the space under the esplanade. The rail tracks here are gone, the space is now occupied by a rubbish heap, some municipal services, a canteen for the nearby foreign office… and you have access to the Air France terminal and the restaurant Chez Françoise.