Tobacco glorified

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Only a few decades ago, movie stars, doctors… spread propaganda for cigarette smoking, which has today disappeared and been replaced by the “Smoking kills” signs.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 It has since been replaced by some apartment and office buildings, including the American Church (one of them, see previous post) and a large building (from 1937) which until the end of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.


Virginia said...

The tobacco industry is still safe in Paris I think! :)
Lovely area that I've not visited,in fact I've never been to the Invalides! How did you let that happen??
I will put that at the top of the new list. In fact I might just forgo Montmartre for once. I can hear your sigh of relief.

Julie said...

Do you still smoke, Peter?

Julie said...

I stayed a month in the 7th in 2011. Adored it. Tramped a lot of this area, not knowing what to look for. Now I am better informed.

Vagabonde said...

Un post bien intéressant Peter. Tu sais mon père, qui était joaillier, investissait aussi dans l’immobilier et avait deux hôtels restaurants dont l’un avait un débit de tabac. Donc je me rappelle bien de la SEITA – tout le monde ne pouvait pas être accepté comme débitant de tabac. D’ailleurs il fumait beaucoup – des Gauloises, et est mort d’un cancer des poumons à 65 ans. Mais je ne savais pas que la SEITA n’avait plus le monopole puisque j’étais partie de France avant. Ton blog est toujours très éducatif.

Thérèse said...

Billet super interessant comme toujours, je me repete, je radote...
Monsieur Jean Nicot est maintenant rentre dans ma memoire grace a toi.

Cergie said...

Beaucoup d'humour au premier et au second même au 3ème degré dans ce message, Peter. La fresque du dessus ne représente pas des plants de tabac (fleurs et feuilles) cf la planche que tu montres : feuilles plus longues, fleurs en trompette. Cela montre bien la méconnaissance que l'on avait de cette plante et de ses méfaits (mais elle a des bienfaits aussi). Idem pour la radioactivité.
Au XVIème siècle on ne vivait pas assez longtemps d'ailleurs pour avoir la vie abrégée par les maladies qui nous affligent de nos jours.

Cergie said...

Ce qui est aussi affligeant est le départ des manufactures du centre ville et la transformation des locaux en bureaux. Cette transformation se continue en périphérie proche : de beaux bâtiments industriels disparaissent de nos jours en masse.

Anonymous said...

Loved all the pictures in this wonderful post!
Specially the ones in the Smoking kills album....

I'm just curious about the third photo, third from the left, top row. The gentleman with the long pipe. Is him in uniform? Perhaps a Zouave one? And if so, from where?
French Zouave, American Zouave or somewhere else?

Loved also the little streets and the buildings. They make me nostalgic.....

Thank you so much, M. Peter.

Alain said...

La culture du tabac a fait vivre plusieurs générations d'agriculteurs dans le sud-ouest et aussi en Alsace. On trouve encore dans ces régions des hangars en bois, peints en noir et dotés d'ouvertures réglables. C'est là que l'on faisait sécher les feuilles de tabac après la récolte.
Le spectacle le plus célèbre dans lequel le tabac tient un grand rôle, est sans doute "Carmen".

Studio at the Farm said...

Thank you, Peter, for another fascinating post!

claude said...

Un post qui va faire un tabac, Peter.
Mon Chéri fume de moins en moins, son pote allemand ne fume plus du tout et sa fille non plus. Son frère et son compagnon beaucoup moins qu'avant.
C'est un truc qui ne me manque vu que je n'ai jamais fumé.
Vagabonde a raison, instructif ton blog, j'ai encore appris quelque chose, Merci.

Harvey said...

Peter,yours is and always has been the best blog about Paris. You are obviously in love with the city and it comes across in your writings. I'm always learning something when I read your posts.
Thanks for being eyes and ears for those like me who can't be there.My one wish before I die is to go there with my partner and stay long enough to fully appreciate the experience. Until then, I will be the biggest fan of Peter's Paris.
Thanks again