The Marais is considered to be one of the trendiest areas of Paris and one of the most historic, with more intact pre-revolutionary streets and buildings than any other area of the city. It retains the flavour of old Paris with its winding cobblestone streets which are home to fashion boutiques, museums, restaurants and bars. It was spared the pre-war modernisation that brought large, wide avenues, boulevards and squares to other districts. The Marais opffers a welcoming home to people of different nationalities, ethnicities and sexual identities. It is also home to the largest Jewish district in Paris.
The Marais comprises the 3rd and 4th arrondissements of the city, on the northern (right) bank of the Seine, on the site of what was once a marsh. If you watch the TV show ‘House Hunters International’, prospective renters or buyers usually say that they want to reside in the Marais, but often don’t have the funds to realise their dream. A price tag is attached to this trendiest of neighbourhoods.
Our apartment for the week was on Boulevard Voltaire, close to Place de Republique, on the northern border of the Marais. We often walked through the area but, to see more of it, we took a walking tour with Discover Walks. As was the case with our Montmartre Tour, the tour was free with the guide relying on tips for her income. Our tour guide for the Marais was Iris.
Iris started our tour by taking us past a couple of mansions and provided some history associated with them. We then walked along a few streets and through an old archway to find ourselves inside the Places Des Vosges, a square grassed park surrounded on all sides by an historic building. Initially called Place Royalle, it was built for royalty and the nobility in 1605, under the rule of King Henry IV. Its name was changed to Place Des Vosges in 1800, in honour of the French department of the Vosges, which was the first department to pay the revolutionary tax levied at the time. The park or grass square is frequented by the public who sit on the grass and socialise. We even saw children practicing martial arts. Whilst the park might be accessible to everyone, the surrounding building is only for those who can afford to live there. The apartments command a high price. Interestingly, the building has the oldest piece of graffiti known to exist in Paris – written by someone called Nicolas in 1704. One of the famous former residents was Victor Hugo, author of Les Miserables.
From the Places Des Vosges, we walked to the adjacent Hotel Du Sully (House of Sully), a Renaissance style mansion built in 1625 and a former home of Maximilien de Béthune, Duke of Sully. The building now houses the National Monuments Centre. The garden of the building does not feature flowers, in keeping with its original design. At one end of the garden is a series of large doors that access the ground floor where orange trees were once grown (as the outdoor weather was too cold for oranges).
We then wandered past cafes and churches until we reached the Jewish District, home to bakeries, cafes, particularly along the narrow Rue de Rosiers. We also visited small gardens and the Shoah Memorial and its Wall of the Righteous.
One of the last stops on the tour was Rue Francois Miron where two of the oldest surviving houses in Paris (built in the 14th century) can be found.
I was an interesting 90-minute tour that improved our knowledge of the history of Paris and allowed us to see things we likely would not have found on our own.