Walking Around Châtelet
and a Lot of History

Buvette du Chatelet
The 'village' starts right behind the Théâtre du Châtelet.

Part 2 of 'Discovering' Châtelet; from Rivoli to Seine

Paris:- Wednesday, 12. November 1997:- This started 'On the Way to Somewhere... Close By' when I had a blank head and started wandering west from the Hôtel de Ville along the rue de Rivoli. At the Square of the Tour Saint-Jacques I got unglued, and now find myself actually at the place du Châtelet. This is all new to me.

I look around the place. It is not exiting but at least it is open and there is a lot of sky. I tend to look at this and the Conciergerie across the Seine because looking at the twin theatres makes me yawn.

Going on the right side of the Théâtre du Châtelet, still in the rue Victoria, I find this runs into the rue Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois, which runs parallel to the quai de la Mégisserie.

In here, there is this little area with the rue des Orfèvres, the rue Jean-Lantier again, the rue des Deux-Boules, the rue Bertin-Poirée and finally, the rue des Bourdonnais, which runs alongside the huge Conforama store; starting from the quai de la Mégisserie and going up almost to Les Halles on the other side of Rivoli.

I'll start with the rue Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois. It sits on a Roman road to Nanterre which in 820, was a route between the pont au Change and the Saint-Germain-le-Rond - now Auxerrois - church. In 1300 it was called Saint-Germain-à-Couroiers and in 1450 got its present name.

Today this rue is 147 metres long and it has always been narrow - as little as rue des Orfevres four metres wide. It was cut off in 1860 by the building of the theatre at the east end, and by the Belle Jardinière - today, Conforama, being rebuilt - store at the other end.

This was the location, from 1222 to 1783, of the For-l'Evéque prison. Until 1674 it was an Episcopal prison and afterwards, it was a Royal one. The name seems to come from the old French, 'for,' rather than from 'four' or 'fort.'

It is very old in the rue des Orfèvres, as it is in all the little streets around here.

The Bishops of Paris had their own police, courts, judges and jail. The front of this one was only nine metres wide on the rue Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois, and the building ran back 35 metres to the quai de la Mégisserie, where there was another entry.

This jail was no different from any other in those times; and so it was demolished and completely rebuilt in 1652. When it was taken over by the King on 1. September 1777 it contained 240 inmates - 31 on King's warrants, 77 by judicial decree, 74 military prisoners, 10 policemen prisoners, and 48 for debts.

In 1744, Voltaire snitched on the widow Bienvenue - an honest woman who had a boutique in the Palais-Royal, where she was selling a poem, which displeased him. A student was chucked in for writing satires about his professors at the Collège d'Harcourt. The For-l'Evéque was also the favored prison for actors and a lot of the best saw the inside of it. In 1780 Louis XIV decided to close it because it lacked plumbing.

This is not hard to imagine by looking at it - but it does not, in fact, smell. The chicken dealers on the quai have their back doors here and if one of them were open, well, there would be something to smell - but not like those old days.

Before getting to where the prison was, I go left into the rue des Orfèvres. In the 13th century this rue was called Aux Moines de Joyenval, which was corrupted into Jenvau. Until the 15th century it was called Deux-Portes, because it was closed by a gate at each end. In 1636 it became rue de la Chapelle-aux-Orfèvres as the Saint-Eloi chapel was in it. In 1839 it took its present name. It is 58 metres long and four to 10 metres wide.

Numbers two and four, right on the corner, were the Parisian residence of the abbots of Joyenval, who received the property from Barthélemy de Royce in 1224.

Think about this for a minute. Royce gave this little piece of land in downtown Paris to the abbots 753 years ago, and except for a big dark Mercedes I can see parked further along, it doesn't look much changed; except there isn't much muck on the ground and it doesn't smell bad.

A salt cellar was built on this same location, near the Seine, in 1698; which was one of three in the area at the time. From 1356 onwards the king had the monopoly to sell salt; and this lasted until the Révolution. The salt building here was sold in 1818 and demolished in 1909.

At numbers eight and 10, Roger de La Poterne and his wife sold their hôtel, the Trois-Degrés, on 15. January 1399 for 400 Ecus of gold, to the goldsmith's guild. bar Bordonnais They demolished the hôtel and in 1403 erected a big house, made of wood and cut stone, for use as the guild's offices and for use as a hospital for poor, ill or aged goldsmiths. Their widows were also admitted.

This building was in turn replaced in 1566, with a hospital, taking up four floors. A chapel dedicated to Saint-Eloi had sculptures by Germain Pilon and Jacques Aubry did the windows, which were designed by Jean Cousin.

The Bar de Bourdonnais has a very bright red neon sign, convenient parking for bicycles and a very old building upstairs.

The chapel was suppressed in April of 1791, but traces of it can be seen in the present facade, and surrounding facades also carry traces. The guards for the goldsmiths were at number nine, and the tailor's guild was at the end of the block, in number 15, probably where the modern hotel is now.

At the end I find the rue Jean-Lantier. From 1254 it was named Jehan-Loing-Letier, from the 15th century it was Philippe-Lointier, and its present name is derived from Lointier; a wealthy resident, a chevalier. The hôtel he lived in was bought by the king and later confiscated by the Révolution. The mairie of the fourth arrondissement moved in and stayed from 1803 to 1850 and then it moved on. Two admirals also lived in this street - Pierre and Jean de Vienne. Jean was killed fighting the Turks in 1396.

I am getting really up on this. I didn't know I was coming here and the area is long and narrow, but it is still possible to stay in the maze of narrow streets - without getting into Rivoli or the quai - so I wander around to look at what catches my eye.

Halfway up a short street, I turn back and take another, and following this turn again and I am back in the street I left, but coming at it from the opposite direction, which shows me new angles. I am doing this like a mad mouse in the crazy maze.

This is to say I'm not sure I am in the rue Bertin-Poirée. It dates to 1240 and is 156 metres long; prolonged in 1371 and opened to Rivoli in 1853; one of the few that is.

Dyers of textiles and tanners of hides, lived in the rue Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois. At number nine - until the Révolution - the office of the 'pelletiers' was found here. It was part of the Six Corps des Marchands; the fourreurs who joined under Henri III. The reunion of the Six Corps goes back to Philippe Auguste.

Wine merchants did not belong to the 'Corps' but had same privileges. In 1776, Louis XIV modified the composition of the Six Corps - the original six were increased to eight and he added 44 new ones.

Number nine in rue Bertin-Poirée became l'hôtel d'Espréménil at the end of the 18th century. When Duval d'Espréménil protested energetically against an edict of Louis XVI, he became a Parisian hero in 1787. He was arrested on 5. May 1788 and taken to the Ile Sainte-Marguerite, from which he was liberated four and a half years later.

Then he was elected as a 'noble' deputy to the Etats Généraux; and defended the ancient regime with as much energy as he had opposed it which caused him to be arrested by the Terror and he was guillotined on 21 April. 1794.

But the most famous address in the rue Bertin-Poirée was number 15, location in 1660 of the Loterie, which had been imported from Italy to France in 1539. Winners got objects, not cash.

In 1563 the Loto was started in the cloister of Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois; chances cost six sols, six deniers; and later the King of Navarre was one of the best 'clients.' In 1656, for the reconstruction of the Pont-Royal, a loto was set up for 1.1 million livres, with half to go for the bridge and 1/20th for Laurent Tonti, the organizer. The rest was earmarked for prizes, from 300 to 30,000 livres, and 50,000 ticket were sold.

Again, and in 1660, Popin senior got the privilege of running the Loto with benefits for the l'Hôpital-Général, and this was the date of the Loterie's installation in this rue. This Loto was called the Hôpital-Général was a big success, and became the Loterie Royale in 1700. It had retirement pensions as prizes

The most famous loterie was run in 1762 by three Italians, one of whom was Casanova; escaped from Venice. It had odds about the same as euro-roulette and the first running of it made a net profit of 600,000 livres. Part of the profit went to the construction of a new church - Sainte-Geneviève; which is now the Panthéon, and to the Ecole Militaire.

In 1776 Louis XVI grouped all loteries together into the huge giant jumbo 'Loterie Royale de France;' but it was suppressed as immoral by bluestockings in the Convention on 16. November 1793.

Governments of France like a fast buck as opposed to the hard work of collecting taxes, so it was restarted by the Directoire on 30. September 1797; maintained by Napoléon's Consultat - who raised, in 1800, the number of monthly drawings to three from two - to pay for the war on the Kremlin. The Loto was continued by the Empire but forbidden again in 1836, and it returned as the Loterie Chatelet area map Nationale in 1936 and here we are today - penniless.

The map shows an area slightly larger than what is described here - but it is a small area just the same.

Like a lot of streets around here, the rue des Deux-Boules has had its share of names. Most of them are some sort of variations on a theme, rather than reflections of overnight political fortunes.

In the 12th and beginning of the 13th century, the rue des Deux-Boules was named Mauconseil or Male-Parole; in the later 13th and 14th century it was Guillaume-Porée after a resident, and then finally, it became Deux-Boules in the 16th century; after the name of a sign in it. The academy of painting and sculpture, founded by Lebrun in 1648, was installed here in a mansion named the 'Clisson,' until 1661. The painter, Noël-Nicolas Coypel lived in this street in 1726.

Between narrow pavements, walls with peeling paint that slope and what must be very irregular roof-tops - at the sidewalk level there are a fair number of wine bars, cafés and a couple of beer joints. On either the rue des Lavandières-Sainte-Opportune or the rue Bertin-Poirée the hurley-burley of the rue de Rivoli is only a stone's-throw away, but it seems like another world that doesn't come in here much.

The last of this set of streets is the rue des Bourdonnais - formed in 1852 by the 13th century rue de l'Arche-Marion. This went down to the Seine through an arch and the quai de la Mégisserie passed above it. The arch was called l'Arch-Marion, after a Marion who had either a steam-bath or a small oven in 1565 - perhaps for baking bread.

The rest of this street includes Thibaut-aux-Dés, which was completely built up in 1230. From the 15th century it was called Tibautodé - and you can see this name at number 18 - it comes either from the name of one-time resident Thibault Odet who was treasurer of the Auvergne in 1242, or from the nickname for a happy gambler: 'Thibaut aux Dés.' The other side of the street had the mint until 1776, when it was moved to the quai de Conti and away from the 'gambling' connotations.

Back at Châtelet, the avenue Victoria opened in 1854 as the boulevard de l'Hôtel-de-Ville and became Victoria a year later after she visited Paris on 23. August. It now runs from the place de la Hôtel de Ville to behind the Théâtre du Châtelet, to the rue des Lavandières-Sainte-Opportune. In 1838 it was planned to go to the Louvre; but if it had done so it would have caused the demolition of the Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois church on the other side of Samaritaine, just beyond the Conforama store and the rue des Bourdonnais.

The building of the rue Victoria caused the disappearance of the rue de la Vannerie - for wicker-workers - which had been completely built up in 1150. The other street to disappear was the rue Saint-Jacques-la-Boucherie, which was a prolongation of rue de la Vannerie.

I am pretty sure all of this has sounded confusing. It has been about a few streets in the very centre of Paris that seem to have been somewhat overlooked. As such, they are not busy with anything much, yet these number cafe des Deux-Boules among Paris' oldest streets - oldest on the right bank that is; but just about the oldest there are.

If you are confused, or over-tired, stop a while in this tidy wine-bar: the 'Deux-Boules.' I did, for a café.

Like the place of the Hôtel de Ville, Châtelet was open to the Seine and to the bridges to the Ile de la Cité, and from them it was only a short way to the left bank - the Quartier Latin.

Two important things came by river: invaders; and food, wood and building materials, and other trade goods. Most of the latter seemed to have landed on the right bank between today's city hall and the Pont Neuf - all within the city's walls.

This is where the work of Paris was concentrated; where the city's muscles were exercised. The belly was here and the brain too. History can tell us something about the latter because the brain had hired writers and some of the buyers and sellers had to keep some sort of records - but for the muscle, we will have to imagine it - unloading stone, grain, fuel, animals, wood and wine.

It was all traded, managed and regulated on the river bank; and then it was carried to near the outskirts of the city - a few blocks away - and put to use.

I will describe it as a rectangle. On the east is the place de la Hôtel de Ville and the west has the Conforma store as a boundary. The north side is nominally the rue de Rivoli and the south side is formed by the Seine quais. I guess it as about 640 metres long by about 200 metres wide - depending on where the Seine's banks were and how far back towards Les Halles it went.

If you want, you can go from east to west, without using either rue de Rivoli or the quais, by staying within this rectangle. The reason for doing this, especially to the west of the place du Châtelet, is there is a little, fairly old village here, in the centre of Paris.

If this has not been too long for you, see part one of this report for a few details about how I came upon this area and a bit more sketchy history about Châtelet.

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