A Tapestry Factory

photo: no 17 rue des gobelins

The entry to the original tapestry factory, or
to the 'White Queen's' townhouse.

And the 'Hôtel of the White Queen(s)'

Paris:- Wednesday, 18. August 1999:- Near the end of July, Mark Kritz commented on my new address. He wrote, "You're also near the Boulevard Arago - which, when I lived in the 5th near the Place Monge, I considered to be a most mysterious and esoteric thoroughfare. In fact, I feel that way still."

Even earlier in the year, server-lady Linda Thalman sent an Email which appeared as "Les 'Intellos' On Parade" which concerned the same area. She mentioned a little-known park; while Mr. Kritz remembered two photos by Brassaï, of the 'Crazy House' and the boulevard in fog, both taken in the night.

It is not night or foggy today, but it is not trying hard to be sunny either. On my first exit I am driven back by rain, sophoto: medallion: la corderie I sort books and magazines for a while until the sun shines again. By the time I come out of the wrong métro at Campo-Formio, it is about to rain again.

A medalion on the facade of the 'Manufacture des Gobelins.'

I shortcut down the Rue du Banquier to the Avenue des Gobelins, and hit it just opposite Colbert's tapestry factory. About a half-dozen visitors are loitering around the gate at 14:10, waiting for the guided tour scheduled for 14:00. It is spitting rain. I have a café in the bistro at the corner of the Rue des Gobelins, and the rain stops again.

This is a new area for me, although I have been at the corner where Arago, the Boulevard de Port Royal, Gobelins and the Boulevard Saint-Marcel come together before.

In very old times, the Roman road from Lyon and Italy came along Mouffetard here, before it was named Gobelins. Today, the Rue Mouffetard starts further north; at the Saint-Médard church. Mouffetard probably got its name sometime in the 13th century, derived from the stink of the tanneries located along the Bièvre river.

The area was also called the Faubourg-Saint-Marcel, or the 'old town' of Saint-Marcel and it went all the way up to the Place de l'Italie. At the time of the Charles V fortifications it was a separate town, just outside Paris - like the Faubourg Saint-Germain.

I go down to the big intersection and try to imagine it on a foggy night. It's so big it would be easy to get lost even on a rainy day. Back up Gobelins, I turn into the Rue des Gobelins and step backwards several centuries.

The Rue des Gobelins is 165 metres of leftover Saint-Marcel. In 1552 it was called the Bièvre. At the back of the courtyard at number 3-bis, the old townhouse of the financier Mascarini was bought by Jean Gluck on 19. February 1686 - about the time France was bribing or kidnapping foreign artisans. Gluck had made some money - a bribe? - by importing - borrowing? - a new dye process from Holland.

Gluck married the sister of his partner, François Julienne. Gluck's nephew, Jean de Julienne, was born on 29. November of the same year. When he grew up, Jean de Julienne perfected his uncles' dying process and was eventually ennobled for it, in 1736 - which was a rare thing for a artisan-businessman.

Jean de Julienne was generous and a friend to artists, principally Watteau who came to Paris in 1702. Watteau started out doing hackphoto: 'chateau de la reine blanche' portraits of Saint-Nicolas for three livres per week, plus an evening soup per day. In 1717 he painted the 'Embarquement Pour Cythère' which got him attention at the Academie and his fortune was made - until he died in 1721.

The property promotion known as the 'Château de la Reine Blanche' in the Rue Gustave Geffroy.

A little further along this short street is the location of the townhouse of the 'White Queen.' Saint-Louis' widow, Marguerite de Provence, had the hôtel built in 1290 and she lived in it until she died in 1295 at the age of about 74.

Historians think that this residence served as a place of retirement for either Blanche de France, widow of Ferdinand de la Cerda, or Blanche d'Evereux, wife of Philippe VI of Valois, who died in 1350. Or maybe this 'white queen' was Saint-Louis' mother, Blanche de Castille; but this is out of the question because she died in 1252, before anything was built here.

Anyhow, there are plenty of other 'white queen' candidates, right up to Catherine de Médicis. All the kings' widows wore white and there were plenty of them.

So, away with all this eyewash. What is called the 'Hôtel de la Reine Blanche' was really owned by the Countess of Savoy, Alix de Méranie, who died in 1279; followed by Blanche de Bourgogne - one of the heroines of the Tour de Nesle - and wife of Charles IV 'Le Bel.' Blanche de Bourgogne died in 1325.

There is some argument about whether the 'Bal des Arpents' took place at this hôtel or at the Hôtel Saint-Pol, the king's residence. Froissant says so, but in 1430 Juvénal des Ursins wrote that the party took place in the evening at the 'Hostel de la Reyne-Blanche à Saint-Marcel prés Paris...' Froissart had Charles V dying at Saint-Pol, when everybody knows he died at the Château de Beauté-sur-Marne.

On Tuesday, 28. February 1393, on the occasion of the remarriage of Catherine de Hainserville, Isabeau de Bavière gave a ball, for which the costumes appropriate for the remarriage of a widow were worn. This caused some racket - either of noise or lifted-eyebrows - at the time.

Charles VI had the idea to get himself and five pals disguised as 'savages,' with masks and tunics plastered with tar, feathers and cotton balls.

Louis d'Orléans, Charles' brother, got too close to the fire in trying to figure out which one was Charles. He set one on fire and it spread to the others, four of whom burned to death, including Louis. Charles' young aunt, the Duchess du Berry, saved him by wrapping him up in her coat and the fifth 'savage' jumped into a handy horse trough and survived.

After this drama, the demolition of the hôtel was ordered in 1404. It was rebuilt at the end of the 15th or the beginning of the 16th century.

In the middle of the 15th century there were two interrelated families of scarlet-dyers; the Gobelins and the Canayes. Jean Gobelin set up shop on the edge of the Bièvre in 1443. The two families owned the hôtel and the one next door at number 19, until they were sold in 1572.

The townhouse of the 'white queen' was restored in the 18th century, becoming a brasserie and a Jacobin club in 1790 - but afterwards it was a tannery. At the back of its courtyard, there is a old house, now being turned into luxo apartments.

The hôtel at number 19 was built at the end of the 15th century and is said to have remarkablephoto: hotel, no 19 rue des gobelins architectural features, including an unique spiral staircase of wood like that of the larger one in number 17. To me it looks like it is about to fall down. It is thought number 17 was the dye-works and number 19 the lodgings - which might have figured as the 'Follie-Goubelin' in Rabelais' 'Pantagruel.'

This is how the 'hôtel' at number 19 looks today.

Near the end of the Rue des Gobelins, there is the Rue des Marmousettes. It is 17 metres long and 10 wide, and there is nothing to it today except it is very short. It has had this name since 1540 and is not to be confused with the other one, on the Ile de la Cité. The Boulevard Arago cut it half off it in 1859.

The Saint-Hippolyte chapel was erected here in 1158 for the needs of parishioners on the western side of the Faubourg Saint-Marcel.

Before becoming a saint, Hippolyte was a Roman soldier who Valerian had guarding the soon-to-be-saint, Laurent. Hippolyte made the mistake of letting Laurent baptize him in prison, which irritated Valerian enough to have him torn to shreds on 13. August 258 in the arena along with 19 close family members, including his wet-nurse, Concordia. Laurent was merely hacked to pieces.

This chapel inspired a considerable parish, which included part of Notre-Dame-des-Champs in 1630. The church was re-edified in 1520 by the patrimony of Jean Gobelin and again in 1728, by Jean de Julienne. It was the parish church of the Gobelin dye-empire, and was extremely rich with its decor augmented by the Gobelins artisans

As such it was the burial place of many of the artisans and workers until 1757. After this date, a second underground burial place was opened, then a third - and now the Boulevard Arago covers it all. The first Jean Gobelin went into it in 1476, and Jean de Julienne took up residence in 1766.

The church was suppressed in 1791, rented in 1792, sold in 1793 and demolished in 1798. If this had not happened to so many churches back then, there wouldn't be room in Paris for all of the cafés and bistros today.

Of course, there is nothing of this to see today in the 17 metres left of the Rue des Marmousettes. I walk the few metres remaining of the Rue des Gobelins, then return and go right into the Rue Gustave Geffroy, where there is nothing to see except the real estate-promotion area of the 'Hôtel de la Reine Blanche,' and what I assume is the rear of number 17 in the Rue des Gobelins.

At the end, the Rue Berbier-du-Mets, ex-Ruelle des Gobelins, was named after the first 'keeper of the crown's furniture' - and today where it joins the Rue de Croulebarde it is the location of the present keeper of the République's furniture.

The Bièvre flows underneath it. Before it was covered over and when it overflowed in the area to the west in winter and iced over, it was given the name Glacière by ice-skaters.

From the Rue Berbier-du-Mets, the poplars in the park to the west mark the location of the former Ile aux Singes, which was between two arms of the Bièvre. Hustlers and jugglers let their monkeys gambol on the island, without worrying about them escaping by swimming across the fetid river.

On 23. August 1443, the Flemish Jean Gobelin rented a house at the sign of the swan in what was then Rue Mouffetard. The property bordered the Bièvre on the west side. Father of 13 kids, hephoto: street sign: rue des marmousets had success with the 'scarlet-dying,' and soon added the surrounding properties to the works, in the area of the Hippolyte church.

The 17-metre long Rue des Marmousets has four of these signs. There are bigger streets in Paris with none.

His eldest son, Philibert, carried on with his eight kids. The Gobelin family continued the business successfully, and after becoming rich and famous, family members entered other professions, where they were equally successful.

An Italian-origin family, the Canaye, allied and intermarried with the Gobelins. They started the 'high-warp' tapestries late in the 16th century. In 1601, Henri IV, who wanted his own fabric works, imported two Flemish experts who installed themselves in properties owned by the Gobelins.

In 1656, Jean Gluck from Holland replaced the first two and he imported Jans Liansen from Bruges, who perfected the 'high-warp' process and this attracted the notice of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, one of the king's clerks - who was also the brains behind the finance. He decided to buy the whole works and all of the neighboring houses for the crown in 1666.

The older buildings were replaced with new ateliers and artisans were 'recruited' and lodged on the grounds. In November 1667 the whole complex was given the name of 'Manufacture Royale des Meubles et Tapisseries de la Couronne.' The whole production, including furniture and decorative items, was exclusively destined for the king's properties.

After a time the 'Manufacture' concentrated on tapestries and expanded to meet the demand of the various Louis. Long after, the Commune of 1871 torched the place, leaving the 17th century buildings along the Rue Berbier-du-Mets intact as well as the original chapel.

At the beginning of the Rue Berbier-du-Mets, the 'Garde-Meuble National' overlooks the old truck-gardens of the employees of the 'Manufacture,' now the discrete park called the Square René-le-Gall.

The Rue de Croulebarde also used to be the larger part the Reulle des Gobelins, where it followed the right bank of the Bièvre.

Croulebarde was the name of the owners of a moulin near Corvisart, first mentioned in 1214. The ancient moulin was only demolished in 1840. This street flanks the present Manufacture des Gobelins on the south side, but bends around, sort of following the old course of the Bièvre towards the Butte-aux-Cailles, going past the park of the Square René-le-Gall.

The Gobelins factory takes up about 100 metres of the Avenue des Gobelins and slightly more of the Rue Berbier-du-Mets. If the Rue des Gobelins is added, the western Rue Berbier-du-Mets is aboutphoto: rue berbier du mets 300 metres in length and is about 110 metres from the avenue. It takes about 20 minutes to walk around all of it.

The houses in the Rue Berbier-du-Mets, on the west side of the 'Manufacture.

I take more time than this, and I even go into the 'Garde-Meuble National' to find out it is basically a warehouse. After looking around the park called the Square René-le-Gall which is beside it and which is curiously attractive, I go up the Rue de Croulebarde.

At métro Corvisart I pass under the elevated métro line, and climb up the Rue Eugéne Atget, which goes halfway into a little park. The rest of the way up leads to the Rue des Cinq-Diamants on the Butte-aux-Cailles, which is as breezy as the last time I was up here.

I have an idea it is an easy walk home from here if I go around the north side of the huge area occupied by the Sainte-Anne hospital complex.

But it has clouded over and I go the wrong way, ending up at the south end, on the Rue d'Alesia. I get past the hospital known as the 'Crazy House' and go up the Avenue René Coty, to cut across below La Rochefoucauld hospital, to the Avenue du Général Leclerc. This is familiar and my beat feet get me the rest of the way to my door in five minutes.

Except for the observatory, the northeast side of the 14th is full of hospitals, and the Santé prison which looks anything except 'Santé.' Since the Boulevard Arago cuts through the centre of all this, I guess it may well be a 'mysterious and esoteric thoroughfare.'

Oddly, in the bordering 13th arrondissement there is only one small hospital, but no prisons, in the area of the Boulevard Arago.

If the 'history' above seems confusing to you, it is because it is the histories of several streets, very close together in reality. In my source, the histories are far apart and may have not be edited very carefully. Or, maybe they were just plain confusing. They had big families in those days.

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