Exhibition: the XIVe Arrondissement

photo: denfert, hell's gate

This is 'Hell's Gate,' now known as Denfert-Rochereau.

And Montparnasse

Paris:- Wednesday, 26. January 2000:- Tonight I walk a whole two or three blocks to my local city hall's annex, to get in on the free drinks associated with a new exhibition's pre-opening night. I'm glad it's close because it's freezing.

It is not the 'free drinks' I want; it's more to see who is drinking them. I don't know anybody, so it's more to see what the 'Montparnasse' and '14th arrondissement' crowd looks like.

Last time, at the Musée Zadkine, it was outside in the museum's garden, in the dark, and cool. This time, in the Mairie's annex, it is up a a well-lit fancy stairway, and into a well-heated exhibition hall.

The posters have been around for some time. The name 'Montparnasse' is bigger on them than '14th arrondissement.' The exhibition is organized by the 'Action Artistique de la Ville de Paris,' which is a unit I've never heard of before.

The history of the 14th arrondissement goes back to Roman aqueducts and some windmills dating back to 1191 when the 'Moulin-d'Amour' was built.

In relatively modern times, although it was beyond the city walls, the area was settled by religious orders - looking for low rents or peace and quiet. When the Observatory was builtphoto: sante wall, bd arago in 1671, all it had for neighbors were the convents.

I don't think this is exactly true, because an old map in the exhibition shows the whole area as fully subdivided, but I couldn't find a date on it.

The wall of the sinister Santé prison, along Baron Haussmann's Boulevard Arago.

It was a green and peaceful land. Farmers worked on it and took their surpluses into Paris to sell. With all the windmills - about 30 - there was something going on. But as Paris expanded its requirements for building materials, the 14th was heavily mined - for its gypsum.

Paris attracted immigrants from all around France, and they installed themselves in these 'zones' outside the walls. The walls themselves were pushed ever further out, and served mainly as duty-collection barriers.

Before it was decided, around 1860, that these restricted trade more than they collected from it, Parisians used the 'outside-the-walls' zones as places for amusement - because city restrictions did not apply beyond the barriers.

Some of the 14th's windmills were turned into taverns. These may have been a bit wild because several of the main roads leading to the barrier at Denfert-Rochereau were called Rue d'Enfer and the barrier itself was called 'Hell's Gate.'

Before the Observatory was built, the widow of Saint Louis, Marguerite de Provence, built a hospital on the present location of the Santé prison. Anne d'Autriche moved the hospital further south in 1651, to where Sainte-Anne is today.

Originally, this was the left bank plague hospital - much like Saint-Louis had this function for thephoto: av orleans 'x' sign right bank. However, Baron Haussmann mutated it into the region's mental hospital, and this it remains.

The Sceaux rail line opened in 1846 and had its terminus at the Barrière d'Enfer - Hell's Gate - which became Denfert-Rochereau, and is the location of the RER station now.

The Baron also had the customs barriers abolished when he annexed the 'zones' outside them in 1860. In this case, northern Montrouge became Paris' 14th arrondissement, and Paris' rules began to be enforced.

But all these free and easy souls had been there so long that the new arrondissement continued to attract artisans, small factories and arty types.

While some of the limestone quarries were open, most of them were underground - and causing problems. On 17. December 1774, a 300-metre length of the Route d'Orléans fell into a 25-metre deep hole.

On the day a special engineering team was inaugurated to ensure the safety of 340 hectares of underground quarries - 4. April 1777 - a house in the Rue d'Enfer near Luxembourg plunged 28 metres towards the centre of the earth.

The exhibition has several aerial photographs of 'Hell's Gate' and the surrounding neighborhood. Apparently Baron Haussmann did not mind photographers taking pictures from balloons - something not allowed today.

The whole exhibition features mostly 'low' history - engineering plans for the Observatory, the train line, the Santé prison, the hospitals, the layout of the Montsouris park and reservoir - and the quarries, of course.

Many of the items, documents, photos and paintings have been assembled from many sources, both public and private ones. Although featured, the 'artistic' history is a bit skimpy - with one painting by Kisling, one drawing by Pascin, one by Marie Vassilieff, and so on.

Although the 14th arrondissement begins on the south side of the Boulevard Montparnasse, most of the exhibition concerns more prosaic features of the 14th.

This is fine with me. Montparnasse itself is a huge subject with a cast of thousands, but it would take muchphoto: vespasienne, bd arago more space than there is in the Mairie's annex. It would also probably take 10 years to get a show about it together.

The current exhibition has a companion book to go with it, and it doesn't occur to me to page through it. It has been written by 25 'experts,' and its editors have divided it into three main parts, including one introductory part called 'Gloire et Bohème de Montparnasse.'

With the wall of the Santé behind is, one of Paris' few remaining 'Vespasiennes,' used mainly by taxi drivers.

By co-incidence, while I was having my 'week off' I jumped the gun on this exhibition a bit by having a chance encounter in the check-out of my supermarket.

An old man ahead of me, buying a six-pack of water, mumbled something about 'it not being like the good, old '14-'18 days.' He didn't look quite old enough, so I had a chat with him.

He told me he was born in 1913 or 1914, so this would have meant his parents certainly lived before WWI - and he probably grew up with turn-of-the-century stories.

The good old days? After I looked it up, I figured out that near where we were standing outside the supermarket, there used to be a windmill named 'Moulin de Pavé.'

Right above us, the street sign for the Avenue d'Orléans is still in place - forgotten since 1948 - when the name was changed to Avenue Général Leclerc, after the name of the French general who brought his Sherman tanks into Paris on Friday, 25. August 1944.

This was handy, because the resistance had one of their HQs under the western old building of the - Hell's Gate. The Paris uprising against occupying forces which started on Saturday, 19. August 1944, was partly directed from here.

Further back, the molds for Bartholdi's Statute of Liberty - put up in New York in 1884 - were made on this street, and the castings were done in nearby ateliers.

Lenin used to frequent the Café du Lion, justphoto: entry sainte anne across from the supermarket. Some say Trotsky lived in the Rue Daguerre. The Reds put out their tracts from an office in the Avenue d'Orléans.

The cheery entry to the Sainte-Anne hospital.

Because it was in the 'news' last week - afterwards I took a walk around the big block of the highly sinister-looking Santé prison. I gave the Hospital Sainte-Anne a glance too and it was positively bucolic in comparison.

Now, a week later, I see the architect's drawings for these places, plus the photos from balloons - which do not show the Santé, because the photo was taken before it was built as a prison from 1861 to 1867.

The exhibition 'Montparnasse et le XIVe Arrondissement' continues until Wednesday, 1. March. You can find it in the annex of the Mairie of the 14th, at 12. Rue Durouchoux. Métro: Mouton-Duvernet. Open daily from 12:00 to 18:00; and conferences are held at 16:00 from Monday to Friday.

In Metropole Paris
Latest Issue
2008 Issues
2007 | 2006 | 2005
2004 | 2003 | 2002
2001 | 2000 | 1999
1998 | 1997 | 1996
In Metropole Paris
About Metropole
About the Café Club
Links | Search Site
The Lodging Page
Paris Museums List
Metropole's 1996 Tours
Metropole's 2003 Tours
Support Metropole
Metropole's Books
Shop with Metropole
Metropole's Wine
metropole paris goodblogweek button
Send email concerning the
contents to: Ric Erickson, Editor.
Metropole Midi © 2014
– unless stated otherwise.
logo, metropole sml midi logo No matter how good it tastes,
there is no such thing
as a free lunch.
Waldo Bini