04 novembre 2005
Les Arrondissements de Paris
In my posts, I often have referred to les arrondissements de Paris, but have not offered an explanation of what an arrondissement is, partly based on the assumption that most readers are at least vaguely familiar with the term. It is one thing to be familiar with the term arrondissement and another to be familiar with the characteristics of each. Every arrondissement seems to have its own unique flavor. Today we’ll begin a series on les arrondissements de Paris and what makes each one unique. An arrondissement is a district, a part of Paris officially sanctioned by the city government in a specific area rather than just being a rough geographical area. Paris is divided into twenty arrondissements, each named according to its number. For example, you might live in the 5th arrondissement, which would be written as 5ième (or, as I usually abbreviate, 5e). Each arrondissement has its own mairie which oversees city services in its specific arrondissement. Paris is roughly oval in shape. Les arrondissements, beginning with the 1ère in the approximate centre ville, uncurl like an escargot. A freeway, le périphérique belts the outside of the city. Beyond le périphérique are les banlieues, the suburbs, which we will visit in a future post. We will look at five arrondissements a day over the next four days. 1ère This is the geographical center of Paris and a haven for tourists. La Louvre, Les Halles and le Palais-Royale are all here. La Louvre, the world’s most famous art musée is huge. It is actually a collection of buildings, the oldest dating from the 1200s. For most of its life la Louvre was the centre of government and palace to the kings of France. As you’ve learned in earlier posts, les Halles was for centuries the central market. On the site is now a huge underground shopping mall and public transportation hub. Never for long a royal palace, despite the misleading name le Palais-Royale, was built to be the home of Cardinal Richelieu. Le Palais-Royale was begun in 1629; its architect was Jacques Lemercier and it was known as le Palais-Cardinal. Richelieu bequeathed it to the French Crown. After Louis XIII died, it housed the Queen-Mother Anne of Austria, and Cardinal Mazarin and the young Louis XIV. Later le Palais-Royal became the Paris seat of the dukes of Orleans, the cadet branch of the ruling House of Bourbon, beginning with Louis XIV's brother Philippe. 2ième Primarily a business district, la Bourse (the Paris Stock Market), la Banque de France and la Bibliothèque Nationale, the national library (housing more than six million documents) are in the 2ième. 3ième Along with the 4ième arrondissement, the 3ième makes up le Marais, “the swamp,” which most of the land in the 3ième and 4ième once was. Le Marais is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Paris. Many 17th century mansions that once housed the noblest families in Paris are still to be seen in the quiet and ungentrified neighborhood of the 3ième. 4ième The 4ième, is the center of le Marais. This is a lively neighborhood with a strong “alternative-lifestyle scene.” (Read that as homosexual.) As well, there are many trendy bars, shops, and restaurants. But the 4ième is also the home to much of Paris’s Jewish population. The rue des Rosiers is a centerpiece of Jewish lifestyle in Paris. Not surprisingly, with its concentration of Jewish residents, the 4ième is the best place in Paris to find Kosher foods. La Seine winds through the southern portion of le 4ième, and Paris’s two islands, l’île-Saint-Louis and l’île de la Cité, the very oldest parts of Paris, are here. L’île de la Cité is home both to Nôtre Dame and la Sainte-Chapelle. It was on l'île-de-la-Cité that the ancient Romans discovered a tribe who called themselves the Parisii living. Hôtel Sully, once home to Henri IV’s famous minister and the serene Place des Vosges are both in the 4ième. Paris's only two remaining half-timbered houses, sitting next to each other and dating from the 14th century, are in le 4ième. 5ième The fabled Quartier Latin, the Latin Quarter, is in the 5ième. This neighborhood takes its name from la Sorbonne, one of the oldest universities in the world, where Latin was the common tongue for all students during the Middle Ages. The neighborhood has the feel of a small village and students mix freely with professionals in its winding streets. The rue Mouffetard is a primary artery where shops, international restaurants and student bars and cafés are found. Le Panthéon and l’église-Saint-Etienne-du-Mont add to the historical richness of le 5ième. Having covered the first five of Paris’s twenty arrondissements today, we’ll resume tomorrow by visiting the 6ième through 10ième, working our way around le escargot that the arrangement of les arrondissements make Paris resemble.