Former Marsh to Fashionable Address
The Marais (meaning ‘marsh’ or ‘swamp’ in French) was exactly what its name implies until the 13th century, when it was converted to farmland. In the early 17th century Henri IV built place Royale (today’s place des Vosges), turning the area into Paris’ most fashionable residential address. When the aristocracy moved out of Paris to Versailles and Faubourg St-Germain in the 18th century, Le Marais' townhouses passed into the hands of ordinary Parisians. The 110-hectare area was given a major facelift in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, and today it is one of the city’s most coveted addresses.
Le Marias largely escaped Baron Haussmann's large-scale renovations, and today it's one of the few neighbourhoods of Paris that still has much of its pre-revolutionary architecture intact. This includes the house at 3 rue Volta, 3e, parts of which date to 1292; Paris’ oldest building still standing (now a restaurant) at 51 rue de Montmorency, 3e, built in 1407 and once the residence of celebrated alchemist and writer Flamel (1330–1417); and the half-timbered 16th-century building at 11 & 13 rue François Miron, 4e.
Cacher (kosher) grocery shops, butchers, restaurants, delis and takeaway felafel joints cram the narrow streets of Pletzl (from the Yiddish for ‘little square’), home to Le Marais’ long-established Jewish community. It starts in rue des Rosiers and continues along rue Ste-Croix de la Bretonnerie to rue du Temple. Don’t miss the art nouveau synagogue designed in 1913 by Hector Guimard, who was also responsible for the city’s famous metro entrances.
For an in-depth look at Jewish history, visit the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaïsme, housed in Pletzl’s sumptuous Hôtel de St-Aignan, dating from 1650.
Secret City Views
A few blocks east of bd de Belleville, the lovely but little-known Parc de Belleville unfolds across a hill 128m above sea level amid 4.5 hectares of greenery. Climb to the top for some of the best views of the city armed with a bread-and-cheese picnic bought in Belleville from two of the finest in their field: boulangerie (bakery) Au 140 and Fromagerie Beaufils.