Those who are fed up with the impressive 19th century facades of the 1st arrondissement, should immediately move to the 3rd…….Which means le Marais. The Marais stretches further into the 4th arr but I will remain for the moment in the 3rd, the northern part of the Marais. A beautiful area, which character changed often through a turbulent history. Of a great architectural unity and homogeneity it is an ideal area for promenades in narrow, medieval streets.
More than everywhere else in Paris, look around, quietly, don’t be in a hurry, slow down your pace to inhale the delicate atmosphere brought here through the centuries. From time to time push a door, or ring a door opener bell to discover paved yards, interior gardens.
This area was a swamp until the 12th century. But monks dried the land and made it fit for building. The Jewish community followed. Beautiful palaces were build when the aristocracy settled down in the 17th century. And one of the most beautiful squares in Paris: the place des Vosges, an idea of Henri IV who built also his hotel des Tournelles. The marquise de Sevigne and the Bishop of Rohan did the same with their magnificent hotels. When nobility moved to Versailles at the end of the 17th century, the Marais slowly degraded. It lost its attraction, the noble mansions could be bought by anybody with some money . And when the supporters of the French revolution chased the stubborn remainders of the elite with a hard fist (and guillotine), the mansions, palaces and hotels de maitre turned into ruins and wasteland. The rest of the 19th century precipitated the ruin of the area , even if a lot of craftsmen lived in the area. But Andre Malraux, state secretary of culture in 1962, decided that the area deserved a revival. Great sections of the area were saved by classiffying them into “monument” protégé as monuments and preserved against the sick appetite of real estate promoters. He presented a sanitary plan and the maisons de maitre, hotels particuliers and residences which were fit for demolition, could not be touched anymore. But the consequence was that the real estate prices rose into heaven and almost all “original” inhabitants of the area had to move away or were thrown in the street without mercy. Art galleries, fashion boutiques, cafes and restaurants replaced ateliers and manufactures in the small alleys. Nevertheless a lot of really ruined houses had to be demolished but, without these anyway irrecoverable constructions, the Marais mansions found their old brilliance and splendor again. Loiter, walk, and look at the iron wrought details, stunning porches and portals. Whenever you can get in somewhere, do it, or else admire it from the outside. A lot of these houses were divided into apartments and sold to wealthy industrials, artists or writers.
If you want to walk on a Sunday and admire nice and cute shops, go to the rue des Francs-Bourgeois where everything is open. Conviviality is the main ambience around the Carreau du Temple and in the rue de Bretagne.