Our Marais : guided tour, history and anecdotes

Assia Bedjaoui / Post on 15 November 2020

Welcome on the blog of “Assia et Nathalie”, our Luxury Bed & Breakfast in PARIS, France.

An oasis of calm and greenery in the center of Paris.

Have you ever dreamed of walking around the Marais ?

Discovering its thousand and one enigmas buried under each of its cobbled streets ?

Follow us ! We’ll take you on board to make you feel the authentic and warm soul of our neighborhood.

We will be delighted to reveal its thousand and one charms and secrets.

Le Marais is historical, multicultural, trendy and gourmet at the same time.

It is one of the most fascinating districts in Paris.

Do you know why it is called “Le Marais” ?

At prehistoric times, the Seine had two arms – not just one as it is today.

The old arm disappeared with the appearance of a milder climate. What was left was a vast marshy and fertile area which, from the 9th century onwards, began to dry up.

In order to feed the population, these former swamps were transformed into market gardens – the origin of the name “Marais”.

It was from the 17th century onwards that the Marais changed its appearance and became very renowned. The high Parisian aristocracy built many mansions there. It is the “Grand Siècle du Marais” (Great Century of the Marais) and all its literary, artistic and societal effervescence.

Stroll to admire the singular portes cochères (carriage entrance) and the magnificent mansion houses ! The most sumptuous are the headquarters of popular museums such as the National Archives (Hôtel de Soubise) mentioned below in the “Archives Sector”.

Our guest house is located in the former Hôtel de Bonneval which houses many private apartments. Its entrance, its pavilions and its magnificent 18th century fresco are listed in the French Additional Inventory of Historical Monuments.

Photo Entrée Fresque
Old main staircase and 18th century fresco of our residence
© Assia et Nathalie

Under the impetus of the Malraux Law, the Marais became in 1964 the first historical safeguarded area in Paris.

Today it’s a meeting place for many communities, including Jewish, gay and Chinese – making our neighborhood “wonderfully cosmopolitan” as sociologist Edgar Morin put it.

Let yourself be seduced by the irresistible charm of the Marais ! Our neighborhood is divided into 4 sectors : Place des Vosges, Archives, Beaubourg and Saint-Paul. 

Let’s go ! We will take you 5 minutes walking distance from our B&B where you will find one of the most beautiful historic squares in Paris :

THE SECTOR OF PLACE DES VOSGES : FROM BASTILLE TO THE CARNAVALET MUSEUM

You are admiring the must of the Marais ! Its quintessence… The Place des Vosges is the first royal square in the capital : a masterpiece of classical French architecture ! 36 brick and stone pavilions with their former promenades under the arcades that have now become art galleries and restaurants.

Bonne Qualité Place Des Vosges 2 2
The Place des Vosges : the quintessence of the Marais © Assia et Nathalie

At that place was also built the old residence of the Kings of France : the Hôtel des Tournelles where several Kings stayed until Henry the Second (Henri II).

This Renaissance king, who loved parties and tournaments, died tragically in 1559 after being speared in the eye and in the head.

Queen Catherine de Medici (Catherine de Medicis) shocked and in mourning, decided to have the square razed to the ground. It became a large horse market, the only means of transport at the time.

The Royal Court then moved to the Louvre. 

From 1605, King Henry the Fourth (Henri IV) had the present square built to offer a prestigious place of residence and leisure to the famous names of French History :

Sully, Richelieu, King Louis the XIIIth, Madame de Sévigné, Molière and many others…

All of them liked to stroll under its arcades sheltered from the sun and in the King’s gardens. Our rue du Parc Royal was so named because it leads to it – in a 5 minutes’ walk.

During the French Revolution, the Place Royale was renamed as a tribute to the Vosges Department, which was the first to pay the revolutionary tax.

Rue Du Parc Royal
Our Parc Royal street lined with gardens and flowers © Assia et Nathalie

Wander along the arcades to discover the art galleries. Visit Victor Hugo’s House at 6 place des Vosges, and if you feel like enjoying it a little more, enjoy delicious macaroons on the terrace of Carette tea room (you can also eat there).

This will give you more time to admire the perfection of the architecture of this historic square and the timeless charm of its garden where Parisians love to picnic.

Carette 1
Enjoy a gourmet break : coffee and macaroons – Tea Salon Carette (Place des Vosges)
© Assia et Nathalie

And wait, don’t leave without discovering the secret passage that leads to the garden of the Hôtel de Sully.

This beautiful mansion house is now the headquarters of the Centre des Monuments Nationaux. Its subscription ” Passion Monuments ” offers you one year discovery of nearly 80 exceptional historical places in France !

Passage
Passage connecting the Place des Vosges to the Hôtel de Sully garden
© Assia et Nathalie

To get there, from Carette, cross Louis the XIIIth garden (the equestrian statue of the King stands in the center of the Place des Vosges). Turn right under the arcades and you will come across a small carriage gate that leads to the garden of the Hôtel de Sully. An ideal place to bask in the sun, far from the crowd.

At the end of the garden, through the imposing entrance of the Hôtel de Sully, you will arrive on rue Saint-Antoine, which on your left will lead you to the famous Place de la Bastille.

Looking for a place to have lunch ?

Behind the Place des Vosges, the restaurant l’Ange 20 (44 rue des Tournelles) is a treat for the taste buds !

Thierry and his team will offer you delicious French traditional dishes “with fresh home-made products”. We love their “fondant d’agneau”: a tender and confit lamb cooked during 6 hours and served with colorful vegetables.

Fondant Ange20
The exquisite “Fondant d’agneau” – Restaurant L’Ange 20 © Assia et Nathalie

We also selected – next to the Place des Vosges – Le Petit Italien (5 rue Saint Gilles, corner with rue Béarn) or Le Petit Marché (9 rue Béarn) : one for its succulent pasta and the other for its French cuisine simmered in the Asian style, like their delicious duck breast with small cooked bananas. Or their tuna millefeuille and crispy salty cookie. Yummy !

Mille Fueille Retouché
The tuna millefeuille – Restaurant Le Petit Marché © Assia et Nathalie

Feel like doing a little shopping?

Take a stroll down the rue des Francs-Bourgeois, well known for its luxury boutiques with their old-fashioned storefronts.

You will find the greatest names in perfumery (Guerlain, Aqua Di Parma…) or Diptyque for candles, but also major ready-to-wear fashion brands (Gérard Darel, Zadig & Voltaire, Claudie Pierlot), or Nespresso and Uniqlo.

For the record, this street hosted in the past professional weavers, then almshouses to donate charity for very poor Bourgeois, exempted from taxes. They were then called “tax-free” (in French “francs”), hence the name “Francs-Bourgeois”.

Francs Bourgeois
Old street name engraved on stone – rue des Francs-Bourgeois © Assia et Nathalie

Continue your walk on rue Vieille du Temple, another very commercial street of the Marais.

You will find there many stores but also the very nice bakery Saveurs de Pains (at number 38) – just in case you are tempted by a delicious baguette…

People Riding Bicycles In Marais In Paris
The Bakery Saveurs de Pains – © Page Light Studios – Photo I-Stock Getty

Not far away is the rue des Rosiers, emblematic of the former Jewish neighborhood. This street is well known today for its stores and restaurants where you can buy very tasty “falafels”.

In the Place des Vosges area – the Carnavalet Museum (16 rue des Francs-Bourgeois) will make you discover the history of Paris from Prehistory to today.

Located in the heart of the magnificent “Hôtel Carnavalet“, it is one of the rare witnesses of Renaissance architecture in Paris – together with the square courtyard of the Louvre. It is scheduled to reopen in Spring 2021.

Carnavalet
The Carnavalet Museum © Assia et Nathalie

Another less known but elegant museum is dedicated to the “taste of the 18th century”: the Cognacq-Jay Museum (8 rue Elzévir) brings together works of art that belonged to Ernest Cognacq and Marie-Louise Jay (the founders of the Samaritaine mall).

It’s already time for an aperitif ?

Go to the charming and intimate Place Sainte-Catherine ! You’ll feel like being in a little piece of countryside, far from the hustle and bustle of Paris, sipping your favorite drink.

Sainte Catherine
The charming Place Sainte Catherine © Assia et Nathalie

For a romantic atmosphere at dinner, Camille restaurant (corner of rue Elzévir and rue des Francs-Bourgeois) offers a traditional French cuisine in a warm and intimate setting. You will be able to enjoy it until closing time, since the restaurant is located at 2 minutes walking distance from our bed and breakfast. But it is currently closed for renovation.

Would you like to continue your visit by exploring with us the Archives sector ?

THE ARCHIVES SECTOR : FROM PICASSO MUSEUM TO RUE DE BRETAGNE

At the foot of our guest house, don’t miss the famous Picasso Museum !

And even if you don’t appreciate the illustrious painter, the architectural splendor of the Hôtel Salé (5 rue de Thorigny) is worth the detour.

A little anecdote : the origin of the name of the Hôtel Salé refers to the former salt tax that the owner collected in the name of the king.

You can admire not only works by Picasso, but also by his favorite painters such as Cézanne, Degas or Le Nain.

Picasso 2
The Hôtel Salé which houses the Picasso Museum – view from its garden © Assia et Nathalie

The Archives sector of the Marais is also renowned for its numerous restaurants, art galleries, designer boutiques that are very popular during the Fashion Week.

For gluten-free diets, the trendy Italian restaurant Le Big Love (30 rue Debelleyme) offers excellent pasta and pizza.

We have a little crush on Café le Charlot (38 rue Charlot). You will always be warmly welcomed by Eduardo and his team who will serve you exquisite dishes cooked with passion !

Otherwise, for a 100% vegan and gourmet meal, head to Wild and the Moon (55 rue Charlot), to discover this trendy, ethical and eco-responsible restaurant.

Perpendicular to rue Charlot, you will find the lively and authentic rue de Bretagne, where shopkeepers and restaurateurs harmoniously share the sidewalk. This is our favorite street ! Ideal for lunch, dinner or simply to have a little drink, you will enjoy strolling there !

If you like reading books, stop by our beautiful local bookstore, Comme un Roman (39 rue de Bretagne). You can explore French and foreign literature, poetry, thrillers, humanities and comics. Their friendly salesmen will be very happy to advise you.

Don’t miss the famous Marché des Enfants-Rouges (Market of the Red Children – 39-41 rue de Bretagne), the oldest covered market in Paris, where you can taste different cuisines of the world (Lebanese, Japanese, Moroccan, Creole…).

There are also caterers, fresh producers and a beautiful family fish shop runned by Christine, Claude and their son Franck.

Poissonnerie
Fish shop of the “Market of the Red Children” – Marché des Enfants Rouges – rue de Bretagne
© Assia et Nathalie

Originally, this market was an orphanage whose children were dressed in a red cloth, in the colors of Christian charity, hence the name “Red Children”.

After its closure in 1772, a dairy and its ten cows settled there to supply the neighborhood with fresh milk until the beginning of the First World War.

Marcheenfantrouge
Entrance of the Marché des Enfants-Rouges – the oldest covered market of Paris
© Assia et Nathalie

At the end of the rue de Bretagne (n°56) and in front of the Town Hall of our Marais 3rd arrondissement, you will find the Square du Temple – Elie Wiesel.

Square Elie Weisel
Square du Temple “Elie Wiesel” with our 3rd arrondissement Town Hall at the background © Assia et Nathalie

Have a zen pause in its beautiful English garden, or even a gourmet break if you bought a delicious cookie at Scoop me a cookie (38 rue de Bretagne).

Their matcha green tea cookies are our favorites !

Scoop Me A Cookie
Gourmet break at Café Le Charlot – matcha green tea cookie with dark chocolate from the boutique Scoop me a cookie © Assia et Nathalie

Finally, you will arrive on rue des Archives in front of the vast and sumptuous Hôtel de Soubise : the National Archives of France have been kept there since 1808 in the museum of the same name created in 1867.

Bonne Qualité Archives
The Hôtel de Soubise – Museum of National Archives © Assia et Nathalie

Are you still with us ? Because the time has come to approach the Beaubourg area !

THE BEAUBOURG SECTOR

Welcome to the most active part of the Marais where you will find the Georges-Pompidou Center – commonly known as Beaubourg.

Under his presidency, Georges Pompidou took the initiative to build a space dedicated to contemporary artistic creation of the 20th and 21st centuries, as well as a library. The two selected architects had the original and innovative idea to exteriorize the entire load-bearing structure, as well as the multicolored pipes.

Centre Pompidou
Wide-angle view of the Centre Georges Pompidou © dennisvdw – Photo I-Stock Getty

Continue your walk in an unusual lovely place in the Marais, and in one of the oldest passages of Paris. Accessible only by foot, the Passage de l’Ancre is located between rue de Turbigo and rue Saint-Martin. Enjoy its green oasis and its colorful houses !

You can even have your umbrella repaired there at PEP’S store, open in the street since 1960.

Olympus Digital Camera
Pep’s store in the heart of the Passage de l’Ancre © Gersende de Sambucy

Stroll down the rue du Temple, place de l’Hôtel de Ville, to do your shopping at our favorite Parisian department store BHV – Marais (Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville). This amazing building is the place to go for fashion, interior design, but also for do-it-yourself. You will find there absolutely everything you are looking for. 

Bhv Plan Paysage
The Parisian mall BHV Marais (Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville) at nightfall © Assia et Nathalie

And if you want to opt more for outdoor shopping, take the rue de Rivoli (connecting Place de la Concorde to Place de la Bastille).

Now a cycling and pedestrian area, it is teeming with stores and cafés. 

After your shopping, go to the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville – site of the current imposing Paris City Hall.

In summer and winter, Paris organizes cultural, musical and sporting events on its forecourt or esplanade, which contribute to the dynamic atmosphere of the Marais.

All the political and social orientations of our city are decided here.

City Hall Hotel De Ville On Eponymous Square Hotel De Ville (former Medieval Grevskaya Square), Paris, France
Esplanade of the Hôtel de Ville and our Paris City Hall © Olga355 Photo I-Stock Getty

We end this article with the 4th sector of the Marais

THE SECTOR OF SAINT PAUL

Behind the Paris City Hall, you can discover the Church of Saint-Gervais – Saint-Protais – two Christian twins persecuted under the Roman Emperor Nero.

It’s a pretty little church built in 1494 – its works lasted about 150 years ! Inside you will find the organ with fluted pilasters, the oldest in Paris.

Saint Gervais
The beautiful facade of Church Saint Gervais – Saint Protais © Assia et Nathalie

Did you know that – right next door – the rue François-Miron was an ancient Roman road connecting Lutetia (the old name of Paris) to Melun ?

There you will find two medieval half-timbered houses (at numbers 11 and 13) and their wooden panels.

François Miron
The medieval half-timbered houses of rue François-Miron © Assia et Nathalie

Oh ! and above all, take on the right the charming rue des Barres which will lead you to the Seine. You can have a drink or a meal on the vast terrace of Chez Julien.

A Small Pedestrian Cobbled Street In The Old District Of Le Marais In Paris, France, Behind Saint Gervais Church, With People Having Lunch On The Shady Terrace Of A Restaurant By A Sunny Summer Day.
The lovely rue des Barres behind Church Saint-Gervais © olrat Photo I-Stock Getty

The Saint Paul sector is of course known for the Shoah Memorial (17 rue Geoffroy-l’Asnier). A place of remembrance for the Jewish population.

You will find there a museum dedicated to the tragic history of the Shoah. The “Wall of the Righteous” honors and pays tribute to the 3900 men and women who saved Jews during the Second World War.

Further along the rue du Figuier, stop for an outdoor break in the beautiful park of the Hôtel de Sens, the former residence of the Archbishops of Sens.

With its medieval civil architecture, it is now housing the Forney Library, dedicated to decorative arts.

Bonne Qualité Hôtel De Sens
The Hôtel de Sens © Assia et Nathalie

At the corner of the streets of Jouy and Fourcy, look up to discover the bas-relief of the Remouleur (knife grinder), an old profession.

He was moving around with his little cart on which was fixed a sandstone grindstone wheel. He would turn it with his pedal to sharpen the utensils of the housewives and shopkeepers, but also the daggers and swords of the gentlemen.

Stopping at every street corner, he waved his bell and shouted: “grinder, iron knives ! iron scissors ! »

Rémouleur Assia
The Knife Grinder or Rémouleur © Assia et Nathalie

If you wish to go to Saint-Paul, take the rue des Jardins Saint-Paul. At the corner of this street and rue Charlemagne, you can admire the remains of Philippe Auguste’s enclosure or fortification, built between 1190 and 1209.

This Capetian King had ordered its construction before his departure for the 3rd crusade in order to protect the city from potential attacks.

There are still some remains of this ancient wall in several places of our capital. But the longest part (60 meters) is located in the Marais !

The entire fortification – between the right and left banks – measured at that time nearly 5100 meters and was reinforced by towers every 70 meters !

Enceinte Philippe Auguste
Remains of Philippe Auguste’s enclosure or fortification flanked by its tower © Assia et Nathalie

Next to it, Le Potager du Marais (26 rue Saint-Paul) will offer gourmet dishes for our vegan friends.

Potager Du Marais
The Vegan Restaurant Le Potager du Marais © Assia et Nathalie

We also recommend Autour du saumon (60 rue François Miron), a delicatessen and restaurant where you can taste salmon and other seafood products in all its forms.

Finally, don’t forget to visit the magnificent Saint-Paul Church – the first Jesuit church in Paris. Built at the 17th century, it is a splendid baroque church that was completely renovated in 2012.

For the record, it’s in this church that Cosette and Marius got married in Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables“. And Madame de Sévigné was baptized there.

Saint Paul
Amazing facade of Saint Paul’s Church © Assia et Nathalie

Our next article will make you discover the “Grand Siècle du Marais ” (the Great Century of the Marais) through the illustrious colorful street art portraits of Madame de Sévigné, Molière or King Henry the Fourth (Henri IV) – by the Artist C215 at the request of our Marais 4th arrondissement town hall.

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    10 comment(s)
  • Thank you for the latest tour and an introduction to the art of C215. You did a superb job! And, of course, whetted our appetite to see it in person. Soon I hope. Hugs, Paula and Bill.

    • Many thanks Paula ! So glad you enjoyed it. C215 is a very talented street artist. I didn’t know anything about him before seeing all these beautiful portraits of emblematic historic figures he painted in the Marais area.
      We hope to welcome you when this pandemic is over.
      Best wishes for the Christmas season. Take care ! Big hugs to you and Bill.

  • We had such a wonderful stay with you last summer, and look forward to visiting again soon. The breakfasts were so good, and the best part was getting a chance to chat with you and Nathalie. I am enjoying the blog and see some recommendations that you made while we were there that we really enjoyed. I’m hoping to bring our adult children next time – we can’t wait to share our experiences with them and discover new favorites. We wish you all the best during these tough times.

    • Thank you so much Sara for taking the time to leave us your lovely comment !
      It was indeed a real pleasure to welcome you and Sam.
      And I’m very happy you met our other guest Angela too.
      We had a wonderful dinner all together at this excellent moroccan restaurant remember ?
      It’s great that you enjoyed our new blog and I can’t wait to see you and your family again in May 2022 as planned.
      Many thanks for supporting us Sara !
      All our best wishes for health and happiness.
      Big hugs ! Assia

  • Beautiful translation, Assia. I loved walking through the Marais streets, salivating at the delicious food and seeing the beauty and history. I yearn to return to discover the Carnavalet. Most of it had already closed for renovation when we visited in 2016. I really want to explore that museum.

    • Many thanks Renée. When you and David will come back to Paris, we will go to Carnavalet Museum together.
      It’s a 3 minute walk from our home as you know.
      It’s inner garden was amazing – its architecture awesome.
      Sending you and David lots of love from Paris to Austin, Texas.
      I am relieved that he has totally recovered now. Take care !
      Big hugs, Assia

  • Thanks for the wonderful trip of the Marais. We loved the area ~ all the nearby restaurants and sights ~ and your immaculate accommodations and fabulous breakfast. We’ll be back.

    • Many thanks Paula ! The Marais is indeed a fascinating neighborhood. A mix of French history, splendid architecture, fabulous museums, gourmet restaurants, lovely walks and beautiful gardens !
      And it is most of all a very secure area. I’m so happy you enjoyed your virtual guided tour and I can’t wait to welcome you back in the near future !
      Big hugs and take care, Assia

  • So wonderful! Please continue and stay well we will meet I am sure within a year! How blessed you are to live in such beauty ❤️

    • Merci beaucoup Rosanne for your lovely comment ! Yes we are very lucky to live in this historic and beautiful area.
      Paris is an awesome city with lots of diversity.
      I love traveling but I am always happy to be back to enjoy our amazing architecture, restaurants and cafés. The French Art of Living !
      I hope you are well. Many thanks for your support and take care ! Assia

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