The Escargot of Paris
Today’s issue of FPI centers on the capital of France, Paris. Divided into 20 districts known as “arrondissements,” each is distinctively different and deserve a thorough understanding for livability and rentability. We explore each and every one — a complete overview that you will want to print and store away for future reference.
First, take in an overview, then a description of each, a listing of each town hall and vital information along with our own interpretation of where one can best make a life in Paris. There is lots of food for thought and if at the end, you’re still confused about where you should be putting in your stake, keep this one thought in mind — Paris is still Paris, no matter what corner of the city you choose to call your own.
The Escargot of Paris
I can remember from early childhood being fascinated by swirling designs, spirals and continuous circular motion. Little did I know then that it would become a major part of my own life’s movement, now daily traveling among the 20 districts of Paris, if not in actuality spiraling from one to the other, but mentally moving outward, the numbers getting higher as one moves from the center to the outer edges of the city. The spiral arrangement of Paris’ 20 districts gives it the term, “escargot” — like the shell of a snail.
On October 11, 1795, Paris was divided into 12 arrondissements. They were numbered from west to east, with numbers 1-9 situated on the right bank of the Seine, and 10-12 on the left bank. Each arrondissement was subdivided into 4 “quartiers,” which corresponded to the 48 original districts created in 1790.
On January 1, 1860, new territory was defined to be within the city by Napoleon III. The previous 12 arrondissements were rearranged with this new territory to become the present 20. In references to historical records (where it is important to distinguish between the old and new systems), the old arrondissements are indicated by following the number with the term “ancienne” (e.g. 2ème ancienne or 7ème ancienne, etc.).
The districts of Paris are an integral part of the basic functionality of the city. Each district is governed as its own municipality (within the larger municipality of Paris) and therefore supports a mayor, city council and town hall. With this system, each district takes on a different “personality,” as different types of residents comprise the population and therefore think and vote differently. This can affect all aspects of government, but it can also affect the physical attributes of the district, as while one arrondissement may favor high-rise buildings, another might not.
Average property prices in each arrondissement can differ greatly and can affect the value of property from one side of the street to the other. It can be an advantage to purchase property on the lesser border of an arrondissement to have the benefit of the location, but not the higher price, particularly for rental revenues, but not necessarily for resale appreciation.
The Paris Districts: District by District
From Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia
Paris has many different districts that are not necessarily reflected in any administrative plan.
Parisian habits make their own map, and sometimes in total ignorance of existing divisions: merchants tend to live near their boutiques, and to sell where the concentration of their clients is the greatest; artisans will live near their ateliers, and artisans of the same type often group together; factory workers will live near their place of labor if the rents are not too dear. Certain quarters have lived through centuries in total ignorance of Paris’ various divisions; an example of this would be its Les Halles market region that was divided at one point into as many as five different crown-imposed arrondissements, and another would be its university region that even today is spread between two arrondissements. In fact, administrative maps were sometimes drawn in an effort to modify the habits of certain regions of Paris: Haussmann in 1859 drew the dividing line between today’s 19th and 20th arrondissements (each with its own mayor and administration) down the main street of the rebellious town of Belleville. This of course had few immediate results, and it took over a century for habits to fade for reasons that had more to do with the fading of small-scale production than it had to do with government.
Below are a few quarters that have developed or retained a character of their own, usually identifiable by a grouping of commercial activity and named for neighborhood landmark.
The Central Islands
Paris’ islands were once many, but over the centuries have been united or joined to the mainland. Today there are but two adjacent islands forming the center of Paris, the Île de la Cité and the Île Saint-Louis.
Île de la Cité
The westernmost of these two island, Île de la Cité, is Paris’ heart and origin. Its western end has held a palace since even Roman times, and its eastern end since the same has been consecrated to religion, especially after the construction in the 10th century of the cathedral predecessor to today’s Notre-Dame. The land between the two was, until the 1850’s, largely residential and commercial, but since has been filled by the city’s Prefecture de Police, Palais de Justice, Hôtel-Dieu hospital and Tribunal de Commerce. Only the westernmost and north-eastern extremities of the island remain residential today, and the latter preserves some vestiges of its 16th-century canonic houses.
Purely residential in nature, this island formerly used for the grazing of market cattle and stocking wood. One of France’s first examples of urban planning, it was mapped and built from end to end during the 17th-century reigns of Henri IV and Louis XIII. A peaceful oasis of calm in the busy Paris center, this island has but narrow one-way streets, no Métro station.
La Rive Droite
Paris’ Rive Droite, formerly a marshland between two arms of the Seine river, remained largely uninhabited until the early 11th century. Once growth began there it soon eclipsed that of both the island and its Rive Gauche combined, and has remained Paris’ densest area ever since.
Châtelet-Les-Halles / Hôtel de Ville
“Le Châtelet,” a stronghold/gatehouse guarding the northern end of a bridge from the la Cité island, was the origin of Paris’ first real Rive Droite growth. Where the Les Halles quarter starts and ends is debatable, but for the average Parisian, it encompasses the former Les Halles marketplace, today a shopping mall center for a highly commercial district whose many boutiques are of a “trendy” sort geared to tourism [currently under massive renovation]. As the Les Halles is a Métro and RER hub for transport connecting all suburban regions around the capital, the stores closest to the station reflect the rap and hip-hop trends common there. Fast-food is the restaurant staple of this quarter’s most central region, but more traditional fare can be found to its north-west.
One of the region’s most prominent landmarks is the 1976-built Centre Georges Pompidou. Built in a highly colorized modern style greatly contrasting with its surrounding architecture, it houses a permanent modern-art museum exposition and has rotating expositions that keep to a theme of the post-pop art period. Recently renovated, it also houses the BPI, one of the city’s largest libraries and places of study. The wide square in front is a preferred place for street performers, as its location is ideal for drawing a mix of both tourist and student spectators.
Just to the east of la place du Châtelet lies Paris’ Hôtel de Ville (city hall). It stands on the almost exact location of a 12th-century “house of columns” belonging to the city’s “Prévôt des Marchands” (a city governor of commerce), then a later version built in 1628 whose shell is still the same today. Just across the street to the north of la rue de Rivoli is a the large 1870’s-built BHV (Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville) household shopping Mecca.
Le Louvre / Palais Royal
The Louvre, once Paris’ second Royal Palace, is today a museum, garden (Tuileries), and, more recently, a shopping mall and Fashion show center (Le Carrousel du Louvre). The Palais Royal just to its north, at its origin a residence of the Cardinal Richelieu, is a walled garden behind its rue de Rivoli facade, with covered and columned arcades that house boutiques forming what could be considered to be Paris’ first “shopping arcade”. This quarter in general has many 17th and 18th century buildings of large standing, as well as some of Paris’ more grandiose constructions, namely along the avenue de l’Opéra, from the Haussmann era. The long perspective of massive buildings that make the northern side of the rue de Rivoli, with their covered and columned arcades, are a result of Paris’ first attempt at reconstruction in a larger scale in the early 1840s, and today house the quarter’s most tourist-oriented shops, boutiques and night-clubs.
Centered around Paris’ Opéra Garnier completed in 1882, this quarter houses at once central Paris’ largest shopping centers (the Galeries Lafayette and Printemps) and is an important banking center (Crédit Lyonnais, BNP and American Express just to name a few). The streets behind both sides of the avenue de l’Opéra have many Japanese restaurants, and most of the avenues in this area “duty-free” stores selling luxury brands.
Saint-Honoré / Place Vendome / Concorde
The Rue Saint-Honoré is known for its luxury boutiques selling all fashion labels of international renown. The Place Vendôme, around its famous Hôtel Ritz, is the center of the Paris “Triangle d’Or” of jewelers. There are many major banks and offices in this area as well. The Place de la Concorde, to the western end of the Louvre’s Jardin des Tuileries, is a major stop for tourists (for its vista, fountains and Egyptian obelisk) and a panoramic introduction to the Champs-Élysées that begins at its western extremity.
Easily Paris’ most touristic avenue, and almost every commerce along its entire length between the rond-point des Champs-Elysées and its Arc de Triomphe is geared to nothing else. The buildings above the street-side boutiques are for the most part Paris offices or residences for businesses the world over. The streets behind the Avenue and in the neighborhood surrounding are filled with Haussmannian buildings of large standing that host some offices, but are largely residential.
Montmartre / Bas-de-Montmartre
Montmartre is Paris’ highest hill, and second most-visited tourist area. Formerly town of wine growers and plaster miners centered around a 15th-century monastery, it began from the late 20th-century (namely around the time of the construction of its Sacré-Coeur Basilica in 1919) to become a tourist attraction. Much of Montmartre’s windmills and “old village” charm had already been destroyed when Paris’ tourist boom began, but investors and speculators rebuilt it anew. All the same, Montmartre is a very picturesque place to visit, and has one of the best views of the capital. Some of its former charm can be found to the rear of the hill, as well as a windmill or two, and it has even the remains of its former vineyard topping.
The boulevards below Montmartre, also called “bas-de-Montmartre”, were once highly popular with mid-19th century Parisians for their cabarets, as at the time they were in an open-air scenery that was almost countryside. The Moulin Rouge is all that remains of the once many such saloons and dance-halls that lined the north side of the boulevard, but today this establishment is but a gaudy tourist-tailored mirror of what it once was. The boulevard surrounding, especially to its east towards Pigalle, is filled with establishments offering shows of a slightly “warmer” nature than can-can.
Gare de l’Est / Gare du Nord
To the north of Paris’ textile “sentier” quarter, this area is fascinating for its myriad of clothing stores and hair salons whose owners are largely of African origin. These stations mark the northernmost limits of Paris’ “Sentier” textile industry district.
La Place de la Bastille is named for a former castle/dungeon guarding Paris’ 17th-century eastern gate. Aside from this place’s central column, its most prominent landmark is its Opéra-Bastille, an opera-house with a style of architecture and repertoire more modern than its classical Opéra-Garnier counterpart. The north-westerly boulevard Beaumarchais is known for its music and camera stores. To the north of the place stretches its narrow rue de la Roquette with its many small bars, restaurants and night-clubs, a street that ends to the north-east at the Père Lachaise cemetery.
To the west of the place de la Bastille extends the rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine, a street running through the center of what was once a village of furniture-making artisans. To the north and north-west from there, across a map of narrow streets remaining unchanged from this 17th-century time, lies Le Marais. The rue du faubourg Saint-Antoine still has many furniture stores.
Today Le Marais is most known for its square and uniformly-built Place des Vosges. Inaugurated as the “Place Royale” in 1612, much of the land surrounding was built with vast and luxurious “hotels” by those seeking closer relations to royalty, and many remain today. This area fell out of royal favor when the King’s court left for the Louvre then Versailles, and was in a state of almost abandon by 19th century. It became a largely Jewish quarter around then, and has remained so ever since. Re-emerging today as a rather expensive bourgeois quarter, Le Marais can be considered almost trendy with its many new gay-friendly clothing stores and bars.
La Rive Gauche
Paris’ Left Bank was its center from its first to 11th centuries, but little evidence remains of this today. The largest reason for this is that, solidly built from Roman times, its crumbling constructions in fact served as a quarry for Rive Droite constructions when its population moved to Paris’ northern shores. Calm even today, the rive Gauche is in its majority residential.
This central Rive-Gauche quarter is named for its 7th century abbey of which only a church is still standing. Its commercial growth began upon the 1886 completion of its Boulevard Saint-Germain and the opening of its cafés and bistrots namely its “Café Flore” and “Deux Magots” terraces. Its fame came with the 1950’s post-WW II student “culture emancipation” movement that had its source in the nearby University. Many jazz clubs appeared here during those times, and a few still remain today.
Located near the École des Beaux-Arts, this quarter is known for its artistry in general, and has many galleries along its rue Bonaparte and rue de Seine. In all, Saint-Germain-des-Prés is an upper-class bourgeois residential district, and its quality clothing and gastronomical street-side commerce is a direct reflection of this.
Odéon / Saint-Michel
Odeon is named for the 17th-century theatre standing between the boulevard Saint-Germain and the Luxembourg gardens, but today it is best known for its Cinemas and Cafés.
The land just to the south of the Seine river to the east of the boulevard Saint-Michel, around its Sorbonne university, has ben a center of student activity since the early 12th-century. The neighborhood surrounding is filled with many student-oriented commerce such as bookstores, stationary stores and game shops.
The land to the north of the boulevard Saint-Germain to the east of the boulevard Saint-Michel is one of the Rive Gauche’s few tourist oases. Although its narrow streets are charming, as they have remained unchanged from medieval times, they are filled with souvenir shops and tourist-trap restaurants, and is a quarter where few Parisians ever stray.
Paris’ 17th-century Hôtel des Invalides and 18th-century Ecole Militaire were built where they were in an effort to force the Rive Gauche’s growth westward to match that to its opposing Rive Droite. Les Invalides, a former military hospital and still today a retirement home for a few former soldiers, became a tourist attraction after it was doted with Napoleon Bonaparte’s ashes from 1840 and a museum from 1905.
Just to the west from there lies the École Militaire (Military school) built from 1751, but it is to the river end of its former parade ground that lies Paris’ foremost tourist attraction. The Eiffel tower, built by Gustave Alexandre Eiffel for the 1889 universal exposition, averages around six million visitors a year.
Further east along the bank of the Seine lies the former Paris-à-Orléans train station built for the 1900 universal exposition. Closed in 1933, it has since been renovated into a museum of 19th-century art, open to the public since 1986 [known as the Musée d’Orsay].
Montparnasse / Denfert-Rochereau
This quarter owes its artistic reputation to its Montparnasse cemetery. Open from 1824, it attracted the ateliers of sculptors and engravers to the still-inbuilt land nearby, and these in turn drew painters and other artists looking for calmer climes than the saturated and expensive Right Bank. Many of these today-famous artists met in the boulevard Montparnasse’s many cafés and bistros, one of these being the world-known Belle Époque “La Coupole.” This aspect of Montparnasse’s culture has faded since the second world war, but many of its artist atelier-residence “Cités” are still there to see.
The Gare Montparnasse, since its beginning as a railway connection to Versailles in 1840, has since grown into the Rive Gauche’s commuter hub connection to many destinations in southern France. The neighborhood around it is a thriving business quarter, and houses Paris’ tallest building: the Tour Montparnasse.
To the south-east of the boulevard Montparnasse, to the bottom of the northward-running avenue Denfert-Rochereau at the square of the same name, is one of Paris’ few-remaining pre-1860’s “polyp” gateways. The westernmost of these twin buildings holds Paris’ most macabre attraction: the Catacombs of Paris. Formerly stone mines, abandoned when Paris annexed the land over them from 1860, the underground hallways became a new sepulture for the contents of Paris’ many overflowing and unhygienic parish cemeteries. At its origin but a jumbled bone depository, it was renovated in the early 19th century into uniform rooms and hallways of neatly (and even artistically) arranged skulls and tibias, and opened to the public for paid visits from 1868.
Key Suburb: La Défense business district
As one of the largest business districts in the world, Paris La Défense is a major destination for business tourism in Europe. Every day, through the variety and number of its events, it enhances the role Paris plays on the world stage.
* 3,000,000 m² (32.3 million sq. ft) of offices
* Europe’s largest shopping center with nearly 3,000 hotel rooms, 600 shops and services, and over 100 restaurants
* daily influx of 160,000 office staff with 2 million tourist visits annually
* CNIT congress center, the largest self-supporting vault in the world, 43,000 m² (463,000 sq. ft), including 29,000 m² (312,000 sq. ft) of modular spaces, 36 meetings rooms and 4 halls
* La Défense stands on Paris’s historic East-West axis.
The project to build the Grande Arche was initiated by the French president François Mitterrand. He wanted a 20th century Arc de Triomphe. The design of Danish architect Otto van Spreckelsen looks more like a cube-shaped building than a triumphal arch. It is a 110 meters white building with the middle part left open. The sides of the cube contain offices. It is possible to take a lift to the top of the Grande Arche, from where there is a scenic view of the historical heart of Paris, which is 6 to 10 km. (4 to 6 miles) from the Grande Arche.
The 20 Districts of Paris
Contact information for the 20 Paris townhalls, as well as information about the most popular sites in each arrondissement can be found at www.paris.fr and for an interactive map, visit Paris a la carte.
Townhall of the 1st arrondissement
Townhall of the 2nd arrondissement
Townhall of the 3rd arrondissement
Townhall of the 4th arrondissement
Townhall of the 5th arrondissement
Townhall of the 6th arrondissement
Townhall of the 7th arrondissement