The Street of the Old Temple
Thursday afternoon, if all goes well, Podcaster Oliver Gee (of The Earful Tower) and I will be strolling up rue Vieille du Temple in Le Marais doing a “Walkcast” together. Since this is a word Oliver has concocted to describe his walking-in-Paris podcasts, I have no idea if this is a correct spelling or not, but you can get the gist of it.
He and I will start at one end of the street and as we work our way north, we will be discussing the street and environs. I’m not a historian, but I’ve watched the street change since 1997 when I moved to the northern end of it and have used it as a primary thoroughfare ever since to walk south toward the river. When I moved to Le Marais that year, all of the district was pretty scruffy, especially my immediate vicinity in the northern part. There was a cornucopia of little factories and wholesalers lining the narrow streets. On my street alone, rue de Saintonge, and only counting the other side of the street from my apartment, there were eight “rétoucheurs” or tailor shops. Now there are none as they have disappeared into the dustbin of “progress.”
Le Marais gentrified as a result of the André Malraux laws voted August 4th, 1962, to protect the historic districts of all French cities. If it weren’t for that, Le Marais would have been razed to the ground, considered by many to be “one of the greatest sins perpetrated against the City of Light.” The illustrious architect, Le Corbusier, had a “brilliant” plan — “Le Plan Voisin” — to modernize the two districts, 3rd and 4th. He wanted to raze and replace the buildings that date back to as early as the 15th-century, “new” considering that people have been living there since the 12th-century.
Le Marais has gone through many transformations over the years becoming an aristocratic enclave in the early 1600s when the Place des Vosges was built and the nobles moved to gargantuan townhomes (“hôtels particuliers”) where they could house their families and servants while entertaining lavishly. Imagine Le Marais at that time looking like an American suburb made up of big elaborate homes with three-car garages…this is how I imagine Le Marais was like in the 17th-century.
By the time of the French Revolution, the rich had moved out and to Saint-Germain, Saint-Honoré and Versailles, leaving room in Le Marais for the artisans and craftspeople to create workshops (“ateliers”) in the courtyards of the hôtels particuliers. When Baron Haussmann redesigned and reconstructed the city of Paris in the latter part of the 1800s, he left the then poor and narrow-streeted Le Marais alone, tearing down very little to make way for grand boulevards. At the end of the 19th-century, and up until World War II, the Ashkenazi Jews moved in (about 110,000), in an effort to flee persecution they experienced in Eastern Europe. They centered their lives around rue des Rosiers and its perpendicular streets, calling it the “Pletzl” (“the little place” in Yiddish)…and we all know what happened to them.
While the Jews were being moved out during World War II, France was hurting for laborers and recruited the Chinese, many of whom settled in the northwest section of Le Marais. Today, the Chinese make up the single largest ethnic community in the 3rd arrondissement and are the principle owners of the wholesale shops and factories that at one time were owned by the Jews. Then the district took another turn. The Gay community moved to Le Marais during the 1980s and some think the gentrification and increase in property values is a result of that. This could be largely true as it can be seen time and time again that the Gay community is well funded to make major improvements in their property and can greatly influence the kind of businesses that open — boutiques, cafés, restaurants, hotels, etc.
Rue Vieille du Temple is one of the streets that has become hugely popular and radically changed. Originally known as the Rue du Vieille Temple, or Street of the Old Temple, it led to the fortress of the 12th-century Knights Templar, which sat on what is now the Square du Temple. When it reaches rue de Bretagne, the street changes names to rue des Filles du Calvaire and at the top, one can see the Cirque d’Hiver building.
On Sundays, the street is closed to motor vehicles, making it easier to be a pedestrian, except for having to dodge the hordes of shoppers and Sunday strollers. It’s one of the few districts in the city allowed to open their retail establishment doors on Sundays, making it a very popular destination. Rue Vieille du Temple is one of the busiest streets with some of the finest shops in Paris. Some of us permanent residents of the district aren’t as happy with the arrival of the designer boutiques, such as Karl Lagerfeld (number 25), Chanel (number 47, in the Hôtel Amelot de Bisseuil a.k.a. “des Ambassadeurs de Hollande” built in 1657) and Kenzo (number 120) as the tourists and fashionistas, but we’re not complaining about the increase in property values. Since I purchased my apartment in 2000, its value has increased by four times or more!
I am a regular on the street to take advantage of my favorite cafés — five of which are owned by the same restaurateur, Xavier Denamur: Au Petit Fer à Cheval, Les Philosophes, L’Etoile Manquante, La Chaise au Plafond and La belle Hortense. All five are located between the intersections of rue Sainte-Croix-de-la-Bretonnerie and rue du Trésor. Each is a bit different, but all have great food and atmosphere. Restaurants are abundant, too, one of which has been drawing big crowds since 1958 — Robert et Louise, number 64, famous for its open wood fire and grilled steaks.
Rue des Rosiers’s western end butts right into rue Vieille du Temple, at number 43-45’s big blue doors. What lies behind those doors is a big elegant apartment building, but it wasn’t always that at all. This was at one time the Passage des Singes, or rue des Singes, dating back to 1250, which connected rue Vieille du Temple with rue des Guillemites at the Maison aux Singes (where it was thought monkeys were sculpted!).
An entire tome could be devoted to rue Vieille du Temple if one were to dig deeper into its history, but for now, it’s one of the city’s most interesting arteries. It’s no wonder Oliver Gee has chosen it as a topic of conversation for our upcoming Walkcast. Stay tuned for more!
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group
P.S. STAND WITH US, PARIS! Join us on March 24th in Paris for a standing rally to call for gun control reform NOW in support of the Parkland survivors and all gun violence survivors across the United States! Standing Rally will be held at the Trocadero Plaza Saturday March 24th, 2:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. Be there with us! For more information, visit their Facebook page