The Marais is one of the loveliest and most fashionable districts of Paris. The name means ‘marshland’ because the original village here was built on a marsh, but there are no signs of that these days! Instead there are elegant buildings, pretty squares and of course the Parisian staples of great little cafés.
On the final morning of our recent visit, with our train home not booked until late afternoon, we had time for a lovely wander here, which I’m sharing for Jo’s Monday Walks. Rather than concentrate on the area around the elegant Place des Vosges, which we’ve visited many times before, we took the Metro to Temple and started our walk there.
We soaked up the special atmosphere of this quarter, took lots of photos and enjoyed a leisurely drink at a neighbourhood pavement café: Paris at its best. Here are some of the highlights.
Église Sainte-Élisabeth de Hongrie
I had never heard of this neighbourhood church but it proved an unexpected delight, albeit difficult to do justice to in photos. There’s a beautiful fresco in the dome and some striking stained glass.
But most fascinating of all, to me, were the hundred carved oak bas-reliefs tucked away in semi-darkness in the ambulatory (behind the altar). These were originally commissioned in 1623 for the Abbey of Saint-Vaast in Arras and moved here in the 18th century. They depict scenes from the Old and New Testaments. Unfortunately it was nearly as difficult to make these out as it was to photograph them, but I did spot Jonah and the Whale and the Garden of Eden. Here’s a very poor photo of the latter, which was right at one end and therefore slightly easier to see. Maybe the church could consider some sort of temporary light switch such as I’ve seen in Italian churches by their greatest works of art?
Square du Temple-Elie Wiesel
This pretty little square is dedicated to a Nobel Peace Prize winner and clearly beloved of locals. We saw a yoga class in progress, games of ping-pong and a group of (I think) Chinese elders sitting on the benches for a chat.
Rue des Archives
Leaving the square we had time to kill, as we were heading to the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson which doesn’t open until 11.00. So that’s where the aforementioned café came in handy, on a busy corner near the square. It offered lots of people watching and a friendly dog.
Once the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson opened we strolled along the Rue des Archives to see a great exhibition showcasing some of his landscapes from around the world. I’d seen a poster for the exhibition a few days before on the Metro and we were both so glad we’d heard about it as we’re great admirers of his work and the photos here were ones we’d never seen. The gallery has changing exhibitions, so we’ll be back again for sure.
Meanwhile the Rue des Archives itself was a really fruitful street for our own photography. There were some beautiful building details and some fun street art on the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature.
The Jewish quarter
The narrow streets around the Rue du Marché des Blancs Manteaux and Rue des Rosiers, part of the former Jewish quarter, are dotted with sad memorials to deported families. I noted with interest that these acknowledge the complicit Vichy government.
These memorials sit alongside present-day happier scenes of queues outside the most popular falafel vendors. There were shoppers browsing the mainly independent boutiques and others just out for a stroll, as we were. There was also a good selection of street art for me to photograph.
I wondered afterwards if the pink rabbit was simply a lost toy, as I took it to be at the time, or if someone had left it as a poignant reference to the book ‘When Hitler stole Pink Rabbit’, by Judith Kerr, which tells the story of her own family. They fled Nazi Germany when she was eight years old, leaving behind her favourite pink rabbit toy, and settled first in Paris, later England. But maybe I’m reading too much into it!
We finished our walk near Saint Paul and took the Metro back to Saint Germain des Pres to have a light lunch of galettes in a creperie near our hotel. There was time for an ice cream too before collecting our bags and heading to the Gare du Nord, and home. See you again soon, Paris!