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A short History of the Marais

Origins of the Marais

The right bank of the Seine, at the foot of the Belleville and Montmartre hills is a vast swamp. Very early on, several main arteries were built to cross it, among these, the rue St. Martin and St. Antoine, dating from the Roman era. In 879, the emperor Charles the Bald donates these flooded grounds to a religious community, the St. Opportune Abbey. The draining of the land turns former swamps into fertile marshes or «marais», the parisian term indicating the farming of vegetables and aromatic plants. New religious brotherhoods take part in vegetable farming from these marshes, notably the Maison du Temple and the St. Martin of the Fields brotherhoods. Later in 1176, Louis VII le Young, father of Philippe Auguste, makes of the «Marais» Paris’ vegetable garden.


From the 13th to the 16th centuries

Philippe Auguste has walls built to protect Paris. The Marais is excluded from it, but the gates of the city remain open to facilitate access to the properties located outside the walls. Around 1360, the future king Charles V, has new protective walls erected, this time annexing the «Marais» to Paris. The «Marais» gains in prestige when Charles V lives alternately at the Hôtel St. Paul, situated between the rue St. Antoine and the Seine’s banks, and the Hôtel des Tournelles. During the English occupation which followed, the Duke of Bedford resided in the «Marais». Subsequently the kings Charles VII, Louis XI, Charles VIII, Louis XII and François the 1st were all regulars to the «Marais». In 1545, the face of the area is changed. The religious orders, hitherto guardians of the «Marais», assign Maître Guillaume Payen to sell their parcels. Henceforth, throughout the area, streets are built: the rue des Francs Bourgeois, the rue Sainte Catherine (today the rue Sévigné), the rue Pavée and the rue Payenne, to name a few.


The 17th century and its splendours

Henry IV, was the first great French urban planner. He was responsible for the Place Royale (today the Place des Vosges) which became the heart of the Marais. The Marais emerged as a centre of elegance and festivities. Princes, noblemen and ambassadors made solemn appearances there. Splendid mansions, known as «hôtels particuliers» were built all through the area. The architecture of these private homes, typical of French architecture of the time, is stylistically classic and discreet. The homes were built, sheltered from the street, by a front courtyard and back garden. In these mansions, aristocrats, philosophers and libertines entertained.


The forsaken 18th century

The population follows its king. Louis XIV and his court choose to reside at Versailles. The Marais and its centre, the Place Royale, begin to reflect the king’s disinterest and the area is deserted. Only Marie de Rabutin Chantal, known as the Marquise de Sévigné, a worldly literary figure, favours her home at the Hôtel Carnavalet, today a museum of the history of Paris. The nobles and bourgeois owners of the «hôtels particuliers» of the Marais, compelled by the revolution and the storming of the Bastille, so close by, move to the provinces.


19th and 20th, from chaos to resurrection.

Left to disrepair, altered, transformed, the beautiful «hôtels particuliers» of the Marais suffered from careless conversions to workshops and cement buildings well into the 1960’s. Large scale urban projects endangered all this cultural heritage. Fortunately, passionate lovers of the Marais, such as architect Albert Laprade or puppeteer Michel Raude alerted public opinion and the government. André Malraux, the culture minister at the time, acted quickly to preserve and protect the area. Through government acquisition of historic sites, a preservation and restoration program and a festival in different prestigious neighbourhoods of the quarter enabled the Marais to be saved from certain destruction.


The radiant 21st century

Interest in the Marais continues to grow. Artists, creators, artsy types, history lovers make this neighbourhood a destination not to be missed.


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