Le Marais District

WALKING TOURS OF LE MARAIS AND GAY LIFE

Le Marais and meaning “the marsh” in French) is a district in Paris, France, traditionally a bourgeois area, but also well-known historically.

It spreads across parts of the 3rd and 4th arrondissements in Paris (on the Rive Droite, or Right Bank, of the Seine).

In the 12th century, the Knights Templar cleared the marshlands to the north of Philippe Auguste’s enclosure.

From the 16th century onwards, the aristocracy built large residences in the area, a trend which was accelerated by the creation of the Place Royale (which would become the Place des Vosges) by Henri IV in 1605. The departure of the royal court to Versailles led to a decline in the district.

Haussmann’s urban redevelopment only marginally affected the Marais through new alignment rules and constructions, lending irregular width to many of the neighbourhood’s streets.

Another explanation for the name Marais, which today in French means marshland, would come from “maraichers”, i.e. vegetable gardens. Indeed this area outside the original walls of Philippe Auguste’s Paris were cultivated, in particular by religious orders.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century and in the first half of the twentieth century, the area surrounding the Rue des Rosiers became home to many Jews from Eastern Europe, further specializing local labour in the clothing industry.

The Marais was therefore a target for the Nazis when they controlled France. Following Liberation in 1944, the district went slowly into decline.

In 1969, André Malraux made the Marais the first protected sector (secteur sauvegardé), with the area being home to many museums, art galleries and historic sites.

As with other parts of Paris, where shops are sold but their front not entirely redone when changing business, this protection measure can lead to odd results, such as a shop with a “bakery” front selling fashionable items, or turned into a luxury hotel.

Le Marais today

The rue des Rosiers is still a major center of the Paris Jewish community, which has met a renewal since the 1990s.

Walls feature announcements of Jewish events, there are bookstores specializing in Jewish books, and there are also numerous restaurants and other outlets selling kosher food.

The synagogue on 10, rue Pavée not far from rue des Rosiers is a strong religious center, and serves as a strong base for the Jewish followers of the Chabad movement.

It was originally designed in 1913 by Art Nouveau architect Hector Guimard, famous for having designed several Paris Metro stations. One of the most interesting streets is the famous rue des Francs-Bourgeois, one of the rare streets of Paris completely open on Sunday.

The Marais, particularly towards the North near République is also famed for a strong Chinese community.

The neighbourhood has experienced a growing gay presence since the 1980s, as evidenced by the existence of many gay cafés, nightclubs, cabarets and shops.

These establishments are mainly concentrated in the southwestern portion of the Marais, many on or near the streets Sainte-Croix de la Bretonnerie and Vieille du Temple.

Other features of the neighborhood include the Musée Picasso, the house of Nicolas Flamel, the Musée Cognacq-Jay, and the Musée Carnavalet.

WALKING TOURS OF LE MARAIS AND GAY LIFE