Are you looking for a part of Paris that lacks chain stores, still has cobblestone streets and has maintained that old world Paris ambiance? If so, I suggest that you spend a day wandering the Butte-aux-Cailles district of Paris in the 13the arrondissement.
This is an historically working class section of Paris that is wedged between the Chinatown area at metro Tolbiac and metro Corvisart. The primary streets are rue de la Butte-aux-Cailles and rue des Cinq Diamants which are the center of night life with lively bars and restaurants.
In the seventeenth century this area began as a fenced in section outside of Paris that overlooked the Bièvre River (*). This river is now covered over and runs underground. The families that lived here during the seventeenth century worked in the limestone mines. The mines have long since closed but they have continued to have a positive impact on the neighborhood. The terrain was determined as too fragile because of the underground tunnels to withstand extensive building projects. This allowed the area to remain as one of the really quaint sections of Paris. (*The dye factories in the fourteenth century turned the Bièvre River into an open sewer so it was slowly covered over by new streets resulting in many sinuous roadways.)
In 1860 the Butte-aux-Cailles was annexed into Paris. It is probably most often associated with an important battle of civil insurrection known as the Paris Commune of 1871. A memorial to this organization can be found at Place de la Commune de Paris.
In brief, the Paris Commune was a socialist administration that governed Paris for a very brief time in 1871. The Commune, elected to rule Paris, proclaimed its authority to govern all of France leading to a brutal suppression by French forces in “La Semaine ensanglante” or “The Bloody Week”.
Today, we find boutiques, colorful restaurants and inviting cafés that make up the many “nooks” of Butte-aux-Cailles. The area is hilly and offers lovely views, steep inclines and numerous variations in architecture that feature low roofed houses.
For example, there are two sections known as Little Alsace and Little Russia. Here they built worker’s villas designed to look like traditional buildings in Northern France and Russia. To find these homes, cross rue Barrault to get to rue Daviel, et “viola”. During the day, the interior courtyards for these homes are still left open for exploring. In this same area are many examples of art nouveau architecture.
An interesting square featuring a modern 19th century well is Place Paul Verlaine. What is remarkable is that this well is a source of natural spring water and visitors can still fill their water bottles with potable water.
|Place Paul Verlaine|
A fun, popular spot for dining is le Temps des Cerises restaurant at 18, rue de la Butte-aux-Cailles, 75013 (phone 01 45 89 69 48). This is one of the restaurants where you can still eat on a budget and be one of the locals. Another well known good value restaurant among the Parisian bohos and students is Chez Gladines at 30, rue des Cinq Diamants, 75013 (phone 01 45 80 70 10).
One of my favorite shops in Paris is Les Abeilles at 21 rue de la Butte-aux-Cailles. This shop is a honey lovers delight with no less than fifty plus varieties of honey. In addition, the shop has goodies, books and a host of delightful items to choose from. I also understand that the owner, Jean-Jacques Schakmundès, has been instrumental in installing beehives in backyards and rooftops in Paris.
While wandering be sure to check out the graffiti art. The Butte-aux-Cailles has become well known for its street art and it attracts visitors from around the world who photograph the graffiti.
From the metro Corvisart take the stairs, rue Eugène-Atget, that leads to boulevard Auguste-Blanqui. Rue Jonas will be on your right. This will bring you to rue des Cinq-Diamants which leads directly to rue de la Butte-aux-Cailles. From here you can explore the quaint neighborhoods, narrow cobblestone streets and small, low roofed houses. Enjoy!
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