0004 - Le Clos Mauvoisin

0004 – The Clos Mauvoisin

This is our second of two visits to Paris’ first –inhabited riverside Rive gauche region. This area was prone to flooding, so few permanent structures appeared before the 10th century – but when they did, they brought the landfill and landscaping that transformed the irregular banks of the Seine into a solid and dry shoreline.

The area we will cover is mostly in a region once called the “Clos Mauvoisin”. Stretching eastward from the Petit-Pont until the rue des Bernardins and south to today’s rue Galande, this property was in private hands until the reign of Louis VIII (“le Lion” – 1223-1226), when it was divided into lots and sold on the condition that its buyers build there. This decision was most probably because of the development around a road that existed there since the end of the 12th century: probably taking form at the same time as the 7th-century rive Gauche “port de la Bûcherie”, the “rue de la Bûcherie du Petit-Pont” stretched between the shoreline above today’s place Maubert and Paris’ then-unique Rive gauche bridge to the ile de la Cité. This riverside port, as it name signifies, was created for the gathering of the logs floated to the capital, its provision in firewood and building timber.

The rue Galande was not only a properly line, but an important road that led, through the rues de la Montaigne Saint-Genevieve, Descartes, Mouffetard and the avenue des Gobelins, to Lyon and Rome. The riverside land to the south of its southeastward path was another holding, the “Clos Garlande”, belonging to the powerful family for which it was named.

Its former Roman occupants aside, the Rive gauche remained relatively uninhabited until well into the 12th century. Its first centre of re-animation was to the Rive gauche shore opposite the Notre-Dame Cathedral: The professors of Paris’ cathedral school, one of the most popular in Europe then and overflowing with students, were obliged to hold open-air classes outside of the Cloister confines and chose the barren lands on the northward slope of the montaigne Sainte-Genevieve. Around the nucleus of activity created by the student movement to the Rive gauche appeared many new churches and buildings, which would become the centre of a student quarter that Parisians even today call “l’Université”.


Point de Départ: rue de la Bûcherie

This length of street running to the south of the quai de Montebello used to be one of this riverside region’s few west-east roadways. Traced in the first years of the 13th century, it actually was in itself almost a quay, as it ran along the crest of the Seine’s Rive Gauche sloping riverbanks, and the land between it and the river was frequently flooded. Its name, “la Bûcherie”, came from its role as a connection between the road to the Petit Pont and a Rive Gauche port used between the 11th to 16th century for the principal point of reception for the City’s supply of logs, a rough wood used mostly for firewood and rough building timber.

Most of the houses remaining along this part of our street date from the 16th century: note particularly #39, that after a glance up above the restaurant it houses in its façade today, you will notice that it is in fact an independently-standing two-story house. Visible in the courtyard behind it (which we saw from across the Petit Pont in promenade 0003) is the half-timber rear of 16th-century apartment buildings surviving this quarter’s many renovations. There you can also see a stairway encased only to its middle into the building, much like the one we also visited in our precedent chapter.

Moving forward, the rue de la Bûcherie comes to a temporary end at a garden square. We will find our way later on to where it continues to the other side, but for now let us visit the tree-filled oasis behind a very ancient church, in fact, second only to Montmartre’s Saint-Pierre, one of the City’s oldest: Saint-Julien le Pauvre. Before heading to the church proper let us take a walk around the square named for René Viviani, a gentleman who served a brief term as France’s Prime Minister in 1914.

Our first remarkable view is across the square and the river to where we see Notre-Dame haloed by the early morning light. As we cross the gardens towards the old church behind us, you will notice that there bits and pieces of stone architecture poised decoratively to both sides of the path: these are remains of Saint-Julien’s former façade. The large and leaning tree centred in a patch of grass of its own just to the north of the church is said to be Paris’ oldest as it was planted in 1601 by the botanist Robin.

Let’s take a closer look at the church itself.


Saint-Julien le Pauvre

The Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre church was said to have already existed since at least the 6th century at the important crossroads that made the (today’s) rue Saint Jacques and the rue Galande. It existed as ruins from the 9th century Norman raids onwards, until the Benedictine Abbey of Longpoint bought it and its surrounding lands in 1120. Most probably because of the minimal income generated by the then-barren lands, the Abbey rebuilt the church upon its old foundations in a minimal and conservative classical/gothic style; In addition the construction was slow, as it was complete only to its basic structure only in 1180.

One could consider that it was complete with the addition of a second alley, an apse and the beginnings of a bell tower in 1240, although the latter was never completed. A reason for these embellishments could be because of its then new role as principal hall for the Paris University assemblies, a role it would retain until it was practically destroyed in 1524 by rioting students unhappy with the assembly’s choice of Rector. Stripped of its role as a meeting hall for the Université faculty one year later, it would only be minimally rebuilt from a state of ruin in 1651 in the form that it has today, that is to say with its façade roughly rebuilt in an almost Grecian fashion two spans to the rear of its original location.


Rue de Saint-Julien le Pauvre

Many of the buildings lining the side of the street date from the same period as those along the rue de la Bûcherie, that is to say from the late 16th-century. Even these were rebuilt atop even older structures: some have basements, covering two floors, dating from the early 12th century, most probably remains of buildings that were most probably former church dependencies. Notice the blue doorway with its 16th-century arch: this and some of the building behind it have been classed Monument Historique. The house just beyond is curious too, as is the small arched doorway in the building beyond which seems to be the remains of an ancient basement entryway. Opposite, notice the half-timber build of the apartment building just to the right of the façade of the church we just visited. In front of us, marking the end of the rue Saint-Julien le Pauvre where it meets the rue Galande, stands a curious green-tinted half-timber building that seems to have been created as a hasty addition to the buildings supporting it somewhere in the mid 18th century.


Rue Galande

Leaving Paris’ main “rue outre Petit-Pont” just to the south of the bridge, this street was the beginning of a road that, if continued through the rues Lagrange, Montaigne Ste-Genevieve, Descartes, Mouffetard and Avenue Gobelins, would eventually lead to Italy. Its importance as a crossroads was the nucleus of all post-Merovingian-era Left-bank growth. This street takes its name from the ‘Clos Garlande” property it bordered to the north; the land to its north being the “Clos Mauvoisin”, it bore also this property’s name at several points through Paris’ history. This street would form another important crossroads further to its east where it met a road running southward from the riverbank opposite the Notre-Dame cathedral, the rue de Fouarre; this crossroads would eventually become the scholastic rive Gauche centre that was the place Maubert.

This rather quaint street is decorated has a rather medieval look about it, most probably because of its narrow calibre and the décor of a few of the restaurants that line it. The first property of note we come to is the façade of #65 rue Galande: its blue rectangular doorway topped with a carved decor depicting a male face dates from the late 16th century; look higher up and you will see its “pignon” which in this case is not a wooden point but an arc of carved stonework. It is a very beautiful property, with its high windows along its first floor that was considered the “noble” level of habitation in the years before plumbing and elevators.

To the opposite side of the street, at #64, you will see a rather solid wood door. Nondescript in itself, it opens into a courtyard holding, classed “monument Historique”, the remains of a former chapel dedicated to the Saint Blaise. I was unable to enter this property, but, as for the chapel Saint-Aignan mentioned in a precedent chapter, I will post an update as soon as I am able to obtain a visit.

Further along to the same side of the street, above the doorway of number forty-two, you will notice a rather primitive stone bas-relief of what seems to be people crossing a river by boat: This is an icon dating from the 14th century, and is thought to have adorned the original façade of the Saint-Julien le Pauvre church. It recounts the legend of Saint-Julien (“l’Hospitalier”), the Saint for which the church was named, as it shows the saint and his wife accompanying the Christ across a waterway to a chapel that was his destination.

Just ahead lies an intersection that was this street’s crossing with the abovementioned rue Fouarre. The street to our left still bears this name, but that to our right has, since the mid-19th century, been rebuilt into the rather wide and Hausmannian rue Dante. The rue Galande exists in its original state to the other side only to our right, as the building block on the even-numbered side of the street has been rebuilt during the same period.

Numbers 25-41 of this street are very ancient properties dating for the most part from the 16th century. Number 31 particularly, dating from the end of the 15th century, has quite a remarkable and intact “pignon”, and number 27 is interesting for the distortion its ground floor has underwent through the centuries. Although they seem sturdy today, only with difficulty discernable from its stone-built neighbours, one must remember that until the rough timber that makes the skeleton of buildings such as these was unadorned by plaster until obliged by law from the mid-16th century. Sometimes the street side façade of half-timber buildings are even “disguised” to look like stone through false mortar drawn into their plaster, but they can almost always be identified by the seemingly decorative iron “anchors” that were later added to retain their tendency to warp away from the buildings surrounding, making them lean forward over the street. This action is called “encourbaillement” in the French term of architecture history.

Past the visually interesting almost prow-like delta made by our street’s meeting with the rue Lagrange (named for an 18th-19th century mathematician), the rue Galande once continued to the place Maubert which extended much further to the north before Haussmann’s time. Let us take a left turn to follow the rue Lagrange to the short length remaining of the street that was the origin of the Left Bank’s scholastic centre.


l’Université de Paris

The University of Paris has its origins in the Notre-Dame Cathedral. Charlemagne (768-814) had created the first official educational system when he decreed that all cathedrals offer an education to the younger who were destined for a life in the clergy, and this later was opened to all who could attend. Cathedral classes were usually held outdoors in gardens below the walls of the church.

Paris’ scholastic fame grew such that other Abbeys began to garner a reputation as well. Factions of professors began to leave the Notre-Dame school from as early as the first years of the 12th century to escape the ecclesiastical dogma reigning over the teachings of the time, and by the end of the same the Left Bank’s Saint-Victor and Sainte-Genevieve Abbey professors had become the centre of a new scholastic centre. King Philippe Auguste (1180-1223) gave the Left Bank school its freedom from the Notre-Dame bishopric in 1200 by grouping it into a “Paris University” guild comparable to that of other tradesmen of the time. In its first years the University created “Faculty” subdivisions centred around the teachings of Theology, Canonical Law and the Arts (language (namely Latin) arithmetic, later sciences and music), each with its own “doyen” head and elected staff. After an edict from the Pope Pie IX in 1231, the University of Paris could totally bypass Notre-Dame’s influence to answer only to the Vatican itself.


La rue du Fouarre

Upon its 12th-century creation this street was “rue des Écoles” or “rue des Écoliers”, but its present name to a derivative of an old French word “feurre” meaning “bundle of hay”. Most Parisian cathedral school classes took place in open air, with the students seated (by rule) upon the ground while the teacher would give his lesson from a raised dais or chair. When classes moved away from the Notre-Dame cathedral to the Left Bank in the late 13h century, they also moved to land still farmland, and it is from the fields that students would fetch their minimal cushion of comfort. This street led from the rue de la Bûcherie to the rue Saint-Jacques before being cut by the 19th-century rue Lagrange and rue Dante. It was what you could call the student “mall” as, through the aid of its many taverns, would become quite boisterous, to a point where Charles V (1364-1380) blocked it at both ends with chains (later gates) and ordered it closed at night.

Although this street’s history is long, there is not much of it left to see. In returning towards the river we see the rear of the Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre gardens to our left, and just before them an interesting building dating from the late 18th century. Just below there, behind a recently added coat of baby blue paint, is a seemingly intact façade, complete with hanging sign, dating from the same era.

We will cross the street and pick up the rue de la Bûcherie where it continues from the western side of the park.


Rue de la Bûcherie – suite

Moving forward along the narrow sidewalk similar to many bordering Pairs’ older streets, we can make out what seems to be a dome peeking above the building to the opposite side of the street ahead of us. Sure enough, once we advance far enough to see a courtyard divided from the street by a wrought-iron fence, we see in its wall farthest from us a set of monumental doors and an “oeil de boeuf” (bull’s-eye) window above them; the grey slate-roofed dome begins just above, but its lower plane is ringed with wide latticed windows that would number eight if continued around the building.

Entering the courtyard we see a wide doorway to its wall parallel to the street, and what looks to be almost a fenced moat to both sides; the bottom of this may mark the street’s original level when this building was rebuilt in 1676. The black marble plaque over the doorway is an attestation of this reconstruction financed by the Canon Masle. Looking to the left of the courtyard and the rotunda’s massive doors, I see a smaller fire door open to its left; curious by nature, I decide to have a look in, and find a narrow stairway winding up through the thickness of the massive wall around the dome. After a short while, a hallway, and at the end of it a rather surprised gentleman sitting at a desk in a room only big enough for it – it seems to be but a space left between the central round rotunda room and its square foundations. I introduce my doings, and myself but the gentleman knew little about the building – in chatting I notice behind him a winding metal staircase to a gallery above. I did not take this, but thought to return should I not find another issue to the building centre.

Entering the courtyard then the wide doorway under the black commemorative plaque, I come into an “Ikea office” decorated wide room that seems to fill some sort of Administrative function. The quite austere original stonework was still visible above the shelving and décor, but the rotunda door was nowhere to be seen. Speaking to one of the tellers, I learn that this place is the "Centre de formation de la Ville de Paris", and the rotunda is unused today. To what I suppose was an exception to normal practice, he showed me (through what looked to be some sort of travel agency) to a large door where he left me. Entering I find a large amphitheatre rotunda, brightly lit from all sides with sunlight streaming through the wide latticed windows above. Just below them was a stone-balustrade mezzanine walkway running the circumference of the dome, and below, to three sides of the room, the building’s largest windows. The floor below my feet was a beautiful hardwood star whose many points radiated from the room’s centre to all points of its unique circular wall. This all the same was broken with Corinthian columns supporting the dome above. This room was once the heart of the Paris’ University’s fourth Faculty, its faculty of Medicine.


The Faculty of Medicine

Medicine was but a popular science in Paris’ early years. The only real medical teachings before the second millennium were those of Cathedral schools, and with the Vatican’s increasing rigidity of rule regarding the proper conduct of its priests, even these became impracticable. First crippled with laws of celibacy and modesty, then with a Papal bull forbidding the letting of blood by any priest, we can consider that there were no “official” doctors of any effect at the end of the 12th century.

Yet bloodletting then was the principal cure for most ailments. Needing no licence practice, the beard-trimmers of the time, or “barbiers”, were the artisans who prided themselves most in this task. More knowledgeable in the human body but uneducated by any formal school were “Chirurgiens” (surgeons). Saint-Louis’ (1226-1270) broke the ecclesiastical rigor over everything scholastic concerning medicine by authorising his personal surgeon, Jean Pitard, to form his own circle of practitioners: Called the “Confrérie de Saint-Come” this circle of surgeons would meet in a room off the charniers of the Saint-Come church that once stood name near the corner of today’s rue Monsieur le Prince and Boulevard Saint-Michel. From 1274 the Paris University began giving lessons in medicine as a part of its Faculty of arts, and from 1331 surgeons had a Faculty of their own, bringing the University’s faculties to a number of four.

The faculty’s first known residence was, from 1369, a property on the rue des Rats (today the rue de l’Hôtel-Colbert). They added a few other properties over the years, and after the lapse of the Hundred-Years war, finally took up residence 1472 added the “house of the Iron Crown” on the corner of the same street and the rue de la Bûcherie. A first rather ramshackle amphitheatre was completed there to the beginning of the 16th century, but a Canon Le Masle would have the whole property rebuilt into a solid mansion in 1676. The amphitheatre that stands today to the left of the building’s main doorway was erected in 1744 and named for a famous Danish surgeon by the name of Winslow.

Unfortunately this building’s use was short-lived. Flooding in 1774 had covered our area under three metres of water, and the building, built of solid stone and brick walls, could not rid itself of its humidity afterwards. The faculty moved to a property on the rue Jean de Beauvais that year, and was disbanded after the 1789 revolution. It served all sorts of purposes since then, and even as apartment lodgings as can be seen in the photos of Marville, but was eventually recuperated by the government who still uses it today.


Rue de l’Hôtel Colbert

Exiting the Amphitheatre and offices (after thanking the gentleman who showed us in), we turn right onto the rue de la Bûcherie again. If you look up at the street-sign embedded into the rotunda we just left you will see just above it the same name engraved into the stone; the number “17” was this street’s arrondissement before the 1860 re-attribution to the map we know today. Instead of moving along in our previous direction, let us take a jog along the rue de l’Hôtel Colbert towards the river. This street has had many names, called “rue des Rats” from its 1202 extraction from the Clos Mauvoisin. Colbert did indeed have a manor (“maison particuliaire”) in this street, thus its modern name, but the portion towards the river, but a grade down to the river in its earliest years, was called “rue des Petits Degrés.”

Once to the Quai de Montebello we can cross for a look along the river and the bouquinistes there, then take a look back from where we came. Let’s move on along the quay to until turning into the heart of this region once again through the rue de Bièvre. Admire the painted facades we’ll pass on the way, but we’ll be back to see those later.


Rue de Bièvre

This street has had its name since at least 1250. In fact, at its origin, it wasn’t a street at all, but a branch of the Bièvre river deviated from its natural course to the Seine (near the Gare d’Austerlitz) by the monks of the abbey Saint-Victor in 1148. The river was returned to its former state from the early 15th century, but left its name to the flowered path was once its former bank. The street is long and narrow and infrequently travelled; mid-way along its length we can find the residence of Prime Minister François Mitterrand. In an alcove above the 1st floor at #12 is a statue of what looks to be the Saint-Michel, and this is most likely because many of the houses we will pass on the even-numbered side of the street were dependencies of the College Saint-Michel. To the left are a few doorways dating from the 17th century, and as we near the street’s end at the Boulevard Saint-Germain, a wide portal to our left at #1 seems to date from an even earlier era.

Before the construction of this part of the abovementioned Boulevard in 1855, the rue de Bièvre continued forward for at least another twenty metres until a wide place that had been the Rive Gauche’s central square from the 12th – 18th centuries. Let’s make our way around the building to our right to head north again.


Place Maubert

Today reduced to its upper extremity to the north of the Boulevard Saint-Germain, the Place Maubert once stretched in a diagonal “X” to as far as the rue Saint-Victor. It also was created in 1202, and with the rue de Fouarre made the Rive Gauche’s first scholastic centre with its many colleges. “Maubert” is a name derived from “Aubert”, the second Abbott of the Saint-Genevieve Abbey that was the owner of much of the Rive Gauche land in Paris’ earliest years. The place eventually became a market when students left for the Saint-Genevieve colleges from the 14th century, and eventually became a place for capital punishment with a gallows and other execution devices, and there were many burnings there during the time of Francois I (1515-1547).

This entire area was a densely packed (save for the place itself) network of narrow streets filled with wine merchants and bric-a-brac before making way for the rue Lagrange and the boulevard Saint-Germain. There was also a covered marketplace to the south of the place Maubert where a (quite ugly) police station stands today, the covered market “Marché des Carmes” named for the Coventry it replaced from 1808. This was one of the Rive Gauche’s most animated centres of commerce.

Looking down to the right you will see that the buildings there are accessible only from the bottom of a stairway; this was no doubt the place Maubert’s elevation at the time of their construction. Just beyond, to the right of a quite pleasant view of Notre-Dame in the distance, we see the opening of a very narrow street. Let us make our way there.


Rue Maitre-Albert

Almost all of the buildings along this street date at least to the 17th century. With the western side of the adjacent rue de Bièvre, this area is the centre of a small building oasis left untouched by city development. The obvious age of this area begins with a rather quaint hotel, and turning to the left we see a fan of tree branches jutting over the street from above a late-17th century door and courtyard. Further on to the left an early-18th century storefront closed in the “old” fashion of covering the windows with thick wooden planks fixed with iron crossbars. Opposite it at number 7 rue Maitre-Albert lies one of the street’s most beautiful properties: dating from 1668 and fronted with Louis XV-period (1715-1774) balconies, its massive aquamarine-painted arched doorway opens into a strange sort of courtyard formed by centuries of urban remodelling. This building supposedly has a large and beautiful vaulted basement, although I was unable to visit them the day I passed. Check back later!


Rue des Grands-Degrés

This street, in its origin but a beaten-path extension of the rue de la Bûcherie, once led to a steep stairway leading down to the river, thus its name. The only things to note along its short length are to extremities: once we walk to the tree-filled square ahead of us from the rue Maitre-Albert and turn to look up at its first building (at #1) we see that its upper floors are covered in the remnants of 19th-century murals. This was quite typical to the times, as in the day before billboards every available wall space was filled with hand-painted advertisements. This space was visible from the river and quay, so must have been quite sought after, which most probably explains the many layers of advertising paint detectable across the walls above. Looking to our left to #73 (quai de la Tournelle) is what looks to be an arched doorway dating from at least the mid-18th century. As we walk to the west along our street, we see that most of the buildings to both sides of the street are old, particularly those at numbers 4, 6 and 8 whose balconies seemingly date from the Louis XV period.


Rue de Haut-Pavée, Rue de Frédéric Sauton, impasse Maubert

Before turning left down the rue Frédéric Sauton, let’s take a gander to the rue de Haut-Pavée to our right: this street, very old, also sloped steeply towards the river, and was formerly called the “rue Pavée Saint-André” – its modern name is a mix of both attributions.

The rue Frédéric Sauton existed before the 1880’s only in its northern extremity between the rue de la Bûcherie and the rue des Trois-Portes (see later), as its eastern side to the south of there formed the north-eastern extremity of the place Maubert. The 19th century doorway of number 15 of this street, most likely for its craftsmanship, has been classed a “monument Historique”. The name of the alleyway we see just to the south of the corner, the impasse Maubert, can be explained by this former street arrangement, as today the place Maubert ends much further to the south. This alleyway is very important for this quarter (and even for Paris) as it was the centre of Paris’ first known college, “le college de Constantinople”, founded in 1206. Colleges as we know them today bear little resemblance to what they were in their early years.


Les Colleges

Early Cathedral-school students took their classes in open air, and there were no grouped lodgings per se for the students attending. When Paris’ Notre-Dame then Université grew in fame enough to attract students from afar, this became a problem for those without riches or a relative to lodge them. With the growth of the Paris University grew organisation, and it was the clergy that in the early 13th century began to organise houses for students destined for a life in the religious orders. As the University’s teachers came from all of western Europe, a student could choose upon his entry the one of his liking, and he would spend his entire preliminary education under his guidance; towards the middle of the 13th century the Paris University’s teacher/student bodies were organised into four “Nations” (France, Picardie, Normandy and England (the latter later Germany)), and these attributed college houses of their own where their students and teachers alike resided.

Other organisations both laic and ecclesiastical later founded colleges for students from their own regions and faith, and some were even opened as a sort of charity institution. Colleges were common to the Maubert/rue de Fouarre quarter until the early 14th century when the Saint-Genevieve colleges gained popularity over those closer to the river.


Rue des Trois Portes, rue des Anglais, rue Domat

This street is also gained much of its length through this quarter’s late-19th century remoulding: from its 1202 foundation it was but a smidgen of a Ruelle running from the rue de la Fouarre until roughly its #16. From this point onwards the street’s northern facades formed the northern extremity of the place Maubert. Along this street we can see at number 8 an early-18th century building, but most of the rest of the street dates from the late 19th century at the earliest.

Making our way back to the rue Frédéric Sauton, let us turn right then right again at the rue Lagrange. In crossing this last street we will find the mouth of the rue des Anglais: this street was already had its name as early as the 13th century, and was named for the “Nation” of one of the abovementioned colleges that stood nearby. The building at the corner of our street and the rue Domat (a supermarket today?) looks to be what once was an isolated building dating from the 18th century, and there are a few others along both these streets dating from the 17th and 18th centuries. The rue Domat, dating from the early 13th century, was named at its origin “rue de Plâtre” and “rue des Plâtrières” before being named for a 17th-century lawyer in 1864. We end our promenade at our street’s mouth with the rue Dante, which we will take, in turning left, towards our next promenade.

Next Promenade: #0005 – From the Thermes de Cluny to the Paris University