What a time to be nestled in the heart of Europe, eh? What with unceasing showers, Euro tournament troubles, terrorist threats and the potential break-up of the EU looming on the horizon, it’s a time for the nerves to be well and truly jangled. Contemplating the present and future state of Europe is enough to give me grey hairs, particularly in light of the referendum vote which who knows, might result in me being turfed out of my French home. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, but for sure, looking around and ahead at this present moment is only a job for the very brave.
Lucky for me, my head was turned firmly towards France’s distant past the other day as I was out and about in the Marais meeting an old friend for a coffee. Walking around in the (currently annoyingly rare) blissful sunshine, we passed by an old architectural friend, one of the stops I used to make in my days as a bike tour guide. If the glory days of the past were what I was searching for, then I found some of the oldest the city could muster, in the form of one of a small handful of the city’s medieval relics.
Compared to the sleek, uniform lines of Baron Haussmann’s building style that typifies the capital, nestled in and around the centre are a small handful of Parisian buildings that make the Baron’s work seem positively space-age. With their wonky forms and beamed façades, they point back to a version of Paris way before revolutions shaped the city, hundreds of years before nearly all of today’s must-see sights appeared, presumably a time long before rulers and spirit levels were invented.
The majestic double-fronted specimens I encountered are to be found at 11 & 13 Rue François Morin, with a handy plaque explaining their littered and lengthy history. Not quite the oldest Paris can muster (you’ll find the oldest at 51 Rue Montmorency, Nicolas Flamel’s old gaff, or a similar medieval example at 3 Rue Volta), but clearly stuff of legend no less, the buildings’ construction date is that far back, sources can’t quite agree on when exactly they sprung up. Most estimates point to the beginning of the 16th century, though many repairs have been made since then. If I ever make it to 500 years, I’ll expect to have the same.
It’s difficult to imagine a Paris before Haussmann got his hands on it and created the long, wide boulevards we all know and love, but this was a city going through a renaissance, aesthetically more in line with Tudor London than the modern city style we’ve come to be so familiar with. Forget the Louis’ contributions, this is a slice of Paris before the wheels well and truly fell off. If you’re expecting to be welcomed through the door into a medieval museum bringing its origins to life though, then you might just be a little disappointed. The famed Parisian sense of passion is older than the building still, and quite fittingly, now houses an ‘adult’ nightclub, for those brave enough to indulge. If only walls could talk, eh?