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August 26, 2014


Rue des Ursins – A Soundwalk

by soundlandscapes

IN THE MIDDLE OF a sunny August afternoon, a short, sharp, rainstorm forced me to take shelter in a café close the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris. It was a small, rather sparse place but comfortable enough to take refuge in while waiting for the rain to pass.

Parisian summer showers rarely last for long and so when the rain stopped I left the café and began walking. I hadn’t gone far when I came upon an ancient Parisian street, rue des Ursins, where the Port Saint-Landry, Paris’s first port, stood until the twelfth century.

Rue des Ursins

Rue des Ursins looking from West to East

At the end of the fourteenth century, the City of Paris built an hôtel in this street called “des Ursins” in honour of a famous Italian family, the Orsini.

In 1400, the property was given to the French lawyer and politician, John Jouvenal, who from then on styled himself as Jean Jouvenal des Ursins, although he had no kinship ties to the Italian family. Jean Jouvenal des Ursins had been appointed as prévôt des marchands de Paris in 1388 and for a time he was also the King’s advocate in Parliament. The hôtel, which was partly rebuilt in the early sixteenth century, was demolished in 1637.


Rue des Ursins in 1900 – Eugène Atget

The rue des Ursins was for a long time divided into the rue Haute des Ursins, rue de Milieu des Ursins and rue Basse des Ursins, but in 1881 the street was consolidated into its current name, rue des Ursins.

Rue des Ursins

Rue des Ursins today approximately from where Atget took his picture

I know the rue des Ursins very well so I might have walked past it without giving it a second thought but on this particular day I didn’t. As I approached the western end of the street I was captivated by the sounds I could hear so I went to investigate and to listen.

Rue des Ursins

Rue des Ursins – A Soundwalk:

Rue des Ursins

Although the rain had stopped, its echoes dominated the soundscape. Rainwater gently dripping off the roofs of the buildings either side of the street together with water trickling into the drains seemed like a long sonic reflection of the storm that had now passed. Save for the shimmering sounds of the traffic passing along the adjacent rain soaked Quai aux Fleurs, the sounds in the rue des Ursins may have been sounds familiar to Eugène Atget or even to Jean Juvenal des Ursins.

Rue des Ursins


9 Comments Post a comment
  1. rfewen
    Aug 26 2014

    Very relaxing article. I enjoy turning up the sound in my studio and with your photos on my screen sit back with a cup of coffee and think of Paris while listening to your recordings. This one was particularly relaxing and “quiet”. Thanks for the brief “visit”.

    • Aug 26 2014

      Thank you. I’m pleased you enjoyed this visit to rue des Ursins.

  2. hmunro
    Aug 27 2014

    What a lovely portrait you’ve created of one of my streets in Paris! It’s one of those truly unique spots in Paris — more because of what one *doesn’t* hear in the heart of the bustling city, I think. Though the last time I visited, the house at no. 5 was under heavy renovation and the soundscape was overwhelmed by the workmen’s voices and their grating power-tools. It’s good to hear that the rue des Ursins has returned to its more stately state. (And beautiful photos, too, by the way.)

    • Aug 28 2014

      Thanks Heather.

      You’re right, the rue des Ursins is unusual in that it is usually an oasis of comparative silence in the busy city especially towards the western end. I think its narrowness and the high walls help with that. Did you know that the Aga Khan used to live at N°5.

  3. Sep 1 2014

    It’s nice to hear the interplay of organic with urban in this recording. Your recordings have really shaped my impression of Paris, many of them being interiors or sunny exteriors, so your rainy recordings have added a new perspective in your recent posts. The sound of the rain somehow makes it all sound so much more 3-dimensional.

    • Sep 7 2014

      Thanks JD.

      I was particularly pleased to capture these sounds not least because I came upon them completely unexpectedly. I like the idea of the rain leaving a sonic footprint which extends beyond the rain storm itself. Although the ‘footprint’ didn’t last for long I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Rue des Ursins is one of the quieter streets in the city centre (one of the very few!) so it was a delight to hear it burst into life in this unexpected way.

  4. mlavie
    Mar 25 2015

    What a wonderful soundbite! My family and I are so lucky to live on n°7, rue des Ursins. It was in our small apartment that Racine wrote “Phèdre”. We live here since more than 20 years. It’s a quiet, peaceful place, we’re never bothered by the flows of tourists that come to visit Notre-Dame. In the evenings, the island is very quiet. Historically, this neighbourhood was infamous, with lots of bums and “chifonniers”. The old ladies that lived in our building when we arrived were mostly from modest backgrounds. They have made place for Paris loving foreigners and young, urban professionals and the area has followed Paris inevitable gentrification. We never cease to repeat to our 3 children that even if we live small, they’re so lucky to live in this exceptional place that still captures the heartbeat of the old Paris.

    • Mar 25 2015

      Thank you so much for your comment. You are very lucky to live in such a delightful part of old Paris surrounded by so much history. And to live in the apartment that Racine once lived in is a special bonus. I wonder what sounds he would have heard in this street when he lived here in the seventeenth-century!


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