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Rue des Blancs-Manteaux – A Soundwalk

ON A RAINY SATURDAY in October this year I came upon the Jardin Partagé du Clos des Blancs Manteaux, a delightful garden hidden away in a former schoolyard in rue des Blancs-Manteaux in Paris’ 4th arrondissement.

Clos des Blancs-Manteaux

Jardin Partagé du Clos des Blancs-Manteaux

Having discovered the garden, I resolved to go back before the end of the year and explore rue des Blancs-Manteaux itself. My preferred method for exploring Parisian streets is through sound so the other day I made my way to rue des Blancs-Manteaux in the Marais district and walked along the street recording the sounds around me.

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux towards the north-west

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux – A Soundwalk:

Running in a north-westerly direction from rue Vieille-du-Temple to rue du Temple, rue des Blancs-Manteaux is 330 metres long and 10 metres wide.

It’s an ancient Parisian street and it’s had a succession of names – ‘rue de la Petite-Parcheminerie’, ‘rue de la Vieille-Parcheminerie’, ‘rue de la Parcheminerie’ – but its present name was settled upon in 1289.

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux took its name from the neighbouring Couvent des Blancs Manteaux, a monastery of religious mendicants known as les Serfs de la Vierge Marie (Servants of the Virgin Mary). The order was distinctive because of the white habits they wore so they became known as the White Friars, hence the name Blancs-Manteaux.

The order of the Servants of the Virgin Mary was wound up, along with other mendicant orders, in 1274 and replaced by an order of Guillemites who wore black habits. However, the name Blancs-Manteaux was retained.

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux

L’Espace d’animation des Blancs Manteaux

I began my soundwalk at the south-easterly end of the street at the junction with rue Vieille-du-Temple and the Halle des Blancs-Manteaux.

Designed by the French architect, Pierre-Jules Delespine, the Halle des Blancs-Manteaux was opened in 1819 as part of a large covered market. In 1992 it became l’Espace d’animation des Blancs Manteaux, a venue for concerts, exhibitions and other events.


Le marché des Blancs-Manteaux vers 1820 – Image via Wikipedia

On the day I went I discovered a contemporary art exhibition taking place in l’Espace d’animation des Blancs Manteaux, which included paintings and photographs …

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux

And a variety of metal and mechanical artworks, some of which made delicious sounds.

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux

Leaving the exhibition, I walked a short way along rue des Blancs-Manteaux to the Square Charles-Victor Langlois. This square is now a children’s playground but in the 13th century one of the buildings of the Couvent des Blancs Manteaux stood here.

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux

Square Charles-Victor Langlois

My next stop was the Théatre des Blancs-Manteaux

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux

Théatre des Blancs-Manteaux

And then, directly opposite, l’Église Notre-Dame-des-Blancs-Manteaux.

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux

This church was once part of the Couvent des Blancs Manteaux. Originally, the church ran in the conventional east-west direction along rue de Blancs-Manteaux but between 1685 and 1690 the church was reconstructed on the north-south axis it occupies today.

Victor Baltard added the present day façade to the church in 1863. It was originally the façade of l’Église Saint-Éloi-des-Barnabites on boulevard du Palais on the Île de la Cité but that church was demolished during Haussmann’s redevelopment of the city.

I walked up the steps and went into the church.

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux

Listening to the contrast between the sounds outside the church to those on the inside was the highlight of my soundwalk. Captured in sound, the change of atmosphere seemed quite dramatic.

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux

And I couldn’t possibly visit this church without mentioning the organ.

The Grand Orgue de l’Eglise Notre-Dame des Blancs-Manteaux is a Callinet organ built in 1841. The Callinet family were French organ builders located in Colmar in Alsace and for a little over a century they built some 150 organs of which about 60 are preserved.

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux

Mont de Piété

Leaving l’Église Notre-Dame-des-Blancs-Manteaux I moved on to look at the building next door, the Mont de Piété.

A Mont de Piété is an institutional pawnbroker. Originating in Italy in the 15th century and operated by the Catholic Church as a charity, they were set up as a reform against money lending. They offered financial loans at a moderate interest to those in need.

The Mont de Piété worked by acquiring a monte, a collection of funds from voluntary donations by financially privileged people who had no intentions of regaining their money. People in need would come to the Mont de Piété and give an item of value in exchange for a monetary loan. The term of the loan would be for a year and would only be worth about two-thirds of the borrower’s item value. A pre-determined interest rate would be applied to the loan and these profits were used to pay the expenses of operating the Mont de Piété.

The Mont de Piété in rue des Blancs-Manteaux was opened in 1778 with Framboisier de Beaunay as its first director.

In 1918, to reflect its gradual move into banking, the Mont de Piété was renamed the Crédit Municipal de Paris, the name by which it’s still known.

In 1987, the Mont de Piété opened a network of local branches in Paris and the Île de France and in 1988 an art conservation department was opened.

In 1992, the Mont de Piété became the responsibility of the City of Paris, which is its sole shareholder.

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux

Moving on from the Mont de Piété, I came to N°21 rue des Blancs-Manteaux, a former school behind which is the Jardin Partagé du Clos des Blancs-Manteaux.

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux

A little further on, it’s necessary to cross over rue des Archives before continuing along rue des Blancs-Manteaux to its end point where it meets rue du Temple.

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux

Junction with Rue du Temple

It doesn’t take long to walk the length of rue des Blancs-Manteaux but, if like me, you can’t resist stopping to look at the sites, listen to the sounds and absorb the street’s history, it can take a whole afternoon.


Square des Batignolles and its Sounds

AFTER HIS FAILED ATTEMPT to oust King Louis-Philippe in 1836, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, nephew of Napoléon I, spent a period of exile in England. He returned to France in 1848, organised a coup d’état in 1851 and took the throne as Napoléon III on 2nd December 1852.

While in exile in England, Louis-Napoléon developed a taste for English gardens and during his time as Emperor he established several English-style gardens in Paris. His re-designed Bois de Boulogne for example was based on Hyde Park in London.

One of the English-style gardens he ordered to be constructed was the Square des Batignolles in what is now the 17th arrondissement.

Square des Batingolles

The engineer Jean-Charles Alphand, the architect, Gabriel Davioud, and the horticulturist and landscape architect, Jean-Pierre Barillet-Deschamps, were given the task of converting a wasteland into an English-style garden in the quartier Batignolles, a suburb absorbed into the City of Paris in 1860.

Square des Batingolles

Covering about four acres, the Square des Batignolles was designed as an English landscape garden in a style first made popular by the English landscape architect, Capability Brown.

In contrast to earlier formal gardens with their geometrically designed parterres and pathways, severely clipped shrubbery, and the artificiality of their topiary, the English landscape garden gives the impression of working with nature rather than imposing the gardener’s will on nature.

The idea was to create the illusion that the gardens were untouched by human hands. The landscape architect employed his artistry, through the use of various forms of asymmetric balance, to convince the visitor that the apparent wildness and randomness of the terrain was the product of artful Nature, rather than the artifice of Man.

The English landscape garden also relies heavily on symbolism by using objects that are clearly man-made (architectural follies) as focal points for gazing at the overall landscape. These usually take the form of faux ruins, temples, tea-houses, belvederes, gazebos or pavilions.

Square des Batignolles

The gazebo in Square des Batignolles

These follies were supplemented by vast rolling lawns, well-placed copses of trees, quaint stone bridges, pieces of statuary casually installed in the landscape, grottos, strategically located ponds and watercourses, small waterfalls, and artificial cascades. In the English-style gardens in Paris exotic vegetation was also planted, both to amaze the senses but also to display the power and reach of the Second Empire, which was capable of gathering and nurturing living species from all over the world.

Square des Batingolles

Vautours (Vultures) created by Louis de Monard in 1930 

The Square des Batignolles incorporates all the key features of the English landscape garden.

Amidst the extensive rolling lawns is a large pond fed by a natural stream, home to large Japanese koi carp and over three hundred ducks of various species. In the middle of the pond stands a statue created by Louis de Monard in 1930 called Vautours (Vultures) and close by is a bust of the poet, Léon Dierx (1838–1912), created by Bony de Lavergne in 1932. Perched on top of a mound looking out over the garden is a gazebo.

The pathways weaving through the garden are shaded by a variety of trees ranging from the 140 year old oriental plane trees to a relatively young giant sequoia. There are hazelnut trees from Asia Minor, Siberian elms, Japanese cherry trees, ash trees, willows, black walnuts, and others.

Square des Batingolles

Undoubtedly, the Square des Batignolles brings an English landscape into this part of Paris … but what of its soundscape?

Square des Batignolles

Well, if one sets aside the excruciating cacophony currently pervading the garden from construction of part of the new extension to Métro Line 14 immediately outside the southern entrance, a clue to the soundscape in the Square des Batignolles can be found in the lyrics of ‘Les Batignolles’ written by the French songwriter Yves Duteil:

“So, in the Square des Batignolles

I forded the river to see the pigeons flying.

We were running to catch them …

On the deck, watching the clouds,

We inhaled the crazy smell

That emerged from passing steam locomotives

And, at the heart of the white smoke,

Everything else disappeared …”

Pont de Cardinet

From the Square des Batignolles: Rail tracks running under Pont Cardinet

Sounds from the Square des Batignolles:

The locomotives may not run on steam any more and there is no white smoke but trains do still pass hard by the south-western side of the Square des Batignolles.

The Gare Saint-Lazare, one of the six main line railway stations in Paris, is within walking distance of the south-western tip of the Square des Batignolles. At the north-western tip is the Gare de Pont-Cardinet. From Gare Saint-Lazare, long distance Intercity trains run towards Normandy and regional Transilien trains run to the western suburbs of Paris. Some 1,600 trains enter and leave Gare Saint-Lazare every day and every one of them passes the Square des Batignolles.

Square des Batingolles

While the mind-bending sounds of the Métro construction work just outside the garden are temporary, the sounds of the passing trains are a permanent feature of the garden’s soundscape; they’ve been here since before the garden was built.

I recorded the penetrating sounds of the trains from the south-western edge of the garden close to the railway lines but, further into the garden, the sounds of the trains become intricately woven with the sounds of playful children, trickling streams, artificial waterfalls, the wildlife and the Pétanque players, thus enhancing the soundscape rather than detracting from it.

Square des Batignolles



Gare Rosa Parks – Open for Business

A LITTLE PIECE OF history was made in the north east of Paris on Sunday, 13th December. At noon, without fanfare or ceremony, a train entered the newly completed Gare Rosa Parks for the first time.

Named after the American civil rights activist, Rosa Parks, the Gare Rosa Parks is the first RER station to be built in the city since the Gare Bibliothèque François-Mitterrand in 2001.

Gare Rosa Parks

Gare Rosa Parks becomes the twenty-second station on RER Line ‘E’, part of the RER (Réseau Express Régional) regional rapid transit system serving Paris and its suburbs.

The RER network comprises five lines of which two, Line ‘A’ and Line ‘B’, are operated by RATP (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens) and the other three, Lines ‘C’, ‘D’ and ‘E’, are operated by SNCF (Société nationale des chemins de fer français), the state-owned railway company.

Gare Rosa Parks

As the display inside the newly opened station shows, Gare Rosa Parks is not the first station on this site. It was previously home to Gare Est-Ceinture, one of the stations of the Chemin de fer de Petite Ceinture (the ‘little belt railway’) that, from 1852, was a circular connection between the Paris main railway stations within the fortified walls of the city. The Petite Ceinture was closed in 1934 and Gare Est-Ceinture, like many of the stations on the line, was demolished.

Gare Rosa Parks

It took two hundred companies and almost five years of construction work to complete Gare Rosa Parks and several major challenges had to be confronted along the way.

To construct the 1,300 M2 station and its 25 metre long and 15 metre wide central quay, it was necessary to modify and rebuild 1.5 km of railway tracks. Around one thousand trains a day pass through the construction site so every detail of the work had to be planned some three years in advance to avoid disruption.

During the station’s construction some 150,000 M3 of material had to be excavated and more than 25,000 M3 of reinforced concrete had to be laid but the most impressive part of the operation was the creation of a passageway connecting the north and south of the area under the nine rail tracks above.

For six days, a huge prefabricated concrete parallelogram, 40 metres long and weighing 4,000 tonnes, was pushed into place by high-powered hydraulic cylinders while tons of earth were excavated.

Gare Rosa Parks

The total bill for the station came to 130 million Euros, which was shared by the Île-de France regional authority (51.2%), the City of Paris (25.7%), the State (22.7%) and SNCF (0.4%).

Gare Rosa Parks

Sounds inside Gare Rosa Parks:

Gare Rosa Parks

As you can hear, although the construction work is now completed and the station is open for business, there is still some cosmetic work going on. On the day I was there, a man with a stonecutter was working in the reinforced concrete passageway and the sounds permeated periodically through the entire station.

Gare Rosa Parks

The station, designed by the architects Jean-Marie Duthilleul and François Bonnefille, has been constructed with environmental protection in mind.

A series of photovoltaic cells installed on the 135 metres of platform shelters supply electric power for the exterior lighting. A specially designed roof on the central building heightens its thermal insulation capacity and a storm water recovery system installed on the roof provides water used for cleaning and for flushing the station’s toilets.

During the construction phase a carbon audit was carried out to measure the emissions of greenhouse gases generated by the site, as well as the greenhouse gas emissions commissioning the station will help to avoid (through the shift from road traffic to rail transport). The conclusion was that by 2032, CO2 emissions from the construction site will have been compensated for and by 2066 some 80,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent will have been avoided.

Gare Rosa Parks

To reduce the waiting time, five trains have been added to the RER Line ‘E’ fleet so trains will run every six minutes and every four minutes at peak times.

Approximately 50,000 travellers a day are expected to use Gare Rosa Parks but this will rise to around 85,000 in 2020 when RER Line ‘E’ will be extended westward to Mantes-la-Jolie. This extension will include the construction of an eight-kilometre tunnel between the current western terminus Haussmann – St-Lazare and La Défense from where Line ‘E’ will take over the part of RER Line ‘A’ to Nanterre, Sartrouville and Poissy and then a section of the SNCF tracks to reach Mantes-la-Jolie. The extension is expected to open in 2018 and be fully operational in 2020.

In an example of joined-up thinking, Gare Rosa Parks has connections to other forms of public transport: Tram Line 3b, the N° 54, 60 and 239 buses and Vélib and Véligo bicycle stations. Studies are also being carried out to look at the possibility of extending the recently opened Tram Line T8 to Gare Rosa Parks.

Gare Rosa Parks

The Rosa Parks tram stop outside Gare Rosa Parks

Gare Rosa Parks is situated in the nineteenth arrondissement close to Porte d’Aubervilliers, an area that for a long time has been run down and underserved by rail transport.

Now the area is being redeveloped and with an influx of people expected over the coming years, Gare Rosa Parks is a welcome addition to the local public transport network.

Gare Rosa Parks


Dixieland Jazz for Christmas

MY LAST THREE POSTS on this blog have had a connection to the attacks in Paris on 13th November. Although I will never forget watching the terrible events unfold on that Friday evening or the anguish of the aftermath, it’s now time to move on – at least as far as this blog is concerned.

My local Christmas market opened last Saturday. Although small, it’s my favourite Christmas market because as well as the displays of artisanal products, a nineteenth-century carousel and children’s entertainers, it also features excellent street musicians.

Last Sunday this Dixieland jazz quartet took centre stage.

Neuilly - Christmas Market

Dixieland Jazz Quartet

Dixieland Jazz for Christmas:

Neuilly - Christmas Market

Dixieland Jazz Quartet – Plus One!


A Soundwalk and the Unexpected

LAST YEAR, I WALKED the full length of the Canal Saint-Denis from its junction with the Canal de l’Ourcq in the Parc de la Villette to the final lock, l’Écluse de la Briche, where the canal discharges into la Seine.

The last leg of that walk took me to the western edge of the municipality of Saint-Denis and since then I’ve been back to Saint-Denis many times to capture more of its sound tapestry.

Saint-Denis is one of the poorest municipalities around Paris and it often gets a bad press, not least because of its high crime rate – not to mention the dramatic headlines it made a couple of weeks ago in the aftermath of the 13th November attacks in Paris.

Saint-Denis - Marie

Mairie de Saint-Denis

The other day I went to Saint-Denis to record more sounds for my Paris Soundscapes Archive and among the sounds I captured were those from a soundwalk I did in Rue de la République, one of the main shopping streets.

Every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday, Saint-Denis hosts a huge market made up of an outdoor street market in the Place Jean Jaurès, which spills over into the surrounding streets, and a fabulous indoor food market in the neighbouring Grande Halle. I’ve recorded the sounds of these markets several times and I will feature some of them in a future blog piece.

Since Rue de la République is close to the outdoor market it becomes overwhelmed with people when the market is open but on my recent recording trip to Saint-Denis I wanted to capture the sounds in this street when it wasn’t at its liveliest – I simply wanted to capture the ordinary, everyday sounds of an ordinary street in Saint-Denis.

Soundwalking is a fascinating way of exploring and exploring ordinary streets can often reveal the unexpected.

I discovered that Rue de la République has an interesting ecclesiastical symmetry. At its eastern end is a masterpiece of Gothic art, the Basilique Cathédrale de Saint-Denis, the Royal Necropolis of France, containing the tombs of 42 kings, 32 queens, 63 princes and princesses and 10 great men of the realm.

Saint-Denis - Rue de la Républic

The eastern end of Rue de la République with the Basilique Cathédrale de Saint-Denis

At the western end of the street is another church, l’Église Saint Denis de L’Estrée, still referred to as the ‘new church’. Compared to the Basilique Cathédrale de Saint-Denis of course, which dates from the 12th century, l’Église Saint Denis de L’Estrée is relatively new since it was completed as recently as 1867.

Saint-Denis - Rue de la Républic

The western end of Rue de la République with l’Église Saint Denis de L’Estrée

I began my soundwalk along Rue de la République at its eastern end with the Basilique Cathédrale de Saint-Denis and the Mairie de Saint-Denis behind me.

Soundwalk along Rue de la République:

I didn’t realise it at the time but my soundwalk also reflected another symmetry in the street – the sound of a passing bus ringing its warning bell at the start and the sound of a warning bell on a tram on the recently opened Tram Line 8 passing by at the end.

Saint-Denis - Rue de la Républic

The first fifty metres or so of the street is open to traffic but after that Rue de la République is reserved for pedestrians.

Saint-Denis - Rue de la Républic

About halfway along Rue de la République I came upon the post office whose elegant exterior belies its rather scruffy interior.

Saint-Denis - Rue de la Républic

What I discovered next was quite unexpected.

Directly opposite the post office is Rue du Corbillon, a seemingly ordinary side street leading off Rue de la République. But sometimes the ordinary is not what it seems.

At about 4.20 on the morning of 18th November, five days after the Paris attacks, the police sealed off the entire Rue de la République, evacuated local residents, and focussed their attention on N° 8 Rue du Corbillon.

Saint-Denis - Rue du Corbillon

N° 8 Rue du Corbillon

What followed was an intense gun battle with around a hundred heavily armed elite special forces, supported by the army, firing more than 5,000 rounds of ammunition amidst heavy explosions. The operation ended at 11.37 am by which time three people had died: Abdelhamid Abaaoud, 27, the alleged ringleader of the Paris attacks, his 26-year-old cousin, Hasna Aït Boulahcen, and an unidentified third person. Eight people were arrested.

Saint-Denis - Rue du Corbillon

Listening to the everyday sounds at the junction of Rue de la République and Rue du Corbillon, I couldn’t help imagining the sounds that would have been heard here on the morning of 18th November – echoes of sounds heard across the city five days before.

Unlike at the sites attacked in Paris, there are no floral tributes or messages of sympathy outside the boarded up N° 8 Rue du Corbillon.

For me, the image of this building will soon be forgotten – quite unlike the images of the shuttered cafés and restaurants attacked on 13th November, which will live with me for a very long time.

Saint-Denis - Marie


Yesterday, the Café Bonne Biere in Rue du Faubourg du Temple, where five people died in the Paris attacks, reopened – the first of the attack sites to do so.

You can read about my walk along the Canal Saint-Denis by clicking the links below:

The Canal Saint-Denis and its Sounds – Part 1

The Canal Saint-Denis and its Sounds – Part 2

The Canal Saint-Denis and its Sounds – Part 3

The Canal Saint-Denis and its Sounds – A Postscript