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March 17, 2016

3

Rue Maître Albert and its Sounds

by soundlandscapes

SET IN THE HEART of medieval Paris, rue Maître Albert began life as an unnamed pathway leading from the Seine to the present day place Maubert. In 1300, the plans of Paris show the street with the curious name, rue Perdue – the lost street – and unfortunately, the reason why it acquired that name seems also to have been lost. In the 17th century it became rue Saint-Michel – it was named after a college of the same name – but in 1763 it reverted back to rue Perdue before becoming rue Maître Albert in 1844.

Rue Maitre Albert

Rue Maître Albert is named after one of the greatest philosophers and theologians of the 13th century variously known as Albrecht von Bollstadt, Albert of Cologne, Albertus Magnus, Albert le Grand and since 1931, Saint Albert the Great, Patron Saint of Christian Scholars.

Born around the year 1200, Albert studied at the University of Padua and later taught at Hildesheim, Freiburg-im-Breisgau, Regensburg, and Strasbourg. He then taught at the University of Paris, where he received his doctorate in 1245. He was a philosopher and a natural scientist, gaining a reputation for expertise in biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, geography, metaphysics, and mathematics as well as in biblical studies and theology. Perhaps the most famous of his disciples was Saint Thomas Aquinas. Maître Albert died in Cologne in 1280.

Rue Maitre Albert

Whether or not Maître Albert actually lived in the street that bears his name is unclear, although he may well have done because we know that he did much of his teaching in the neighbouring place Maubert.

Place Maubert

Place Maubert

Some say that the name Maubert is a contraction of Maître Albert but an alternative view is that Maubert is a corruption of Jean Aubert, abbot of the Abbeye de Sainte-Genevieve, which owned the land on which la place Maubert stood.

What is known for certain is that from the 15th century place Maubert was a place of execution with one of its most notable victims being the French scholar, translator and printer, Etienne Dolet who was tortured, hanged and burned in the square with his books in August 1546.

Rue Maitre Albert

Today, rue Maître Albert still runs from the Seine to la place Maubert and it still has a medieval feel to it – save for the modern day traffic of course that often uses it as a short cut from the quai de la Tournelle to place Maubert.

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Seine flood. Neighbourhood of the Place Maubert (Rue Maître Albert). View northward. Paris (Vth arrondissement), 1910. Photograph by Albert Harlingue (1879-1963). Bibliothèque historique de la Ville de Paris. Auteur © Albert Harlingue / BHVP / Roger-Viollet

Image courtesy Paris en Images

I went to explore rue Maître Albert and to capture its atmosphere in sound. Instead of doing a conventional soundwalk along the street I decided to take the contre-flâneur approach and let the street walk past me. I sat on a stone windowsill across the street from the atelier of Philippe Vergain, Ebéniste d’Art, and waited for the street to speak to me.

Rue Maitre Albert

Sounds of rue Maître Albert:

Close to me on my side of the street was a gallery with a window display that had faint echoes of Maître Albert, the natural scientist.

Rue Maitre Albert

Listening to the sounds around me is my way of observing the world and listening to the sounds of relatively quiet Parisian streets always stimulates my imagination. What stories lie behind the sounds of the people walking past going about their daily lives, the snatches of half-heard conversations, the doors opening and closing as people pass in and out of buildings? What did this street sound like in medieval times when Maitre Albert was teaching hereabouts, what did it sound like in the 16th century when Protestant printers were being executed at the head of the street in place Maubert or during the great flood of 1910? Only our imagination can provide the answer.

Rue Maitre Albert

 

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. hmunro
    Mar 17 2016

    The first time I came to Paris by myself, I lodged in a tiny pied à terre on the nearby rue Fredéric Sauton, so my daily strolls and errands often took me down the little street you describe here. Yet you’ve made it so much more vivid and meaningful in your post, somehow, than even being there! I look forward to exploring this little street again during my next visit and to see how my appreciation of it changes, based on what you’ve taught me today. (For sure I can tell you this: I will be much more aware of the sounds — as I always am, now — thanks to you.)

    Reply
    • Mar 19 2016

      Thank you, Heather.
      I guessed you would know this street. Fascinating, isn’t it? I really enjoy narrow, ancient streets like this; they always seem to have so many hidden stories waiting to be explored.

      Reply
      • hmunro
        Mar 20 2016

        Indeed! You know my fascination with streets like these in which you can literally sense the centuries of history layered on top of each other. But it’s another thing entirely to try to imagine how they must have *sounded* through the ages. We’ll have to speculate on that, next time we meet, yes?

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