Marché des Enfants-Rouges
AT THE BEGINNING of the sixteenth-century, Paris might not yet have been a great or particularly beautiful city – but it was big! With the decline of feudalism, population growth mushroomed, migration to cities increased and by the middle of the century, Paris, with its population of some 350,000 souls, had become the largest city in Europe.
There were many casualties as a result of the growth and urbanisation of the population. Competing demands for resources usually meant that those with the lowest social status came off worst and children, particularly infants, being dependent rather than productive members of society, often came off worst of all.
Infanticide was not uncommon and those who escaped that fate were often abandoned or deliberately maimed and sold as beggars. By the middle of the century the situation had become so bad that the Parlement de Paris decreed an obligation seigneuriale, meaning that nobles had to take the responsibility for the foundlings left in their domains – a decree often ignored.
There were some attempts to alleviate the plight of abandoned children. In 1523, the Hôtel Dieu, the oldest hospital in Paris, began taking in foundlings and sick children although few, if any, survived to adulthood.
In 1536, Marguerite de Valois, sister of François 1st, then King of France, founded a hospital and orphanage or, an orphan asylum as it was known, in rue du Grand Chantier, now part of rue des Archives in the Marais district, to take abandoned children from the Hôtel Dieu.
Originally known as les Enfants de Dieu, the children, dressed in clothes made from red cloth as a symbol of Christian charity, quickly became know as les Enfants Rouges – the Red Children.
Marguerite de Valois’ hospice des Enfants-Rouges survived until 1772 when it was merged with the Hôpital des Enfants-Trouvés, a foundling hospital created in 1638 by Vincent de Paul and, from 1670, an institution attached to the Hôpital général de Paris under the direction of the Parlement de Paris.
Although the hospice des Enfants-Rouges no longer exists, its name still echoes close by.
By the beginning of the seventeenth-century, the population around the hospice des Enfants-Rouges in the Marais was growing and so the King, Louis XIII, decided that a market was required to satisfy the growing demand for provisions.
In 1615, land was bought and work began. Perceval Noblet, master carpenter to the King, was commissioned to build the Petit Marché du Marais comprising a wooden hall resting on 16 pillars of oak, with stables, a manure pit and a well.
The market thrived and was subsequently expanded becoming the Marché du Marais du Temple.
When the hospice des Enfants-Rouges merged with the hôpital des Enfants Trouvés in 1772, the orphanage in rue du Grand Chantier was closed but its memory lived on and the local residents decided that the Marché du Marais du Temple should be renamed, Marché des Enfants-Rouge.
And action by local residents was not confined to the 1770s.
In 1912, the market was bought by the City of Paris and, although being listed as an historical monument in 1982, local residents were called to action in the 1990s to prevent it being turned into a car park! Reason prevailed though and following a six-year closure the market was reopened in November 2000.
Although not the biggest and perhaps not the best market in Paris, the Marché des Enfants-Rouges does have the distinction of being the oldest market in the city.
While selling fresh fruit, vegetables, seafood, organic food, bread and flowers, its popularity today rests less on its fresh food stalls than with its reputation as a dining destination.
Sounds in the Marché des Enfants-Rouges:
The range of food on offer is enormous, from the bistro, L’Estaminet des Enfants Rouges, with its oysterman outside shucking bivalves, to a variety of stalls offering Moroccan, Italian, Lebanese, Japanese, and Organic dishes to take away or eat at the communal tables ‘sur place’.
The Marché des Enfants-Rouges is a huge attraction in the hip Haut Marais area of Paris. But when I go there I always stop to look at the painting on the wall of the little orphan in the red dress and I’m always reminded that she would have found such abundance unimaginable.
Image courtesy of Paris en Images:
Marché des Enfants-Rouges, rue de Bretagne, Paris (IIIrd arrondissement), 1898. Photograph by Eugène Atget (1857-1927). Paris, musée Carnavalet. Auteur
© Eugène Atget / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet