I’VE SAID MANY TIMES in this blog that soundwalking is a superb way to explore a place, especially a place as rich and diverse as Paris. Whilst ‘pure’ soundwalking involves concentrated listening to the exclusion of almost everything else, a soundwalk can also be the key to a wider exploration of a place especially if you use your curiosity to follow the sounds and see where they lead. Over the last few days I’ve been soundwalking along the Boulevard Barbès and the surrounding area in the 18th arrondissement. This is a part of Paris well off the tourist track and a part of the city that I find endlessly fascinating. In this post I will show how even a fairly short soundwalk, in this case a walk along part of the Boulevard Barbès, can lead to discovering things that may be hidden, but if you follow the sounds and engage your curiosity the hidden can often emerge into plain sight.
Boulevard Barbès. Paris (XVIIIth arrondissement), circa 1900. © Léon et Lévy/Roger-Viollet: Image courtesy of Paris en Images
A soundwalk along part of the Boulevard Barbès:
Named after the French Republican revolutionary Armand Barbès, the Boulevard Barbès is a product of Baron Haussmann’s transformation of Paris in the mid-nineteenth century. Once home to the sumptuous Grands Magasins Dufayel, which, on the eve of the First World War advertised itself as being the largest department store in the world, the grands magasins elegance of the Boulevard Barbès has now faded. Today, the Grands Magasins Dufayel, originally known as Le Palais de la Nouveauté until the ambitious Georges Dufayel took it over in 1888 and named it after himself, is occupied by the BNP bank and a good part of the street is filled with small shops selling mobile phones, jewelry, luggage, clothes and shoes all at bargain prices.
The former Grands Magasins Dufayel from Boulevard Barbès
The entrance to the former Grands Magasins Dufayel in Rue Clignancourt
Even if the Boulevard Barbès has gone somewhat down market since the grandeur of La Belle Époque it is still not without interest.
Crossing the bottom of the street between what is now the TATI store on one side and the Brasserie Barbès on the other once ran the Barricade rue du Faubourg Poissonnière, one of the most imposing and one of the last barricades to fall during the 1848 Revolution, which ended the Orléans monarchy (1830–1848) and led to the creation of the French Second Republic.
Site of the 1848 Barricade rue du Faubourg Poissonnière
Also of interest is N° 10 Boulevard Barbès.
This was once the Bal du Grand Turc, founded in 1806 by Joseph Teiche and frequented by Alexander Dumas père and Emile Zola amongst others. Emile Zola refers to the Bal du Grand Turc in his novel L’Assomoir. It then became the Concert de la Fourmi, one of several café-concerts in the area. Maurice Chevalier performed here in 1902, early in his professional career.
N° 10 Boulevard Barbès, Café-concert La Fourmi, around 1905: Image via Lagouttedor.net
N° 10 Boulevard Barbès today.
A little further up the Boulevard Barbès we come to N° 28. This was the residence of Irénée Cazals, a liaison officer in the Confraternity Notre-Dame network of the French Resistance during the Second World War.
Nazi soldiers march in Paris on Avenue Foch, 14 June, 1940 Image: Folkerts, Bundesarchiv
Founded towards the end of 1940, the Confraternity Notre-Dame was an information-gathering network that rallied to the Free French. It was one of the first and probably the most important intelligence network of the Resistance. Its agents were charged with gathering military or economic and political information that provided content for Free French radio broadcasts and providing liaison and radio operators who facilitated outgoing information and incoming orders.
The Confraternity Notre-Dame operated for three and a half years and during that time 1,544 agents signed on; 524 were arrested, of which 234 were deported, 37 shot, and 151 died while deported. Irénée Cazals was arrested on the 17th November 1943 and deported on the 29th November. He survived the war.
N° 28 Boulevard Barbès: Former residence of Irénée Cazals
And now we come to a shoe shop at N° 34 Boulevard Barbès, one of several shoe shops along the street.
KATA is an outlet store with shoes piled into bins and sold at bargain prices complete with signs saying, ‘No Refunds’. But behind the undistinguished shop front KATA is much more than a shoe shop: it’s an aberration, an urban anachronism.
The shoe shop occupies what was once the Barbès Palace Cinema and when they moved in to the premises in 1988, KATA was persuaded to retain the Belle Époque architecture and fit the shop around it.
This cinema built in 1914 by the French architect Louis Garnier seated 1,200 people making it one of the top cinemas in the city. It was built in the Belle Époque style and the stage, complete with red velvet curtains, the ionic columns, the neo-classical balconies and the double staircase leading up to them are all still in place.
In the early twentieth century cinemas proliferated so the residents around the Boulevard Barbès were spoiled for choice. As well as the Barbès Palace they had the Luxor, (now completely restored and reopened), the Palais-Rochechouart (now Darty), the Delta (now Guerrisol), the Myrha (now an Evangelical Church) and the Gaîté-Rochechouart (now Célio), all within walking distance.
In its early days the Barbès Palace was still influenced by the music hall so it had its own orchestra to provide musical interludes during the programme.
It also had an eye on commercial opportunities so it promoted advertising for a wide range of products and services.
The cinema fared well and up to the mid-1960s offering a programme of mainly French films and a few foreign productions although by this time it had lost both its orchestra and the ‘Palace’ from its name. By the 1970s tastes had changed and the fare on offer tilted towards action movies such as spaghetti westerns and war films. As the decline in cinema going began to bite in the 1980s, the Barbès Cinema began to show double-bills comprising an action movie and an ‘erotic’ film, although it was never reduced to becoming a genuine ‘porn’ cinema.
The final curtain fell on the Barbès cinema on 30th July 1985 with the programme for that week including Ninja Fury and Excès érotiques.
The cinema was built with two means of access: 34 Boulevard Barbès and 9 Rue des Poissonnièrs.
One of my soundwalks comprised a walk along the Rue des Poissonnièrs, into the shoe shop and then out into the Boulevard Barbes. Unfortunately, the ambience inside the shop is tarnished by strips of harsh neon lighting stretching over the displays of shoes and the music playing over loudspeakers scattered around the store.
The Rue des Poissonnièrs entrance
A soundwalk from Rue des Poissonnièrs to Boulevard Barbès via the KATA store:
Soundwalking and listening to urban soundscapes has many facets. Studying urban soundscapes can be a valuable academic pursuit as evidenced by the work of Dr. Antonella Raddichi at the Technische Universität, Berlin. Sound artists like La Cosa Preziosa often magically weave urban soundscapes into their compositions. But one doesn’t have to be an academic or an artist to appreciate urban soundscapes. Simply listening to and following the sounds with an abundance of curiosity can open up an often hidden yet fascinating world.
FOLLOWING ON FROM my previous post, this segment of my ‘End of the Line’ series continues my exploration of the sounds in and around La Défense – Grande Arche, the westerly terminus of Paris Métro Line 1.
In the previous post I explored the sounds inside the station complex and so I turn now to my exploration outside the station.
La Défense from Pont de Neuilly
Bearing in mind that sounds don’t exist in a vacuum, my exploration of the sounds of a place invariably lead me to explore the history of that place in order to underpin today’s sounds and to give the sounds a broader context.
We know something about the area now known as La Défense long before it came to prominence as the purpose-built business district of Paris that it is today.
Emile Zola touches on it in the opening chapter of his nineteenth-century novel, Le Ventre de Paris:
“Amidst the deep silence and solitude prevailing in the avenue several market gardeners’ carts were climbing the slope which led towards Paris, and the fronts of the houses, asleep behind the dim lines of elms on either side of the road, echoed back the rhythmical jolting of the wheels. At the Neuilly bridge a cart full of cabbages and another full of peas had joined the eight wagons of carrots and turnips coming down from Nanterre; and the horses, left to themselves, had continued plodding along with lowered heads, at a regular though lazy pace, which the ascent of the slope now slackened. The sleeping wagoners, wrapped in woollen cloaks, striped black and grey, and grasping the reins slackly in their closed hands, were stretched at full length on their stomachs atop of the piles of vegetables. Every now and then, a gas lamp, following some patch of gloom, would light up the hobnails of a boot, the blue sleeve of a blouse, or the peak of a cap peering out of the huge florescence of vegetables — red bouquets of carrots, white bouquets of turnips, and the overflowing greenery of peas and cabbages.
And all along the road, and along the neighbouring roads, in front and behind, the distant rumbling of vehicles told of the presence of similar contingents of the great caravan which was travelling onward through the gloom and deep slumber of that matutinal hour, lulling the dark city to continued repose with its echoes of passing food.”
Le Ventre de Paris: Emile Zola: Published in 1873
In the eighteenth and early nineteenth century the area of Nanterre, around what we now know as La Défense, was mainly cultivated land growing cereals, vines and vegetables. It was from this cultivated land that Emile Zola’s wagoners were hauling their vegetables to Les Halles, the vast central market in the centre of Paris.
Le Ventre de Paris may be a work of fiction but Emile Zola was known as an astute observer of Parisian life so his description of the wagoners at Pont de Neuilly on their way from Nanterre to Les Halles gives us a sense of what this area was probably like in the nineteenth century.
What is now the business district of La Défense takes its name from a statue erected in 1883. Created by the French sculptor Louis-Ernest Barrias, the statue, La Défense de Paris, is a monument to those who defended Paris in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 – 1871. The statue depicts a woman dressed in a uniform of the National Guard leaning on a cannon and holding a flag. She represents the allegorical figure of the city of Paris. The defenders of the city take on the features of a young soldier who places a last cartridge in his Chassepot rifle. The two figures were originally looking towards Buzenval, the place of the last combats in January 1871. On the other side of the monument is a prostrate girl who, with her sad expression and miserable appearance, personifies the sufferings of the civilian population.
La Défense de Paris by Louis-Ernest Barrias
From 19th September 1870 to 28th January 1871, Paris was under siege by Prussian forces surrounding the city.
Conditions in Paris deteriorated and there was soon a severe shortage of food. Parisians were forced to eat whatever animals were at hand. Rats, dogs, cats, and horses were the first to be slaughtered and became regular fare on restaurant menus. Once the supply of those animals ran low, the citizens of Paris turned on the zoo animals at the Jardin des Plantes. Even Castor and Pollux, the only pair of elephants in Paris, were slaughtered for their meat.
A Christmas menu on the 99th day of the siege. Dishes include stuffed donkey’s head, elephant consommé, roast camel, kangaroo stew, antelope terrine, bear ribs, cat with rats, and wolf haunch in deer sauce.
Besieged French troops attempted several breakouts to take the fight to the Prussians. On 19th January 1871, they assembled in the area around today’s La Défense in preparation for an attack on the Prussian army. Led by General Louis Jules Trochu, military governor of Paris and president of the Provisional Government, their efforts were insufficiently prepared and incompetently led and so consequently failed.
“We had conquered several commanding heights which the generals did not arm. The Prussians were allowed to sweep these crests at their ease, and at four o’clock sent forth assault columns. Ours gave way first, then, steadying themselves, checked the onward movement of the enemy. Towards six o’clock, when the hostile fire diminished, Trochu ordered a retreat. Yet there were 40,000 reserves between Mont-Valdérien and Buzenval. Out of 150 artillery pieces, thirty only had been employed. But the generals, who during the whole day had hardly deigned to communicate with the National Guard, declared they could not hold out a second night!, and Trochu had Montretout and all the conquered positions evacuated. Battalions returned weeping with rage. All understood that the whole affair was a cruel mockery.”
History of the Paris Commune 1871: Prosper-Olivier Lissagaray: Published in 1877
The siege of Paris ended on the 28th January 1871 when the French Government, safely housed in Versailles, surrendered, although the City of Paris notably did not formally surrender. It was this division between the leaders and the led that helped created the Paris Commune in 1871.
The prospect from the Grande Arche de la Défense looking over the parvis to the Arc de Triomphe
In Part 1 of this ‘End of the Line’ segment I explored the sounds inside the La Défense – Grande Arche transport hub, which extends underneath the monumental Grande Arche de la Défense and the parvis in front of it. So here are the sounds I discovered after I ascended an escalator out of the station and emerged onto the surface:
Sounds around La Défense – Grande Arche:
La Grande Arche de la Défense
Any exploration of La Défense has to begin with the Grande Arche de la Défense simply because it dominates the area.
Designed by the Danish architect Johann Otto von Spreckelsen (1929–1987) and Danish engineer Erik Reitzel (1941-2012), the Grande Arche is a late twentieth century version of the Arc de Triomphe although it is a monument to humanity and humanitarian ideals rather than military victories. Construction began in 1985 and although Spreckelsen resigned in July 1986 his associate, French architect Paul Andreu, took over. Erik Reitzel continued his work until the monument was completed.
La Grande Arche was inaugurated in July 1989, coinciding with the bicentennial of the French Revolution. It completed the line of monuments that form the Axe historique running through Paris, which includes the Arc de Triomphe in the Champs Elysées, the Luxor Obelisk at the Place de la Concorde and the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel at the Louvre.
A curiosity of the Grande Arche is that it is turned at an angle of 6.33° about the vertical axis. This is because with a Métro station, an RER station and a motorway all situated directly underneath the Arche, the angle was the only way to accommodate the structure’s giant foundations.
The two sides of the Arche house government offices and the rooftop is open to the public and includes a restaurant and an exhibition space.
As you can hear in my sound piece, when I came out from the escalator and made my way to foot of the Grande Arche I found a huddle of people getting very excited about an autonomous electric bus that carries people like me who these days often find it a stretch to walk too far.
Forsaking the bus on this occasion though, I walked from the Grande Arche to Les Quatre Temps shopping centre (centre commercial) on the southern side of the parvis of La Défense, reportedly one of the most visited shopping centres in France.
Inside Les Quatre Temps
The 120,000 m2 shopping center was completely renovated between 2006 and 2008. The renovation took place in several phases and involved the interior spaces, the exterior facades and the shops. At first, the shopping mall was extended to the west, encompassing the former colline de l’automobile. This extension, located on the 3rd floor of the center called “The Dome” included twenty-two restaurants and a new sixteen screen multiplex cinema, UGC Cine Cité La Défense. The renovation to the east, included a Castorama store replacing the original UGC cinema. The exterior facades of Les Quatre Temps are currently undergoing further renovation.
Looking ahead, a new station, part of the Grand Paris Express, is to be built under Les Quatre Temps. It is due to be completed in 2027.
Inside Les Quatre Temps
Coming out of Les Quatre Temps I came upon this man sitting on the steps playing his drum.
When it was first installed, the statue La Défense de Paris, to which I referred earlier, was installed in the middle of a roundabout at a busy road junction. As the business district of La Défense was being developed, the statue was moved several times; the current parvis of La Défense was built over the site of the roundabout. In January 2017, the statue was moved to the place where it now stands, just beyond the Fontaine monumentale.
The Fontaine monumentale was created by Yaacov Agam, an Israeli sculptor and experimental artist best known for his contributions to optical and kinetic art. The fountain’s 57m by 26m pool has a polymorphic mosaic surface comprising enamel of different colours made in Venice. The fountain is powered by 66 vertical autonomous water jets shooting water up to 14 meters.
Incidentally, recording the sounds of a fountain is not as easy as you might think!
To complete my exploration I walked back to northern side of the parvis to the very distinctive CNIT.
Built in 1958, the CNIT (Centre des nouvelles industries et technologies) was the first building to be built in La Défense. Its characteristic shape is due to the triangular plot it occupies. Since it was built, it has undergone two major renovations; in 1988 and 2009.
Designed by the architects Robert Camelot, Jean de Mailly and Bernard Zehrfuss, the most distinctive feature of the CNIT is its freestanding 22,500 m2 reinforced concrete vaulted roof, which has a span of 218 meters and is only 6 cm thick.
Today the CNIT houses offices and a two-level shopping centre hosting enterprises like Fnac, Decathalon, Habitat, La Poste and Monoprix as well as a several restaurants and a Hilton hotel.
A station, part of the extension of RER Line E is to be built under the CNIT and is expected to open in 2020.
The CNIT with its distinctive concrete roof
I couldn’t possibly leave La Défense without stopping to look at La Pouce, César Baldaccini’s iconic sculpture of a 40-foot thumb in Place Carpeaux next to the CNIT.
Baldaccini created this sculpture from an enlarged moulding of his own thumb using the 3-D pantographic technique.
To digress for a moment:
I used to work in La Défense. For thirteen years my office was in the Ernst & Young building (the tall building on the left in the picture above) so every time I went to my office I used to walk past Baldaccini’s 18-ton, cast iron thumb.
The building directly behind Baldaccini’s thumb in the picture is the GDF – Suez building, which I can remember when it was nothing more than a car park. I was looking down from my office window at the car park one day when men arrived and began to erect a fence around it. Several days later a procession of diggers arrived and began tearing up the car park and digging what turned out to be the biggest hole I’d ever seen. Over the coming months there emerged from this hole layer after layer of what is now the 185 metre, 37 storey, GDF –Suez building. My audio diary is littered with entries at the time reporting that yet another floor of the building was in place.
Another view of the GDF – Suez building
So that completes my exploration of the area outside, around the station La Défense – Grande Arche. As always, it was exploring the sounds of this place that brought me here and led me to discover much more about the history of La Défense as well as encouraging me to revisit some of the parts of La Défense that I knew from when I worked here.
The sounds you heard were:
Rising up the escalator out of the underground station; people around the autonomous electric bus; excited children on the parvis watching a man creating huge soap bubbles; inside Les Quatre Temps; the African drummer; the Fontaine monumentale; sounds inside Le CNIT and out on the Parvis de la Défense.
I hope both these sounds and the underground sounds in Part 1 give you a flavour of the sonic tapestry that is La Défense.
THE ‘END OF THE LINE’ STRAND in my Paris Soundscapes Archive is dedicated to the sounds I capture in and around each terminus station on the Paris Métro system. From time to time I share the atmosphere of some of these terminus stations and their surroundings on this blog.
In previous ‘End of the Line’ posts I’ve explored the sounds in and around the Métro station Les Courtilles, the branch of Paris Métro Line 13 terminating in the northwest of Paris, and the sounds in and around Métro station Château de Vincennes, the easterly terminus of Paris Métro Line 1. Now I’m going to explore the sounds in and around the Métro station La Défense – Grande Arche, the westerly terminus of Métro Line 1.
However, to make this ‘End of the Line’ segment more manageable I will divide it into two parts. Today’s post, Part 1, explores inside La Défense – Grande Arche station and the next post, Part 2, will explore the sounds around the station in what is said to be Europe’s largest purpose-built business district containing most of the Paris urban area’s tallest high-rise buildings.
La Défense looking to the West
Because it serves the largest business district in the Paris region, La Défense – Grande Arche is a multi-functional transport hub. Not only is it home to the western terminus of Métro Line 1, it also houses a Transilien suburban train station, an RER station, a tram station and a bus station, all designed principally to handle the huge number of commuters who travel to and from work in La Défense each day.
La Défense – Grande Arche: The main concourse
The business district of La Défense is so big that it actually has two Métro stations. Esplanade de la Défense is the first of these so it was approaching here on my way to La Défense – Grande Arche that I began my sonic exploration.
Exploring La Défense – Grande Arche station in sound:
Opened on 19th July 1900, Métro Line 1 is the oldest line on the Paris Métro network. Built by the one-armed railway engineer Fulgence Bienvenüe, to connect various sites of the 1900 Exposition Universelle, the original line comprised eighteen stations between Porte Maillot and Porte de Vincennes. In 1934, the line was extended to the east from Porte de Vincennes to Chateau de Vincennes and in 1937 it was extended to the west from Porte Maillot to Pont de Neuilly. In 1992, Line 1 was extended again to the west from Pont de Neuilly to La Défense. In 2007, work began to automate Line 1 and on 15th December 2012 a fully automatic service was introduced. Today the 16.5 km Métro Line 1 is the most utilised line on the Paris Métro network handling over 600,000 passengers per day.
Arriving at the La Défense – Grande Arche terminus, I alighted and made my way up to the cavernous station concourse. This used to be a dingy, inhospitable place but a recent coat of paint has brightened it up a bit and now, the usual suspects cater for the commuters.
From the main concourse I headed off to explore the tram station, home to Tram Line T2.
Tram Line T2, linking the south-west suburbs of Paris with La Défense, began operating in 1997. The tramway was built on the former train line thus making it independent from the road. An extension In 2009 added five more stations towards the south, extending to Port de Versailles and in November 2012, another 4.2 km northern extension beyond La Défense to Bezons added a further seven stations.
The extensions to Tram Line 2 are part of a larger scheme in the Île-de-France aiming to increase connectivity of the suburbs by creating up to 70km of bus and tramways around Paris.
The Transilien suburban trains operate from platforms adjacent to but separated from the tram platforms.
While the public address announcements in the main station concourse are almost unintelligible, those in the tram station are much better – even if they do seem to appear end-to-end.
From the tram station I went back to the concourse and on to the RER station and RER Line A.
With more than one million passengers a day, RER Line A is the busiest Parisian urban rail line.
With the section of the line running through the city centre closed each summer for maintenance and construction work, much to the dismay of commuters, and with the line badly affected by alerts for suspect packages, which have doubled in the last year, it’s hardly surprising that, according to a 2017 survey by transport authorities in the greater Paris region, trains on RER Line A run on time only 85.3% of the time. Add to that grossly overcrowded trains and the occasional strike and RER Line A can sometimes be a challenge.
Despite the introduction of advanced traffic control systems that enable extremely short spacing between trains during rush hour (under 90 seconds in stations, under 2 minutes in tunnels) together with several upgrades in rolling stock, ever-increasing traffic volume and imminent saturation continues to blight the line.
Still, it’s not the worst performing RER line. According to the 2017 survey, that accolade goes to RER Line D.
The sounds of La Défense – Grande Arche presented in this post are a distillation of my original ninety minute recording now consigned to my Paris Soundscapes Archive but I hope they give you at least a flavour of the sonic tapestry hidden below the monumental Grande Arche de la Défense. In Part 2, I shall explore the sounds up on the surface.
Even with this extensive transport facility complete with its coffee shops and fast food outlets, travelling to and from La Défense during the rush hour each day can be a grim experience. I know, I did it for thirteen years!
IT’S THAT TIME OF YEAR AGAIN, the Christmas market season, and yesterday, on a very chilly Saturday, the Christmas market at the bottom of my little street opened for business.
Twenty-eight wooden chalets bedecked with local and regional artisanal products stretch from the parvis of the Hôtel de Ville to the local church. Small it may be but it’s an intimate and friendly local Christmas market.
Amidst its wooden chalets, and the ever-present Père Noël, the market also boasts a variety of street entertainers, always a great attraction to both children and adults alike.
Yesterday, the street entertainment included a swing jazz band, Le Quartet Swing Connection, along with Lombardi, a concertina-playing clown on stilts.
I went along to the market yesterday to look at the stalls but also to record the street entertainers to add to my collection of Parisian Christmas Market sounds. As well as capturing the sounds of the jazz quartet I was also lucky enough to capture Lombardi the clown singing to the children.
Swing jazz and a fluttering bird:
Lombardi’s song was À la volette, a traditional French children’s song that first appeared in the mid-seventeenth century.
The song is about a little bird that takes flight and flutters its way to an orange tree (referring to a bird, À la volette means to flutter, or to flap). The bird lands on a branch in the orange tree, which breaks and the bird falls to the ground breaking its wing and injuring its foot. When asked if he can look after himself the bird says that he just wants to heal himself and flutter back to the orange tree and get married.
There are various versions of the song and yesterday Lombardi gave a slightly truncated version although the story is quite clear.
After the song, Lombardi teases out from the children the name of the instrument he’s playing: a con – cer – ti – na!
And, of course, let’s not forget Le Swing Connection and their afternoon playing swing jazz.
YOU CAN SEE THEM clearly from the train but since the automatic platform doors have been installed it’s now more difficult to view them from the platform, which is a shame because the decorative ceramic panels on the walls add a touch of class to Liège métro station.
Created by two Liège artists, Marie-Claire Van Vuchelen and Daniel Hicter, and installed in 1982, the ceramic panels depict some of the landscapes and monuments of the Province of Liège giving a very Belgian feel to this Paris métro station.
What is now métro station Liège was opened originally as métro station Berlin on 26th February 1911 as part of the Nord-Sud Company’s Line B from Saint-Lazare to Porte de Saint-Ouen.
Paris métro stations are usually named after people, places or events so the station took its original name from the rue de Berlin, one of the streets radiating out from the nearby Place de Europe in the 8th arrondissement. When the First World War broke out in 1914 and anti-German sentiment was particularly strong, the name of the street and consequently the name of the station was changed from Berlin, the capital of France’s enemy, to Liège, a city in the friendly neighbouring country of Belgium.
The ceramic panels are not the only unusual feature of this station.
As part of today’s Métro Line 13, the métro station Liège is located at the junction of the 8th and 9th arrondissements, about three hundred metres north of the mainline railway station, Gare Saint-Lazare. At this point, Line 13 runs directly under the rather narrow rue d’Amsterdam where it bisects rue de Liège.
This part of Line 13 was built using the ‘cut-and-cover’ method of construction. ‘Cut-and-cover’ is a simple method of construction for shallow tunnels where a trench is excavated and roofed over with an overhead support system strong enough to carry the load of what is to be built above the tunnel. The trench for this section of Line 13 was cut down from rue d’Amsterdam and because the street above was narrow so was trench forming the tunnel below. This meant that there was not enough room in the station to accommodate the usual two lines and two platforms opposite each other as is common in most Paris métro stations. Consequently, Liège is only one of two Paris métro stations to have offset platforms.
This rather poor picture culled from Wikipedia shows the offset platforms before the automatic platform doors were installed and it was still possible to see them.
The platform heading south (towards Châtillon – Montrouge) is located north of the junction of rue de Liège and rue d’Amsterdam above while the northbound platform (towards Asnières and Saint-Denis) is to the south of the junction. In each direction of travel, the trains stop at the first platform encountered.
This offset platform arrangement gives rise to a sonic curiosity. You can see from the picture that while the platforms are offset, both the northbound and the southbound tracks pass each platform. This means that this is the only station on the Paris Métro network where it is possible to hear trains regularly passing the platform without stopping. For example, if one is waiting at the northbound platform, the southbound train will pass without stopping and vice versa.
Stopping and passing trains in métro station Liège:
Another interesting sonic feature inside this station is the effect of the relatively narrow tunnel and its curved wall. The wall seems to both amplify the sounds of the trains while attenuating the ambient sounds between trains.
Note: I took these two pictures of the ceramic panels with my iPhone pressed against the glass of the closed automatic platform doors fully aware that at any moment what might seem like my suspicious behaviour could result in unpleasant consequences!
At the outbreak of World War Two, métro station Liège, like several other Paris métro stations, was closed for economy reasons. After the conflict, most of the stations reopened but some of them, including Liège, didn’t and they became known as the stations fantômes, or ghost stations. Liège station eventually reopened in 1968 but only with a limited service and it wasn’t until as late as December 2006 that the station began to operate a full service.
One of the features of Liège métro station is the platform office to be found on each platform. I have visions of them once being occupied by an authoritarian early twentieth-century stationmaster or maybe an equally authoritarian ticket collector. In fact, they date from the twenty-first century renovation of the station.
Of all the features of this station though it is the decorative ceramic panels made up of 6,576 ceramic tiles that dominate. There are eighteen panels altogether, nine on each platform.
On one platform are those designed by Daniel Hicter, each of which has a blue tone:
– Coo, dans la vallée de l’Amblève
– Les premières neiges en Fagnes
– Le barrage de La Gileppe
– L’Eglise romane de Momalle
– Le village de Limbourg
– Le château de Jehay-Bodegnée
– Le circuit automobile de Spa-Francorchamps
– Le château de Chokier-sur-Meuse
– Le Palais des Princes-Evêques de Liège
And on the other platform are those by Marie-Claire Van Vuchelen, each with a brown-ochre tone:
– La vallée du Hoyoux à Modave
– La vallée de la Vesdre à Nessonvaux
– Le Château de Wégimont à Soumagne
– Le Perron de Liège
– L’Hôtel de Ville de Verviers
– Le pont, la collégiale et la citadelle de Huy
– La maison Curtius à Liège
– Le Château de Colonster dans la Vallée de l’Ourthe
– L’Hôtel de Ville de Visé
If you’re travelling on Line 13 of the Paris Métro, it’s well worth getting off at Liège to have a look at these ceramic panels – even if you do now have to peer through the glass panels of the automatic platform doors.
ONE OF THE STRANDS in my Paris Soundscapes Archive focuses on the bridges of Paris and their sounds. There are thirty-seven bridges crossing la Seine within the Paris city limits and I’m recording the sounds on, under and around each of these bridges for my archive. From time to time I share the sounds and some of the history of the bridges I’ve explored on this blog.
Taking advantage of the beautiful Indian summer that Paris has enjoyed recently, I’ve been to explore another Parisian bridge, the Pont de Sully.
The Pont de Sully links the 4th arrondissement on the Right Bank of the Seine with the 5th arrondissement of the Left Bank along the line of the Boulevard Henry IV.
Although regarded as one bridge today, the Pont de Sully originally comprised two quite separate bridges, with each meeting on the eastern tip of the Île Saint-Louis.
Pont de Sully: Linking the Right and Left Banks by crossing the Île Saint-Louis
A royal decree in March 1836 authorised the building of the two original bridges: the Passerelle Damiette linking the Quai des Célestins on the Right Bank to the Quai d’Anjou on the Île Saint-Louis and the Passerelle de Constantine linking the quai de Bethune on the Île Saint-Louis to the quai Saint-Bernard on the Left Bank. Both bridges were suspension bridges built at a cost of 380,000 Francs. This cost was to be recouped by charging tolls. A twenty-year concession to operate both bridges was awarded to a Monsieur de Beaumont.
The Passerelle de Constantine
Neither bridge was to survive for very long.
The Passerelle Damiette was severely damaged in February 1848 during the revolution that resulted in the abdication of Louis-Philippe and the proclamation of the Second Republic and the Passerelle de Constantine collapsed in 1872 after its suspension wires were eaten away by corrosion.
The collapse of the Passerelle de Constantine
Work began on the current Pont de Sully in 1874 as part of the Haussmannian renovation of Paris. Named after the minister to Henry IV, Maximilien de Béthune, Duke of Sully (1560-1641), the Pont de Sully was designed by the engineers Paul Vaudrey and Gustave Brosselin. The bridge was opened in March 1876.
Although it only has one name, today’s cast iron and stone Pont de Sully is in fact two bridges and, like their predecessors, each one rests on the eastern end of the Île Saint-Louis.
Pont de Sully from the Right Bank towards the Île Saint-Louis
The northern, Right Bank section of the bridge comprises a 42 metre cast iron central arch supported by two 15 metre semi-circular masonry arches.
Pont de Sully from the the Île Saint-Louis towards the Left Bank
The southern, Left bank section comprises three cast iron arches of 46 metres, 49metres and 46 metres.
Both the Right and Left Bank sections of the bridge rest on masonry foundations and abutments and the piles rest on concrete poured into bottomless caissons down through the sand and silt to the solid limestone below.
I began my sonic exploration of the Pont de Sully in a rather precarious position under the Right Bank section of the bridge.
Building a sonic portrait of a bridge takes time and usually involves several visits. Just as photographers wait for the light, so it is when hunting for sounds; one is always waiting for just the right atmosphere to capture the moment. On previous visits I had captured the sounds of boats passing under the bridge but always one at a time with long gaps in between and with a gusting wind deflecting the sounds.
On my final visit though the Gods were with me. I took up my position, the conditions were ideal and for the next twenty minutes a flotilla of boats passed me in pretty close formation. It is most unusual for this many boats to pass along la Seine more or less together but it was a case of just being in the right place at the right time I guess.
Pont de Sully – Sounds under the bridge:
Towards the end of the twenty minutes though I was treated to a cops and robbers drama with a police car with its siren wailing passing along the Quai Henry IV above and behind me and a police dinghy speeding under the bridge ahead of me, both heading in the same direction and both obviously intent on spoiling someone’s day!
Separating the two arms of the 256 metre long and 20 metre wide Pont de Sully at the eastern tip of the Île Saint-Louis is the Square Barye, a 2,975 m2 espaces verts écologiques, originally opened in 1938. It’s ecological credentials date from 2007. The square is named after the French painter and sculptor, Antoine-Louis Barye (1796-1875).
The Square Barye
It was from this square that I was able to descend a stone staircase and then, after pausing to admire the Autumn leaves, walk to the south-eastern tip of the Île Saint-Louis, mid-way between the two sections of the bridge and as close to the water as it’s possible to get without getting one’s feet wet. It was from here that I was anxious to collect some more sounds.
While the sounds of passing boats are interesting, what I find even more interesting is the sonic footprint they leave behind. From the very tip of the Île Saint-Louis I was in a perfect place to capture that footprint.
From my vantage point I looked out over la Seine towards the Pont de Bercy and behind it, the low-slung French Finance Ministry building. It is here, between the Pont de Sully and the Pont de Bercy, that the tourist boats end their upstream voyage along the Seine. They approach through the southerly part of the Pont de Sully, turn round in mid-stream and then return through the northerly section of the bridge.
I set up my microphones on the tip of the Île Saint-Louis and began recording.
Sounds of the sonic footprints:
For the first half of this recording you can hear the boats passing upstream on my right and the sound of the gentle waves from their wake arriving at my microphones. The boats then turn ahead of me and begin to travel downstream on my left.
At 6’ 20” into the recording I began to hear a curious repetitive sound, rather like the sound of a steam engine. This was a sound I’d never heard before. I’m very used to recording the sound of the large Bateaux Mouches as they pass but this time, as the boat turned, for a brief moment it headed straight towards me and as it did so it generated this curious sound. The sound disappeared as the boat realigned and aimed for the northern arch of the Pont de Sully, but there was much more to come from the Bateaux Mouches. 8’ 00” into the recording its unmistakeable, dominating sonic footprint began to arrive at my feet and it continued to do so long after the Bateaux Mouches had passed under the bridge.
On my several visits to the Pont de Sully I recorded many more sounds on, under and around the bridge, but the sounds I’ve featured here, the sounds of a flotilla of boats passing under the northern arch and the sounds of the sonic footprints at the tip of the Île Saint-Louis, seem to me to be the best sounds to describe this Parisian bridge.
I SPEND QUITE A LOT of time in churches, especially Parisian churches.
I am interested in church architecture, I’m fascinated by the history of individual churches and I enjoy exploring the sounds of churches. One strand of my Paris Soundscapes Archive is dedicated to the sounds of Parisian churches. I have a particular interest in the work of the master organ builder, Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, and the organs he built for Parisian churches and while I’ve made many recordings of these Cavaillé-Coll organs I also record the ambient sounds in churches, especially when they’re empty. In my experience, there are no silent churches in Paris: even without services taking place, without the organ playing and with no people, there are still sounds. It’s as though the very fabric of each church speaks to the attentive listener.
Apart from weddings and funerals (more of the latter than the former these days unfortunately) I seldom go to churches other than to explore their architecture, history and sounds. Imagine my surprise then when, thanks to a confluence of interests, I found myself, despite not being of the Roman Catholic persuasion, attending a Roman Catholic mass yesterday morning.
The twin-spired Église Saint Jean-Baptiste de Belleville has been on my Parisian church exploration ‘to-do’ list for some time. It was built between 1854 and 1859 in the neogothic style by the architect Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lassus, an expert in the restoration and recreation of medieval architecture, and it replaces a chapel built in 1543 and the first Saint-Jean-Baptiste church dating from 1635.
Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Belleville was one of the first churches in Paris to be built in the neogothic style, which in itself was a good enough reason to visit it, but the fact that it also has a two-keyboard Cavaillé-Coll organ dating from 1863 was an added attraction.
One of the things I knew about the church was that Edith Piaf, the French cabaret singer, songwriter and actress, was baptised here on the 15th December 1917.
It was this confluence of interests: the neogothic l’église Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Belleville, a Cavaillé-Coll organ, my enthusiasm for Edith Piaf, in my view one of the greatest performers of the 20th century, together with the sound-rich environment of Belleville that brought me to this place yesterday morning where, to commemorate the 54th anniversary of her death, a Messe à la memoire d’Edith Piaf took place in the church supported by Les Amis d’Edith Piaf.
During the Mass the organ played and, of course, I had to record it for my archive. From my recording I’ve produced the following sound piece of some of the music played, which illustrates some of the voices and textures of the Cavaillé-Coll organ and gives a flavour of the Mass itself.
The Cavaillé-Coll organ of the Église Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Belleville:
The piece opens with the full-throated Entrée. The tone changes for the next piece, the music for the Offertoire. Then comes the music for the Communion, an improvisation on “Non, je ne regrette rien”, a French song originally composed by Charles Dumont, with lyrics by Michel Vaucaire, always associated with Edith Piaf’s 1959 recording of it. The Sortie comprises a short organ piece followed by the lady herself singing “Hymne à l’amour” for which she wrote the words and Marguerite Monnot the music.
The organ was played by Laurent Jochum, organiste titulaire des grandes orgues Cavaillé-Coll de l’église Saint-Jean Baptiste de Belleville et de l’orgue de la Chapelle du collège et lycée Saint-Louis de Gonzague à Paris.
I am old enough to remember listening to Edith Piaf on the radio and I can remember her funeral bringing Paris to a standstill being headline news. For some of her short life she lived just round the corner from where I live now.
Sitting in the church yesterday morning next to the font where she was baptised and with her voice echoing around the church, it seemed ironic that, because of her lifestyle, the Catholic Church denied her a funeral mass when she died – they branded her ‘a categorical sinner’. Instead, her coffin was carried through the streets of Paris to be buried at the Père Lachaise cemetery with only a token blessing.
It was only on 10th October 2013, fifty years after her death, that the Roman Catholic Church gave her a memorial Mass in l’église Saint Jean-Baptiste in the parish in which she was born.
I don’t propose to document the life of Edith Piaf here; a quick search of Edith Piaf on Google will tell you much of what you need to know about her.
What I can say is that it is said she was born on the steps of N° 72 rue de Belleville on 19th December 1915. Her birth was registered at the Hôpital Tenon, next to what is now Place Edith Piaf in the 20th arrondissement, under the name Edith Giovanna Gassion.
In 2013, a statue of Edith Piaf, known as l’Hommage à Piaf, created by the French sculptor, Lisbeth Delisle, was inaugurated in the Place Edith Piaf.
Following yesterday’s Mass in Belleville I went to Place Edith Piaf to take in the atmosphere. I found a street market in full swing with some sounds that Edith herself might have been familiar with.
Sounds in Place Edith Piaf:
I couldn’t possibly end my own hommage to Edith Piaf yesterday without visiting her grave in the Cimetière du Père Lachaise.
She died on 10th October 1963 at the age of 47. Denied a funeral mass by the Catholic Church, some 10,000 people came to the cemetery to witness the interment of La Môme Piaf (‘The Little Sparrow’).
Edith Piaf was interred in the same grave as her father, Louis-Alphonse Gassion, and Theophanis Lamboukas, (Théo Sarapo), whom she married in 1962. She is buried next to her daughter, Marcelle, who died of meningitis at the age of two.
Of the 70,000 graves in the Cimetière Père Lachaise, Edith Piaf’s remains one of the most visited.
From the sounds of the Cavaillé-Coll organ in l’église Saint Jean-Baptiste and the bustling sounds of the street market in Place Edith Piaf, I couldn’t leave the cemetery without recording the sounds of the relative stillness surrounding Edith Piaf’s grave.
Like the fabric of an empty church, cemeteries speak to the attentive listener.
The sounds around Edith Piaf’s grave:
“Every damn thing you do in this life, you have to pay for.”
“Je ne me repends pas de m’être livrée à l’amour.”
(“I do not repent having given myself up to love.”)
Sainte Thérèse de Lisieux
THE ‘END OF THE LINE’ STRAND in my Paris Soundscapes Archive is dedicated to the sounds I capture in and around each terminus station on the Paris Métro system. From time to time I will share the atmosphere of some of these terminus stations and their surroundings on this blog.
In my last ‘End of the Line’ post I explored in and around the Métro station Les Courtilles, the branch of Paris Métro Line 13 terminating in the northwest of Paris. Today, I will share with you my exploration in and around Métro station Château de Vincennes, the easterly terminus of Paris Métro Line 1.
Opened in 1900, Métro Line 1 was the first Paris Métro line to be opened although it was shorter then than it is now. Today, it runs for 16.5 km from La Défense in the west of the city to Château de Vincennes in the east and well over half a million people use it each day making it the busiest line on the Paris Métro system.
In 2007, work began to convert the line from being manually driven to becoming a fully automatic, driverless, operation. The work was completed in 2011 and involved the introduction of new MP 05 rolling stock and the erection of platform edge doors in all stations.
I recorded my arrival at Château de Vincennes station, a ride up a creaky escalator, a walk across the station concourse, up another escalator and out into the street above.
Arrival at Château de Vincennes:
Both the name of the station and a display in the station concourse give us a clue to at least one thing we might find outside.
Vincennes is a commune in the Val-de-Marne department in the eastern suburbs of Paris. As well as its famous castle, the Château de Vincennes, once home to French Kings, Vincennes is also known for the adjacent 995 hectare (2,459 acres) Bois de Vincennes, the largest public park in Paris, a zoo, the Paris Zoological Park, a botanical garden, the Parc Floral de Paris, and a large military fort once used as a proving ground for French armaments. Vincennes is also home to the Service Historique de la Défense, which holds the archival records of the French Armed Forces.
A short walk from the Métro station I discovered the Cours Marigny, a promenade between the Château de Vincennes and the Hôtel de Ville undergoing a makeover due to be completed in the Spring of 2018.
In the town square I found a display of old photographs showing Vincennes as it once was.
But in Vincennes, town and crown sit cheek by jowl so the château is never far away.
The Château de Vincennes is a massive former French royal fortress, which originated as a hunting lodge constructed for Louis VII around 1150 in the forest of Vincennes. In the 13th century, Philip Augustus and Louis IX, King of France from 1226 until his death during the eighth crusade in 1270, erected a more substantial manor.
King Louis IX – Saint Louis, outside the Château de Vincennes
By the 14th century, the Château de Vincennes had expanded and outgrown its original site. With the outbreak of the Hundred Years War, it became as much a fortress as a family home. Philip VI added a donjon, or fortified keep, which at 52 meters high was the tallest medieval fortified structure in Europe at the time. The grand rectangular circuit of walls was completed in about 1410.
The donjon served as a residence for the royal family and its buildings are known to have once held the library and personal study of Charles V. In 1422, seven years after his victory at Agincourt, Henry V of England died in the donjon from dysentery, which he had contracted during the siege of Meaux.
By the 18th century, the Château de Vincennes had ceased to become a practical fortress. Instead it became home to the Vincennes porcelain manufactory, precursor to the Sèvres porcelain factory, and the keep became a prison housing such distinguished guests as the Marquis de Sade, Diderot, and the French revolutionary, the Comte de Mirabeau,
Sounds around the Métro station Château de Vincennes :
To capture the ‘End of the Line’ atmosphere around the Métro station Château de Vincennes I recorded while sitting on a green bench alongside the wall and the moat on the western side of the château, close to one of the Métro entrances and even closer to the donjon and its bell tower. The sounds are the everyday sounds of this leafy part of Vincennes, including the chiming of the donjon bell.
In his book, Nairn’s Paris, a unique guide to Paris published in 1968, the British architectural critic, Ian Nairn, has a particular view about the Château de Vincennes:
“The château must be one of the most bad-tempered collections of buildings in the world, full of the prose of containment without any of the poetry of castellation. The vast medieval curtain-wall is opened out at the south end, towards the Bois, with grumpy classical buildings by Le Vau: on the north side there is the entrance tower, and brooding over the whole cross-grained mixture is the fourteenth-century donjon, which they say is the tallest in Europe; five huge storeys, surrounded by its own curtain-wall. Inside, the tall rooms, each heavily vaulted from a single pillar, give away nothing more than the facts of incarceration, if anything reinforced by the Gothic ribs and corbels that are familiar from less gloomy places. It is no illusion: Vincennes has a grim record and the tiny ill-light cells are still there to prove it.
One final view, the only soft thing at Vincennes: the eastern side of the moat, choked with big trees, Nature at last getting its own back on man. But the town that has grown up opposite this wicked uncle is as different as could be – a kind of French Aldershot. Vincennes has many barracks, some of them still inside the walls, and France has compulsory military service. Across the road from the château is a bus terminus, the end of a Métro, a line-up of cheerful cafés, and a considerable variety of, cheerful, cheap, not very good meals.”
Nairn’s Paris by Ian Nairn – Penguin Books (1968)
Just for clarification: For those not familiar with it, Aldershot, to which Ian Nairn refers, is a garrison town in the south of England, and France no longer has compulsory military service. The bus terminus, the end of the Métro and the line-up of cheerful cafés are still there and, although not as cheap as they were, some of the meals at least have improved!
IF YOU’VE READ Victor Hugo’s novel Les Misérables you will have read Hugo’s fictional account of the June Rebellion or the Paris Uprising of 1832, the last outbreak of violence linked with the July Revolution of 1830.
Général Jean Maximilien Lamarque had been a French commander during the Napoleonic Wars and had served with distinction in many of Napoleon’s campaigns. But following the July Revolution of 1830 he had become a leading critic of the new constitutional monarchy of Louis Philippe. In Les Misérables, Victor Hugo views Lamarque as the government’s champion of the poor. He says that Lamarque was “loved by the people because he accepted the chances the future offered, loved by the mob because he served the emperor well”. Hugo portrays Lamarque as an emblem of French pride and honour.
In 1832, a cholera epidemic spread across France and Lamarque fell victim to it. He died on 1st June. Because of his status as a Republican and Napoleonic war hero, his death provided the spark that led the revolutionaries to take to their barricades.
On the 5th and 6th June 1832, Paris saw two bloody days of rioting with the Société des amis du peuple, la Société des droits de l’homme, students, craftsmen and labourers playing a principal part. But as early as the evening of 5th the Army and the National Guard had begun to suppress the uprising. By the following day fierce fighting centered on the last remaining pocket of resistance in the Rue du Cloitre-Saint-Merri beside the Église Saint-Merri, but this too was finally suppressed.
Over the two days of the uprising some 800 people were killed or wounded.
Rue du Cloitre-Saint-Merri
The rue du Cloitre-Saint-Merri dates from the 12th century. It was originally called Rue de la Porte Saint-Merri, because it was next to l’Arche Saint-Merri, a 10th century gate through the second wall to encircle Paris.
By the 14th century, the street had become one of many streets in Paris noted for its prostitutes; at least it was until the parish priests of Saint-Merri demanded, not altogether successfully, that they be expelled.
Today, rue du Cloitre-Saint-Merri runs for 132 metres from rue du Renard to rue Saint-Martin. For much of its length it runs alongside the northern side of the Église Saint-Merri.
At its junction with rue Saint-Martin, the rue du Cloitre-Saint-Merri ends with a small square noted for its ever-changing street art.
It was around this small square that some of the bloodiest fighting of the Paris uprising took place, and it was here that I chose to sit on a bench partly to reflect on the events of 1832 and partly to absorb the elaborate 16th century gothic architecture of the Église Saint-Merri standing next to me.
For someone wired up like me it’s impossible not to contemplate history without conjuring up images of the sounds associated with that history. What would this place have sounded like I wondered in June 1832, or when the Église Saint-Merri was in its Middle-Ages pomp, or even when rue du Cloitre-Saint-Merri was a 14th century rue aux ribaudes?
Unfortunately, from my Parisian green bench my imagined historical sounds were overwhelmed by the contemporary sounds around me – 16th century stonemasons replaced by 21st century Chinese building contractors.
Sounds around l’ Église Saint-Merri:
If you make it to the end of this sound piece you will discover that at least a flicker of the Parisian revolutionary spirit still survives: a lone voice of protest is heard as the whining of the weapon of mass construction reappears.
Although the Église Saint-Merri we see today dates from the mid-16th century, its roots go much further back.
Tradition has it that Medericus, abbot of the Abbey of Saint-Martin d’Autun, came to live as a hermit in a hut near the Saint-Pierre-des-Bois oratory which stood on the site of the present church. He is said to have died in August 700 and was buried there. He was later canonised and renamed Saint-Médéric.
In 884, Goslin, the bishop of Paris, had Médéric’s remains exhumed and laid to rest in the Saint-Pierre-des-Bois oratory, which now became the Saint-Médéric chapel. It was at this time that Saint-Médéric became the patron saint of the Right Bank.
Over time, the name Médéric was contracted to Merri, which is why the Église Saint-Merri and the rue du Cloitre-Saint-Merri are so named.
Today, the remains of Saint-Médéric still rest in the crypt of the church.
In the early 10th century, a new church, Saint-Pierre-Saint-Merri, was built at the instigation of Eudes Le Fauconnier. Styled as a ‘Royal Officer’, it is possible that this was the same Eudes Le Fauconnier who took part in the defence Paris during the Viking siege in 885-86.
During the rebuilding of the church in the sixteenth century, the skeleton of a warrior was discovered together with boots of gilded leather and the inscription:
“Hic jacet vir bonæ memoriæ Odo Falconarius fundator hujus ecclesiæ”.
Which, based upon my schoolboy Latin, means something like:
“Here lies Eudes Le Fauconnier, of fond memory, founder of this church”.
The present day Église Saint-Merri was built between 1515 and 1612. The crypt, the nave and the aisles date from 1515-1520, the transept crossing from 1526-1530 and the choir and the apse were completed in 1552.
Some restoration work was carried out in the 18th century; some of the broken arches were repaired, the floor was covered with marble and the stained-glass windows were partly replaced by white glass.
During the French Revolution the church was closed for worship and was used to make saltpetre, one of the constituents of gunpowder. From 1797 to 1801, Theophilanthropists made it a “Temple of Commerce”. Theophilanthropists were a deistic society established in Paris during the period of the Directory aiming to institute in place of Christianity, which had been officially abolished, a new religion affirming belief in the existence of God, in the immortality of the soul, and in virtue.
The church was returned to the Catholic worship in 1803.
Sounds inside the Église Saint-Merri:
The northern aspect of the Église Saint-Merri and the bell tower
Image par Mbzt — Travail personnel, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13660170
The bell-tower was built with three floors in 1612 but, following a fire in 1871, it was reduced to two floors. This bell tower houses the oldest bell in Paris dating from 1331.
The Choir Organ
The Église Saint-Merri has two organs, a choir organ and a grand orgue de tribune.
The grand orgue de tribune
François de Heman built the tribune organ with its five turrets between 1647 and 1650 and the master carpenter Germain Pilon crafted the turret buffet in 1647.
The instrument was enlarged by François-Henri Clicquot in 1779, and then rebuilt from 1855 to 1857 by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll. Further work was carried out in 1947 by Victor Gonzalez.
Camille Saint-Saëns was the organist at the Église Saint-Merri from 1853 to1857.
My exploration of the sounds in and around the Église Saint-Merri took me from Medericus, a hermit living in a hut and subsequently canonised, to Eudes Le Fauconnier and the 9th century Viking siege of Paris, to the craftsmen of the 16th and 17th century, to the oldest bell in Paris, to a church used for making gunpowder and the bloody events of the Paris Uprising of 1832. And let’s not forget the medieval Parisian street with its ‘ladies of the night’ and the modern day Chinese builders.
Which goes to show that following contemporary sounds can lead in many different directions.
BECAUSE IT’S NEVER HAD a roof, the Passage Molière doesn’t qualify as one of the surviving Parisian passages couverts, the covered passageways built mainly in the first half of the nineteenth century. What the Passage Molière can claim though is that it predates all the one hundred and fifty original passages couverts.
Passage Molière from rue Quincampoix
The oldest Parisian passage couvert, the Passage des Panoramas, opened in 1799 whereas the Passage Molière dates back to 1791.
The Passage des Panoramas and the Passage Molière do have something in common though: both house a theatre. The Passage des Panoramas is one of the twenty surviving passages couverts and it is still home to the Théâtre des Variétés, while the Passage Molière is home to the Théâtre Molière from which the passage takes its name.
The Théâtre Molière was founded by the French actor, playwright, theatre director, businessman and revolutionary, Jean François Boursault-Malherbe. It opened on 18th June 1791 with a performance of Molière’s The Misanthrope, a satire about the hypocrisies of French aristocratic society and the flaws that all humans possess.
Unfortunately, the theatre was not a resounding success. It closed in August 1792 and then underwent several changes of management and several changes of name, although Boursault retained the ownership. The theatre became variously known as the Théâtre des Sans-culottes, Théâtre de la rue Saint-Martin, Théâtre des Artistes en société, Théâtre des Amis des arts et de l’Opéra-Comique and Théâtre des Variétés nationales et étrangères.
The theatre’s fortunes recovered a little at the turn of the century thanks to several notable actors being persuaded to perform there including Thomas Sheridan, but in 1807 it was closed again and became a hall for concerts, banquets and balls.
The theatre opened yet again in 1831 but in the revolutionary climate of 1848 it was occupied by the Club patriotique du 7e arrondissement for political meetings and thereafter was abandoned and fell into oblivion for more than a century.
Eventually, the City of Paris authorities stepped in and restored the theatre back to its original eighteenth century architecture. Today, the theatre forms part of the Maison de la Poésie – Scène littéraire in the Passage Molière.
Founded in 1983, La Maison de la Poésie was created for the creation and dissemination of, and events about, contemporary poetry.
Sounds in the Passage Molière:
Maison de la Poésie – Scène litteraire
The Passage Molière runs in an east – west direction from 157 rue Saint-Martin to 82 rue Quincampoix. At fifty metres long it cuts through blocks of buildings with each end covered where it passes under the buildings.
Like the Théâtre Molière, the passage has had several names. During the French Revolution it became the Passage des Sans-Culottes and then the Passage des Nourrices before reverting back to Passage Molière.
I recorded the sounds in the Passage Molière from outside the Maison de la Poésie and the restored Théâtre Molière with rue Saint-Martin to my left and rue Quincampoix to my right. The passage is a relatively quiet oasis amidst the more strident sounds of the surrounding neighbourhood so all I had to do was to give the sounds time to speak and tell their own story.
Walking through the Passage Molière, the attentive observer may notice that the building numbers do not follow the Parisian street numbering convention of even numbers on one side and odd numbers on the other with the lower numbers progressing to the higher numbers in the same direction.
In the Passage Molière, the numbers progress in an anti-clockwise direction. Starting on the right side of the passage at its eastern end, the numbers increase sequentially heading west and then from the western end, the numbers continue sequentially heading east.
Passage Molière from rue Saint-Martin