STRETCHING ALONG THE Boulevard de la Chapelle from Barbès Rochechouart Métro station to rue de Chartres, the Marché Barbès is not for the faint hearted. Even getting to the market can be a challenge since some of the market often spills over into the Métro station itself.
Inside Barbès Rochechouart Métro station on market day
From 08.00 to 13.00 on Wednesdays and from 07.00 to 15.00 on Saturdays, the Marché Barbès appears under the overhead section of Métro Line 2 and if you’re looking for a leisurely market with lots of personal space, then the Marché Barbès is not for you.
An assortment of stalls selling clothes, shoes, jewellery and assorted trinkets are clustered at either end of the market but most of the stalls in between are awash with fruit, vegetables, meat and fish.
From end to end, a multi-ethnic sea of people moving at a snail’s pace, or sometimes not moving at all, fills the market. Getting close to a stall to actually buy something requires grit and determination, not to mention judicious use of the elbows. But the effort can be worth it. Not only is this perhaps the busiest market in Paris it’s also one of the cheapest where most of the fruit and vegetables seem to sell for €1/kilo. A running commentary of what’s on sale and for how much resonates around the market as the stallholders cry out vying to outdo each other to catch the attention of customers from the passing tide of people.
All this of course, together with the Métro trains running overhead, makes for a fascinating sound tapestry and so I set off to capture it. Having negotiated my way through the crowd inside the Métro station, I plunged into the throng of people across the street at the head of the market and set sail through what felt like a tsunami of people.
Progress was slow and not without incident, but I made it to the other end more or less unscathed although the relative calm of the rue de Chartres did come as somewhat of a relief.
Sounds of the Marché Barbès:
If you can cope with the crowds then the Marché Barbès is well worth a visit and there are certainly some bargains to be had – although I’m still not sure about the watches on sale for €2 each!
Rue de Chartres
EACH PARIS METRO station has a name. These names are often taken from current or former street names in the area close to the station, which in turn are associated with people, places or events significant to the French. To travel on the Paris Metro is to travel the gamut of French history.
The station Barbès-Rochechouart is a good example. Situated at the point where the 9th, 10th and 18th arrondissements meet, the station is home to two metro lines, Line 2 and Line 4. At this station, Line 4 is underground and Line 2 becomes another one of Fulgence Bienvenûe’s aerial metro lines.
The sound Barbès-Rochechouart station Line 2:
The station was named after two streets close by – Boulevard Barbès and Boulevard de Rochechouart. These streets were named after two people – Armand Barbès and Marguerite de Rochechouart.
Armand Barbès (1809 – 1870) was a radical politician who twice attempted to overthrow the French Government and twice escaped the worst of the consequences. The first time was an attempted coup in 1832 against the constitutional monarchy of Louis-Philippe, the last King of France, for which Barbès was arrested, tried and sentenced to death. Thanks to a petition to the court for leniency by Victor Hugo his sentence was commuted to life in prison. In fact, he was released from prison at the beginning of the 1848 revolution. His second attempt was in May 1848 when he failed to overthrow the Provisional Government. For this he was convicted and imprisoned again until 1854 whereupon he was exiled to The Hague in the Netherlands.
Marguerite de Rochechouart de Montpipeau (? – 1727) was the Abbess of a convent called Les Dames de Montmartre from 1717 to 1727. The Boulevard Rochechouart was laid out on property owned by the Abbey. Being an Abbess of itself probably didn’t qualify Marguerite de Rochechouart to have a street named after her but being the sister of Mme de Montespan, long-time mistress to Louis XIV, probably helped.
The Boulevard de Rochechouart enjoyed a period of notoriety later in the eighteenth-century when it became home to a selection of cabarets one of which was called Aux Armes de Madame l’Abbess and another Le Caprice des Dames – perhaps a more evocative memorial than a mere street name.
But it was not to last. By the mid-nineteenth century the area around the Boulevard de Rochechouart had become a very poor working-class neighbourhood. In his book, L’Assommoir, Emile Zola tells a classic tale of poverty and alcoholism set almost entirely around what is now the metro station Barbès-Rochechouart.
The sound of the Boulevard de Rochechouart: