LAST WEEKEND WAS the annual Journées du Patrimoine, the wonderful weekend in September when it’s possible to visit a wide variety of well-known but usually off-limits places in Paris and indeed in the rest of France. Places like the Elysées Palace, the French Senate, or the Assemblée Nationale as well as a wide variety of theatres, museums, historical monuments and public buildings open their doors to the public for this weekend in September and entry is free. Even my local mayor opened up his office and was there to greet visitors from my neck of the woods as they passed through.
And my choice of place to visit …
I went here to the Quartier des Célestins the home of the cavalry regiment of the Garde Républicaine. The barracks occupy a rather grand building on Boulevard Henry IV in the 4th arrondissement, a short walk from Bastille.
It’s called the Quartier des Célestins because it stands of the site of the former Couvent des Célestins, the Convent of the Celestines. Philip the Fair introduced the Celestines into France in 1300 and the convent was built in 1352 on the site of what was a former Carmelite convent. The convent was closely associated the French Royal family and it became the second most important burial site for royalty after the Basilique Saint-Denis, albeit for minor Royals. By the 18th century the convent was in decline and it’s demise came in 1778. The buildings were demolished in 1847 and the Célestins barracks of the Garde Républicaine, designed by French architect Jacques Hermant, was built on the site of the convent gardens and opened in 1901.
Picture via Wikipedia
The Garde Républicaine, formed in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte as the Municipal Guard of Paris, is part of the French Gendarmerie. Today, it comprises two infantry regiments, including a motorcycle squadron, and a cavalry regiment. It also has several musical formations including a mounted band and fanfare trumpeters as well as an eighty – piece orchestra.
As well as it’s State ceremonial duties, including representing France at international events abroad and receiving important dignitaries at home, the Garde Républicaine is responsible for guarding important public buildings and supporting other law enforcement forces with intervention groups or horseback patrols. It also has responsibility for transporting and escorting organs for transplant.
The cavalry regiment of the Garde Républicaine is the last unit in the French Army to have horses. It comprises around 500 men and women along with some 550 horses. The regiment includes a training school based at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, three squadrons of cavalry, one of which is based at the Quartier des Célestins and a squadron hors rang, also based at the Quartier des Célestins, which includes the musicians, farriers and veterinary services .
And so to my visit to the Quartier des Célestins …
Passing through the cluster of rather burly but not at all unfriendly Gendarmerie at the main gate, my first port of call was the Salle de Traditions, the museum.
It’s a small museum but I found it really fascinating. It covers the history of the Garde Républicaine from its inception to the present day and it includes an array of exhibits covering every aspect of the life and work of the regiment both from its service at home and overseas.
From the museum, I walked to the exercise yard – this is a cavalry barracks after all and horses need plenty of exercise.
I also had a look at the stables …
… and the enormous riding school.
I never go anywhere without my sound recorder and I’m always on the hunt for fascinating sounds to capture. I did record the sounds inside the museum and in the riding school and later on I recorded the man responsible for making the hats for the infantry regiments of the Garde Républicaine explaining how it’s done. But the sounds I want to share with you are sounds that tell a story – the sounds of the farriers at work shoeing a cavalry horse.
The first thing you need to shoe a horse is a horseshoe, a fer à cheval in French, and the Garde Républicaine make their own – lots of them.
The farriers making horseshoes:
Once the horseshoe is made to approximately the right size the process of shoeing the horse can begin. Here are the sounds of the entire process which I recorded standing in the rain sans umbrella amidst a group of inquisitive children who were fascinated by it all.
Shoeing a cavalry horse:
First, you have to remove the old shoe …
Then you have to tidy up the horse’s hoof with lots of scraping and filing. Next, you present the new shoe to the hoof and see what adjustments need to be made to ensure an exact fit. This involves heating the shoe in the forge and then shaping it by hitting it with a hammer. Once the shoe is tailored to the right size it’s edges, in the best military tradition, are ground down to make them bright and shiny. The shoe is then heated again and presented to the horse’s hoof while the shoe is still hot.
It’s a very steamy process!
Once the shoe is fitted, special nails are hammered in to fix the shoe in place. The points of these nails penetrate the hoof and come out the other side. Some of the exposed parts of the nails are pinched off and then a clinch block is set under each nail on the outer hoof wall and the nail head is hit with yet another hammer and the nail is set into the hoof.
All that remains is a final pedicure and the horse is good to go to a round of applause.
I didn’t know any of this until my visit to the Quartier des Célestins. I’d never seen a horse being shod before so not only did I learn a lot, I also recorded it for posterity – and it made my day.
Here are some more sights of the Quartier des Célestins …
I’m sorry madam, candyfloss does not pass muster as a cavalry plume!
DEDICATED TO THE 2nd century Italian martyrs Gervasius and Protasius, the Eglise Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protais is one of the oldest churches in Paris and it’s to be found in the 4th arrondissement, just east of the Hôtel de Ville.
There has been a church on this site since the 4th century but work on the present church was begun in 1494. The chapels of the apse were finished in 1530 and the transept in 1578.
The early building is in the Gothic style but the western front of the church was built in the classical style. It was completed in 1620.
The Eglise Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protais is home to a fine French Baroque style organ built by François-Henri Clicquot. The organ was restored in the 1970’s but seventeen of the forty-one organ stops remain from the 17th century and fifteen from the 18th century, including all the reeds. All the wind-chests date from before the French revolution.
Perhaps the most celebrated organist of l’Eglise Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protais was the French Baroque composer, organist and harpsichordist, François Couperin.
The church also boasts two other, much smaller, chapel organs.
On 29 March 1918, a German shell fired by the long-range “Paris Gun“, fell on the church during a Good Friday service killing 88 people and wounding 68 others. This was the worst single incident involving the loss of civilian lives during the German bombardment of Paris in 1918.
In 1975, l’Eglise Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protais became the headquarters of the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem founded by Père Pierre-Marie Delfieu. Devoted to monastic life in an urban context, most of its members work part-time in civil occupations.
I went into l’Eglise Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protais recently. As always, I had a sound recorder with me but the sounds I recorded were not the sounds of a service taking place or the sounds of the François-Henri Clicquot organ. Instead, they were quite unexpected sounds.
Sounds inside l’Eglise Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protais:
Yes, I recorded the sounds of the other visitors in the church, their footsteps and their chatter, but the sounds that captivated me were the fascinating sounds of this creaking wooden door.
From now on, these rather haunting sounds are the sounds I shall always associate with l’Eglise Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protais. I can’t help wondering if François Couperin would recognise them.
THE TRAGIC STORY OF Héloïse and Abelard seems to come alive when you stand on the Quai aux Fleurs in the 4th arrondissement.
It was here, at N°9, that the two lovers lived in 1118 according to the plaque on the wall. It also says that the house was renovated in 1849.
I found myself in the Quai aux Fleurs today heading for somewhere completely different but I couldn’t pass this house without pausing and thinking about their story. I stood with the Ile Saint-Louis and the sounds of La Seine behind me as I pondered the fate of these two lovers.
La Seine from the Quai aux Fleurs:
Abelard arrived in Paris from his home in Nantes in 1100. He came to Paris to improve his education and eventually became a respected teacher. He was approached by Fulbert, a canon of Notre Dame to give lessons to Fulbert’s niece, Héloïse, something Abelard readily agreed to do. Despite the difference in their ages, Abelard was 39 and Héloïse was 18, they fell passionately in love much to the consternation of Fulbert.
To escape Fulbert’s anger, Héloïse and Abelard fled to Brittany where they had a son. They returned to Paris but Fulbert had been plotting his revenge. He hired men to capture and castrate Abelard. The couple were separated. Abelard became a monk and founded the Paraclete oratory and Héloïse became a nun at Argenteuil Convent.
Despite their forced separation, their love endured. Abelard died in 1142 at the Saint-Marcel monastery in Châlon-sur-Saône. Héloïse had his body secretly transferred to the Paraclete.
Twenty-two years later, Héloïse died and was buried beside Abelard in his coffin. This was not discovered until centuries later when, in 1630, an abbess decided to carefully sort and separate the lovers’ bones.
Today, they are reunited once again in Père Lachaise cemetery and I’m sure their love still endures.
Pictures at Père Lachaise courtesy of Wikipedia
THE RUE DES ROSIERS is a medieval street in the 4th arrondissement of Paris dating from the early thirteenth century. Originally, it was a chemin de ronde, a parapet or rampart walk on part of the wall of Philippe Auguste, the first wall to surround Paris. It takes its name from the rosiers or rose bushes surrounding this part of the wall.
Today, the Rue des Rosiers lies at the centre of the Jewish quarter in Paris known as the “Pletzl” or “little place” in Yiddish. This is not new of course; a Jewish community has lived in this area since the thirteenth century.
Streets like the Rue des Rosiers evolve and change as times, populations, and tastes change. The queues lining up outside the specialist food shops are common currency today.
The sounds of Rue des Rosiers:
In recent times, a tide of gentrification has swept over this and the surrounding area as the so-called “Bobos” – bourgeois-bohemians who want to live in Paris, but can’t afford property in the more upmarket neighbourhoods moved in.
And whilst some of the character remains, some of it has been lost as fashion shops sporting some of the trendiest fashion labels have moved into the area willing to pay the crazy prices for property.
This shop, Le Temps des Cerises, (Cherry Time) is now an upmarket clothes shop but it was once famous as the Goldenberg Pletzl restaurant and delicatessen, better known as “Jo Goldenberg’s”, serving up potato latkes, matzo ball soup or corned beef sandwiches to Parisian Jews and tourists alike.
In 1982, Jo Goldenberg’s kosher restaurant became even more famous for all the wrong reasons. On 9th August, a grenade was thrown into the restaurant. Pandemonium ensued as two masked gunmen burst in and sprayed the room with machine gun fire killing six people and injuring twenty-two.
After the 1982 attack, Goldenberg’s re-opened and business returned to normal. In 2006, after a change of management, some internal feuding and a string of poor hygiene reports, Goldenberg’s finally put up the shutters and closed. The gradual gentrification of the area and subsequent skyrocketing property prices put the premises beyond the reach of the local community. In 2008, property developers put it up for rent and, like so many properties in the area, it was snapped up by a large fashion chain.
It seems that the Rue des Rosiers and Jo Goldenberg’s were able to survive a terrorist attack … but not a fashion attack.
THE MARAIS DISTRICT of Paris, in the 4th arrondissement, is hugely popular. Home to a Royal residence in the 17th century, it was abandoned to the people during the French Revolution and descended into an architectural wasteland before being rescued in the 1960’s. Today, the area is very fashionable again with galleries, restaurants, chic fashion boutiques and cultural centres. All year round, the Marais is a busy, bustling place – so sometimes it’s nice to find a quieter, less crowded spot.
The Impasse de la Poissonnerie is to be found in the Marais between the rue Jarente and the Marché Sainte-Catherine.
What would be called in English a “dead-end street” becomes an Impasse in French – a much more elegant way of expressing the term I always think.
I came across the Impasse de la Poissonnerie recently for the first time. It’s another of those surprises that delight those of us who search this city for the unexpected.
In times gone by this used to be an open street, one of several used to supply goods to the Marché Sainte-Catherine just beyond. Although this street is now blocked off, the original fountain remains.
Sounds of the fountain:
The clue as to what might have happened in this street in former times comes from its name. The word Poissonnerie suggests an association with fish and so it comes as no surprise to find that this street was originally home to the fish vendors who supplied the market.
Today, the street is largely deserted. Only the name of the street and the fish included in the fountain façade serve to remind us that this too was once a busy, bustling place.