I ALWAYS THINK it’s better to visit a hospital out of curiosity rather than out of necessity. The other day it was curiosity that led me to the Hôpital Lariboisière in the 10th arrondissement a short step away from the Gare du Nord.
The Hôpital Lariboisière was born out of the cholera epidemic that hit Paris in 1832. The Hôtel Dieu, the oldest hospital in Paris, took the brunt of the epidemic and it is said that by the end of March 1832 every admission to the Hôtel Dieu was for cholera and practically no one was discharged. Almost 20,000 souls died from the six-month epidemic.
L’Hôtel Dieu during the cholera epidemic 1832 – Painting by Alfred Johannot
Devastating though it was, the epidemic did produce some positive results. In the 19th century curing cholera was like clutching at straws so attention turned towards prevention rather than cure. Major steps were taken to improve the city’s hygiene and by the time Baron Haussmann began rebuilding Paris in 1853 the hygienist movement had become the major force in urban planning. Slums were demolished, streets widened, the sewage system improved and a new hospital was built to serve the inhabitants on the Right Bank – the Hôpital Lariboisière.
The French architect, Martin-Pierre Gauthier, designed the new hospital based on the hygienist principles of providing plenty of light and air, a free flow of water and pavilions separated by galleries to prevent cross infection. His design comprised six buildings arranged around a central courtyard connected by colonnaded walkways.
A bequest from Eliza Roy Comtesse de Lariboisière financed the building of the hospital. The Comtesse had no heirs and so she bequeathed her fortune to the City of Paris to create ‘un hospice pour les malades qui portera mon nom Hospice Lariboisière’. The Comtesse died on 27th December 1851 and on 29th July 1853 an Imperial decree confirmed that the hospital was to be named Hôpital Lariboisière, the name by which it’s still known today. The hospital was opened in 1854.
The tomb of the Comtesse de Lariboisière, designed by the Italian born French sculptor, Carlo Marochetti, rests in the hospital chapel.
Today, behind it’s 19th century façade, the Hôpital Lariboisière is a busy, modern hospital with around 1,000 beds. Together with two other hospitals very close by, Hôpital Saint-Louis and Hôpital Fernand Widal, the Hôpital Lariboisière is part of the Groupe Hospitalier Universitaire Saint-Louis, Lariboisière, Fernand Widal, which together offer a comprehensive range of medical services.
I went to explore the Hôpital Lariboisière. I wandered through the gardens outside and along the quadrangle of long corridors inside on the ground floor, the arteries that lead to the ars medicina beyond.
Here are some of the sights and sounds I discovered.
Hôpital Lariboisière – A Soundwalk:
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ONE MIGHT BE FORGIVEN for thinking that exploring the sewers of Paris is rather a bizarre way to spend an afternoon. On the contrary, it’s fascinating … if a little malodorous.
Entrance to Le Musée des Égouts de Paris
The Sounds in the Boutique:
Many people have written about the sewers of Paris but few have done it better than Victor Hugo …
“Paris has another Paris under herself; a Paris of sewers; which has its streets, its crossings, its squares, its blind alleys, its arteries, and its circulation, which is slime, minus the human form.”
(Les Miserables, Jean Valjean; Book II, ch.I)
And then further on …
Let the reader imagine Paris lifted off like a cover, the subterranean net-work of sewers, from a bird’s eye view, will outline on the banks a species of large branch grafted on the river. On the right bank, the belt sewer will form the trunk of this branch, the secondary ducts will form the branches, and those without exit the twigs.
This figure is but a summary one and half exact, the right angle, which is the customary angle of this species of subterranean ramifications, being very rare in vegetation.
A more accurate image of this strange geometrical plan can be formed by supposing that one is viewing some eccentric oriental alphabet, as intricate as a thicket, against a background of shadows, and the misshapen letters should be welded one to another in apparent confusion, and as at haphazard, now by their angles, again by their extremities.
(Les Miserables, Jean Valjean; Book II, ch.II)
The ‘belt sewer’ to which Hugo refers was built on the Right Bank of la Seine in the time of Louis XIV but the Left Bank was not so lucky, there the river Biévre was used as their sewer.
Pierre Emmanuel Bruneseau was the Inspector of Works for the City of Paris and in 1805 he set about exploring and mapping the ancient and ageing sewer system. Victor Hugo was a friend of Bruneseau and he wrote that, “Nothing could equal the horror of this old, waste crypt, the digestive apparatus of Babylon.” When he finished the work in 1812 Bruneseau he was hailed as “intrepid” and the “Christopher Columbus of the cess-pool”.
The Sounds in the Galerie Bruneseau:
By the middle of the nineteenth-century, Baron Haussmann was not only transforming Second Empire Paris above ground, his reach had also extended below ground. In March 1855 he appointed Eugène Belgrand, a French engineer, as Director of Water and Sewers of Paris.
Belgrand embarked on an ambitious project. The tunnels he designed were intended to be clean, easily accessible, and substantially larger than the previous Parisian underground. Under his guidance, Paris’s sewer system expanded fourfold between 1852 and 1869. He also addressed the city’s fresh water needs, constructing a system of aqueducts that nearly doubled the amount of water available per person per day and quadrupled the number of homes with running water.
In recognition of his work, Belgrand’s name is one of seventy-two names engraved on the Eiffel Tower and the main gallery of le Musée des Égouts is also named after him, as is a street in Paris.
The Sounds in the Galerie Belgrand:
The Parisian sewers mirror the streets above. Each sewer “street” has its own blue and white enamel street sign and the outflow of each building is identified by its real street number.
One of the displays in the museum that attracts a great deal of attention is this giant iron ball. The sewers are regularly cleaned using spheres like this, just smaller than the system’s tunnels. The build up of water pressure behind the ball forces it through the tunnel network until it emerges somewhere downstream pushing a mass of filthy sludge.
The Parisian sewers have always fascinated tourists and they were first opened to the public during the Exposition Universelle of 1867. At that time, they stretched for 600 km underneath the city. Today, that has been extended to 2,100 km. Every day, 1.2 million cubic metres of water pass through the system. The sewer system not only handles drinkable and non-drinkable water but it’s also home to telecommunication cables and traffic-light management cables.
It’s worth remembering that this section of the Paris sewers may be a museum but it’s also a working sewer and the dominant sounds of the museum are the sounds of sewage water passing under one’s feet!
Perhaps Victor Hugo should have the last word …
The sewer is the conscience of the city. Everything there converges and confronts everything else. In that livid spot there are shades, but there are no longer any secrets. Each thing bears its true form, or at least, its definitive form. The mass of filth has this in its favour, that it is not a liar. Ingenuousness has taken refuge there. The mask of Basil is to be found there, but one beholds its cardboard and its strings and the inside as well as the outside, and it is accentuated by honest mud. Scapin’s false nose is its next-door neighbour. All the uncleannesses of civilization, once past their use, fall into this trench of truth, where the immense social sliding ends. They are there engulfed, but they display themselves there. This mixture is a confession. There, no more false appearances, no plastering over is possible, filth removes its shirt, absolute denudation puts to the rout all illusions and mirages, there is nothing more except what really exists, presenting the sinister form of that which is coming to an end. There, the bottom of a bottle indicates drunkenness, a basket-handle tells a tale of domesticity; there the core of an apple which has entertained literary opinions becomes an apple-core once more; the effigy on the big sou becomes frankly covered with verdigris, Caiphas’ spittle meets Falstaff’s puking, the louis-d’or which comes from the gaming-house jostles the nail whence hangs the rope’s end of the suicide. A livid foetus rolls along, enveloped in the spangles which danced at the Opera last Shrove-Tuesday, a cap which has pronounced judgment on men wallows beside a mass of rottenness which was formerly Margoton’s petticoat; it is more than fraternization, it is equivalent to addressing each other as thou. All which was formerly rouged is washed free. The last veil is torn away. A sewer is a cynic. It tells everything.
THE ÉGLISE SAINT-AUGUSTIN DE PARIS is to be found in the 8th Arrondissement amidst Baron Haussmann’s rectilinear avenues.
The Église Saint-Augustin was designed and built by the French architect, Louis Baltard between 1860 and 1871. As well as building Saint-Augustin, Baltard was also involved with the restoration of several Parisian churches including Saint Germain l’Auxerrois, St. Eustache, Saint-Germain-des-Prés and Saint-Séverin. He is perhaps best known though for building the twelve pavilions of Les Halles, the former central market in Paris.
The Église Saint-Augustin is almost 100 metres long and the dome stands 80 metres high. The church incorporates several architectural styles, Roman, Gothic, Byzantine and Renaissance but its main feature is that it is the first church in Paris to be built around a metal frame.
Inside the Église Saint-Augustin:
The church is dedicated to the philosopher and theologian, Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430), patron saint of brewers, printers and theologians. His writings, including his framing of the concepts of original sin and just war, were very influential in the development of Western Christianity.
The Église Saint-Augustin boasts not one, but two organs. The first, the Orgue de tribune or Gallery Organ, was built by Charles S. Barker, an Englishman, and it was inaugurated on June 17, 1868. The occasion aroused great interest in France and abroad because it was the first organ to be powered by electricity.
The second organ, the Orgue de choeur or Chancel Organ, was inaugurated in 1899.
The great French organ builder, Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, was involved with both organs. In 1899, Aristide Cavaillé-Coll completed the rebuilding and enlarging of the Gallery Organ. The organ was enlarged again in 1925 by Charles Mutin. More modifications were made in 1962 and, in 1988, the instrument was completely revoiced and rebuilt by the organ builder Bernard Dargassies.
Charles Eugène de Foucauld was a French Catholic priest living among the Tuareg in the Sahara in Algeria. He was assassinated in 1916 outside the door of the fort he built for protection of the Tuareg. On November 13th, 2005, de Foucauld was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI and listed as a martyr in the liturgy of the Catholic Church.
It was in 1886 in the Église Saint-Augustin that de Foucauld spoke with Father Huvelin. Father Huvelin encouraged de Foucauld to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land where he was inspired to begin the spiritual work that led to his death. There is a chapel in the Église Saint-Augustin dedicated to Charles Eugène de Foucauld.
As an unashamed organ enthusiast, I have one remaining fact to share, which has little to do with the Église Saint-Augustin but is connected to the architect of this church, Louis Baltard. Amongst all the other work he did in Paris, Baltard also built the tomb of Louis James Alfred Lefébure-Wély (1817-1869) at Père Lachaise Cemetery. Who is Lefébure-Wély I hear you ask.
Lefébure-Wély was a French organist and composer who played a major role in the development of the French symphonic organ style and was a close friend of the organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, inaugurating many new Cavaillé-Coll organs. Lefébure-Wély left a considerable catalogue of compositions for both organ and piano but he is perhaps most well known for one work in particular, the Sortie in E-Flat, which still seems to be as popular as ever.
Thanks to the involvement of Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, the Gallery organ of the Église Saint-Augustin has exactly the symphonic qualities required to do justice to the works of Lefébure-Wély.
Sortie in E-Flat; Lefébure-Wély:
IT WAS A DECREE SIGNED on 3rd September 1860 by Baron Haussmann that authorised the opening of the Passage des Princes, the last of the passages couverts parisiens to be opened.
The Passage des Princes sits between the Boulevard des Italiens and the rue de Richelieu in the 2nd arrondissement and it, along with the Passage des Panoramas, the Passage Jouffroy and the Passage Verdeau, form the quartet of passage couverts known as the Passage du Boulevards.
Sounds inside the Passage des Princes:
The Passage des Princes was originally called the Passage Mirès, named after the banker, Jules Mirés who bought the Grand Hôtel des Princes et de l’Europe at 97 Rue de Richelieu. Mirès demolished the hôtel to make way for the passage and a new pedestrian access connecting the Rue de Richelieu and the Boulevard des Italiens. Unfortunately for Mirès, his bank collapsed shortly after his funding of the new passage couvert was completed.
Originally, this passage comprised relatively small ground-floor shops surmounted by a sloping glass roof punctuated by a double span metal arch decorated with arabesques and it looks much the same today. However, what we see today is not the original Passage des Princes.
In 1985, the original Passage des Princes was destroyed in the interests of another real-estate scheme. Thankfully, wiser heads prevailed and the passage was subsequently rebuilt faithful to its original form.
Today, the Passage des Princes is a lively and elegant place where all the shops cater for children. It’s a veritable Kid’s Kingdom.
Passage des Princes, 3/5 boulevard des Italiens and 97 rue de Richelieu 75002 Paris. Métro Richelieu-Drouot. Open Monday to Saturday 10.00 to 20.00
You can see more of Les Passages Couverts here:
I CAME UPON IT by chance. I was strolling along one of Baron Haussmann’s creations, the Boulevard Bonne Nouvelle – one of his Grands Boulevards. I stopped to admire the wonderful art deco Rex cinema – worthy of a complete essay to itself.
I walked a little further on and my eye caught some stone steps, the kind of steps that you just know you have to explore. I climbed the steps and discovered that I was in the Rue Notre Dame de Bonne Nouvelle, named after the Eglise Notre Dame de Bonne Nouvelle, which sits on the left, half way up the street.
Before reaching the church, the garden behind this metal fence caught my attention. From deep within I could hear birdsong. I sat on the wall to the right of the gate, listened and began to record.
Sounds in the Rue Notre Dame de Bonne Nouvelle:
What I heard was the birdsong behind me competing with the sounds of exuberant children and both competing with the ebb and flow of the traffic as the traffic lights turned from green to red and then back again in the Boulevard Bonne Nouvelle. With the traffic lights at red and the traffic stopped I could hear pigeons cooing on the street in front of me and then, as the lights turned to green, the flapping of their wings as they flew off searching for a traffic and probably a children free zone. I doubt that they found either.