ON A RAINY SATURDAY in October this year I came upon the Jardin Partagé du Clos des Blancs Manteaux, a delightful garden hidden away in a former schoolyard in rue des Blancs-Manteaux in Paris’ 4th arrondissement.
Jardin Partagé du Clos des Blancs-Manteaux
Having discovered the garden, I resolved to go back before the end of the year and explore rue des Blancs-Manteaux itself. My preferred method for exploring Parisian streets is through sound so the other day I made my way to rue des Blancs-Manteaux in the Marais district and walked along the street recording the sounds around me.
Rue des Blancs-Manteaux towards the north-west
Rue des Blancs-Manteaux – A Soundwalk:
Running in a north-westerly direction from rue Vieille-du-Temple to rue du Temple, rue des Blancs-Manteaux is 330 metres long and 10 metres wide.
It’s an ancient Parisian street and it’s had a succession of names – ‘rue de la Petite-Parcheminerie’, ‘rue de la Vieille-Parcheminerie’, ‘rue de la Parcheminerie’ – but its present name was settled upon in 1289.
Rue des Blancs-Manteaux took its name from the neighbouring Couvent des Blancs Manteaux, a monastery of religious mendicants known as les Serfs de la Vierge Marie (Servants of the Virgin Mary). The order was distinctive because of the white habits they wore so they became known as the White Friars, hence the name Blancs-Manteaux.
The order of the Servants of the Virgin Mary was wound up, along with other mendicant orders, in 1274 and replaced by an order of Guillemites who wore black habits. However, the name Blancs-Manteaux was retained.
L’Espace d’animation des Blancs Manteaux
I began my soundwalk at the south-easterly end of the street at the junction with rue Vieille-du-Temple and the Halle des Blancs-Manteaux.
Designed by the French architect, Pierre-Jules Delespine, the Halle des Blancs-Manteaux was opened in 1819 as part of a large covered market. In 1992 it became l’Espace d’animation des Blancs Manteaux, a venue for concerts, exhibitions and other events.
Le marché des Blancs-Manteaux vers 1820 – Image via Wikipedia
On the day I went I discovered a contemporary art exhibition taking place in l’Espace d’animation des Blancs Manteaux, which included paintings and photographs …
And a variety of metal and mechanical artworks, some of which made delicious sounds.
Leaving the exhibition, I walked a short way along rue des Blancs-Manteaux to the Square Charles-Victor Langlois. This square is now a children’s playground but in the 13th century one of the buildings of the Couvent des Blancs Manteaux stood here.
Square Charles-Victor Langlois
My next stop was the Théatre des Blancs-Manteaux …
Théatre des Blancs-Manteaux
And then, directly opposite, l’Église Notre-Dame-des-Blancs-Manteaux.
This church was once part of the Couvent des Blancs Manteaux. Originally, the church ran in the conventional east-west direction along rue de Blancs-Manteaux but between 1685 and 1690 the church was reconstructed on the north-south axis it occupies today.
Victor Baltard added the present day façade to the church in 1863. It was originally the façade of l’Église Saint-Éloi-des-Barnabites on boulevard du Palais on the Île de la Cité but that church was demolished during Haussmann’s redevelopment of the city.
I walked up the steps and went into the church.
Listening to the contrast between the sounds outside the church to those on the inside was the highlight of my soundwalk. Captured in sound, the change of atmosphere seemed quite dramatic.
And I couldn’t possibly visit this church without mentioning the organ.
The Grand Orgue de l’Eglise Notre-Dame des Blancs-Manteaux is a Callinet organ built in 1841. The Callinet family were French organ builders located in Colmar in Alsace and for a little over a century they built some 150 organs of which about 60 are preserved.
Mont de Piété
Leaving l’Église Notre-Dame-des-Blancs-Manteaux I moved on to look at the building next door, the Mont de Piété.
A Mont de Piété is an institutional pawnbroker. Originating in Italy in the 15th century and operated by the Catholic Church as a charity, they were set up as a reform against money lending. They offered financial loans at a moderate interest to those in need.
The Mont de Piété worked by acquiring a monte, a collection of funds from voluntary donations by financially privileged people who had no intentions of regaining their money. People in need would come to the Mont de Piété and give an item of value in exchange for a monetary loan. The term of the loan would be for a year and would only be worth about two-thirds of the borrower’s item value. A pre-determined interest rate would be applied to the loan and these profits were used to pay the expenses of operating the Mont de Piété.
The Mont de Piété in rue des Blancs-Manteaux was opened in 1778 with Framboisier de Beaunay as its first director.
In 1918, to reflect its gradual move into banking, the Mont de Piété was renamed the Crédit Municipal de Paris, the name by which it’s still known.
In 1987, the Mont de Piété opened a network of local branches in Paris and the Île de France and in 1988 an art conservation department was opened.
In 1992, the Mont de Piété became the responsibility of the City of Paris, which is its sole shareholder.
Moving on from the Mont de Piété, I came to N°21 rue des Blancs-Manteaux, a former school behind which is the Jardin Partagé du Clos des Blancs-Manteaux.
A little further on, it’s necessary to cross over rue des Archives before continuing along rue des Blancs-Manteaux to its end point where it meets rue du Temple.
Junction with Rue du Temple
It doesn’t take long to walk the length of rue des Blancs-Manteaux but, if like me, you can’t resist stopping to look at the sites, listen to the sounds and absorb the street’s history, it can take a whole afternoon.
MANY PEOPLE VISIT GARDENS to look at them and maybe even smell them but few I suspect go to listen to them. It wasn’t what I had in mind when I left home, but I spent part of a recent Saturday afternoon doing just that – listening to a garden.
I had decided to go to le Marais, a part of Paris I know reasonably well but don’t go to all that often, save for my regular visits to the Musée Carnavalet of course.
I emerged from the Métro station Saint-Paul into the Saturday afternoon bustle of le Marias and spent the next three hours or so walking the streets, dodging the showers, listening and hunting for sounds to add to my Paris Soundscapes Archive.
Towards the end of the afternoon I found myself in an unfamiliar street, Rue des Blancs Manteaux. I’ve since discovered that the street takes its name from a monastery where, in 1258, Louis IX settled beggar monks belonging to the order of the Servants of Mary. The monks were noted for the white habits they wore hence, Rue des Blancs Manteaux.
Walking along the street I discovered the square Charles-Victor-Langlois, once the site of the monastery, a church, l’église Notre-Dame-des-Blancs-Manteaux and a theatre, le théâtre des Blancs-Manteaux.
But it was at N° 21 Rue des Blancs Manteaux that I came upon a complete surprise.
Behind a large wooden door was a passageway leading to a garden, the Jardin Partagé du Clos des Blancs Manteaux.
L’Association des Jardiniers du 4ème (4th arrondissement Gardner’s Association) opened a small garden here in October 2010, which was extended in 2012. Nestling at the bottom of a former schoolyard, the 100 square metre garden is maintained partly by the Gardner’s Association and partly by the Paris City gardeners. The garden is divided into separate plots including vegetable plots based on the theme of ‘urban agriculture’, with peas, tomatoes, herbs, potatoes and maïs amongst other things.
I went to investigate the garden and was immediately struck by how quiet it was. The quietness was enhanced because, with the bustling streets of le Marais just a few steps away, quietness was not what I was expecting.
So unusual is quietness in the heart of the city that I couldn’t resist capturing it. As I began to record it started to rain so I had to scurry off for shelter under a rickety wooden roof covering the compost. It was from there that I listened to and recorded the sounds in the garden.
Sounds of the Jardin Partagé du Clos des Blancs Manteaux:
Listening to the garden was fascinating. The sounds of light rain falling intermittently, dead leaves rolling on the ground, the gentle rustle of the plants swaying in the wind and two ladies walking round the garden talking and passing right in front of me standing amidst the compostage were overlaid with the faint rumble of traffic in the distance, a light aircraft flying overhead, distant birdsong and remarkably, the brief sound of a demonstration drifting on the wind all the way from Place de la Bastille.
In the introduction to her fascinating book, ‘City of Noise – Sound and Nineteenth-Century Paris’, Aimée Boutin quotes John Sanderson who first set foot in Paris in July 1835:
“As for the noise of the streets, I need not attempt to describe it. What idea can ears, used only to the ordinary and human noises, conceive of this unceasing racket … All things of this earth seek, at one time or another, repose – all but the noise of Paris. The waves of the sea are sometimes still, but the chaos of these streets is perpetual from generation to generation; it is the noise that never dies.”
As a professional listener to Paris I have some sympathy with John Sanderson and his first impression of the city. But in the Jardin Partagé du Clos des Blancs Manteaux the sounds of the street, the ‘noise that never dies’ just a few steps beyond the wooden portal, if not in complete repose are at least subdued enough to let the garden speak for itself.
Jardin Partagé du Clos des Blancs Manteaux
21 Rue des Blancs Manteaux, Paris 75004
Open: Saturday and Sunday from 11am
Nearest Métro: Hôtel de Ville or Rambuteau