Parisian Life

Philippe Auguste’s city walls

Town planning genius and supreme visionary, Philippe Auguste, decided that Paris should henceforth be surrounded by walls. And significant ones at that! For a quarter of a century (1190 – 1213) a thick rampart some 3 metres high (10m in places) and five and a half kilometres long sprang up from Paris’ soil. In this way, Philippe Auguste gave Paris a real sense of unity. Integrated by its limits, and its boundaries, the city became a physical entity, quantifiable, just as much living as moving. Suddenly, Paris existed, written in stone, rooted in the ground of the old Sequanais marsh.

You can find numerous relics of these walls scattered about old Paris. The most impressive of these can be found in the public sports ground at rue des Jardins Saint Paul. Elsewhere on the Right Bank, from the Marais to Les Halles, the vestiges of rue des Rosiers, rue des Hospitalières St Gervais, Louvre and Jour streets, they are worked into modern buildings, sometimes entirely rebuilt.

These sections of wall or the slopes of fortified towers even seem to have figured in the initial layouts of these recent buildings. It’s the same on the Left Bank:  rue Guénégaud, impasse de Nevers, passage Dauphine, rue Mazarine: all these passageways have relics of the medieval wall, often hidden in a back-courtyard or a parking lot.

In the Cour de commerce Saint André, a few steps from Odéon, behind the restaurant Procope, one can find a superb section of a tower, in the interior of a house! The streets of Thouin, Descartes, and the top end of Cardinal Lemoine street also have parts of the wall mixed into residences. The strangest being at 2bis rue des Ecoles, where a dreadful Post Office building is located. In its basement is an archway from the wall, where it crossed the Bièvre