Parisian Life

Do you remember the Zone?

Whilst the memory of the ramparts of Thiers is sunk under the ring road, there is one image that remains in the mind of Paris’ pedestrians: the Zone. This was the nickname for the 250 metres of protected land at the foot of the battlement.

From the time the wall was built, numerous little makeshift houses, wooden or corrugated iron shacks were built on this greenbelt on which construction was prohibited, home to a marginalised community that inspired writers, photographers and filmmakers of poetic realism. It was here that locals picked up dog shit to resell to tawers. It’s here that the “Apaches” hid themselves away (they fascinated the Parisians of the Belle Epoque). Rag and bone men, shabby gardens, resellers of all sorts of skin: to be frank, in this zone anything and everything could be trafficked. Parisians tended to dump their rubbish outside of the city (i.e. beyond the wall), and such waste was recovered by the Zone’s residents who quickly made a business out of it. From whence came the “Puces” – flea market…

The Zone remained an almost rustic destination frequented by Parisians on a Sunday. Those who didn’t have the courage (or the means) to wander as far as the shanty cafés on the edge of the Marne came here to eat mussels and fries in the make-shift bistros.

The Zone has always fascinated, for better or worse. Some believed it home to over half a million people, when in fact it wasn’t more than twenty thousand at the dawn of the Great War. Twenty years later, there were almost 40,000 poor wretches, even though bit by bit the land was divided into lots of “City of Paris” buildings.

In 1926, after the wall was demolished, the clean up of the Zone began. But it would take almost 30 years to evict all its inhabitants. Today, the Zone no longer exists. Its memory resided for a while in the 12th Arrondissement in the form of a street called rue de la Zone. This was renamed rue Auguste Escoffier in 1954…