Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Sab's Paris Quirks & Curios: "Paris In Wonderland"


Sab's Paris Quirks & Curios
Introduction 
by Sab Will,  wannabe offbeat Paris street guru

The title says it all: quirks and curiosities. And as luck would have it, Paris is packed with them; you just have to know where to look!

In this on-going series I offer you some hand picked, photographed and commented oddities which particularly interested me, and I hope will do the same for you.

I'm an avid collector of such items so any comments and suggestions you may have would be very welcome. So, without further ado, let's get straight onto...

Sab's Paris Quirks & Curios
1st Arrondissement: Quirk 3 ~ "Paris In Wonderland"

An ordinary Paris building...

This has to be my best-ever argument for boring people to death by saying 'Remember to look up!' over and over again.

Of course, you should look straight ahead, and down too (expecially in Paris to avoid the poochy-poos!) but raising your eyes above, well, eye-level, will often pay handsome dividends.

Such is the case here. What we see from eye-level is a more or less normal-looking central Parisian building.

Paris, they say, is one of the most 'lived in' capitals in Europe. That is to say, there are plenty of people living their little Parisian lives right in the middle of the city, coming out of their apartments and wandering directly along the Isle Saint-Louis, Boulevard Saint-Germain or Rue Saint-Honoré, as here.

Those saints certainly got around a bit, didn't they, but they didn't always have an easy, albeit posthumous time of it, as we see in various other Paris Quirks.

Anyway, back to our boring old building - on closer inspection it's not quite so banal...

Raise your gaze and look what appears: the strangest set of chimneys you ever did see!

...except for one thing!

Well what do you know - two or three of these chimney rows are completely wonky in relation to the underlying buildings... or are they? Without background knowledge it would be almost impossible to guess the reason for this seemingly mad architectural anomaly. But the chimneys aren't the only things which are totally off kilter.

Let's have a better look at the shop Direct Or ('Direct Gold' - I'll have some of that!) which we can see in the first photo.

"The chimneys aren't the only things
which are completely skewiff..."

See anything odd about it? Well, you might have guessed by now that it's as wonky as the chimneys it's supporting, like something out of Alice in Wonderland. Just beyond the door on the left you can see the wall cutting across the floor at a sharp angle. This is because the walls of Cofraor next door do exactly the same thing.

Not the 'straightest' of gold dealers!
And if you were to take the little passageway on the left of Cofraor you'd immediately be heading off at a sharp north-easterly angle as opposed to the more northerly one you might have expected judging by the disposition of the rue Saint-Honoré itself.

To fully understand the underlying cause for all this tangential tomfoolery you would, indeed, have to go deep and see just what is lying under these strange architectural hiccups.

And down in the basements and cellars, lurking behind piles of old junk and possibly modern plaster or brick facade, we might just find some very old and chunky stones, all in a row (or two).

What we're looking at here is the ancient traces of the Philippe Auguste wall, laid down around the year 1200, designed to protect his city when he went Crusadavanting off across Europe.

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Paris history right beneath your feet
The Philippe Auguste wall on the right bank passed this way, and as the city grew, some of it was torn down, but the useful parts, such as rock-solid foundations and supporting walls, were often simply incorporated into the new constructions.

And what's more, people had, by this time, staked claims to the land delimited by the wall, and the wall may have passed away, but the landrights remained, leading to some pretty odd design decisions to be sure.

The wall was wide, and actually consisted of two solid walls with some rubbly-type infill in the middle. To get an idea of the width of the original wall, have a look at... oh, the Cofraor store, for example.


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* Sab Will runs Photo and Curios Tours in Paris, and also manages a variety of Paris and photography-themed sites and blogs. He writes an illustrated Paris Chronicle every day, runs a Meetup group for Paris lovers, interviews Paris personalities and reviews Paris books (on this blog), and even contributes to the city's street art (shh), so feel free to browse some of the links below and in the right-hand column to find out more about what he gets up to out there...

                       
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© 2012 Sab Will / Paris Set Me Free - Suggestions, questions, requests and offers always welcome!

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