Today, and for the next few days, I propose to take you to some of the points of interest on the Left Bank of the Seine, or to the Rive Gauche. All of these places, or nearly all of them, will be a little of) to one side or the other of the Boulevard St. Michel, the wide boulevard which starts at the Place St. Michel, runs straight through the middle of the Latin Quarter, and ends at the Boulevard du Montparnasse, somewhere near the end of the Luxembourg Gardens.
For our very first excursion on the Left Bank, we are going to walk down the ancient Rue de la Huchette; then we will visit the Church of Saint Julien-le-Pauvre; and after that we shall walk over to another famous church, the church of Saint Severin. If we had wanted to make this trip after we visited Notre-Dame, we could have walked back over the Petit-Pont, or we could have used the Pont-au-Double, so called because the toll on it was just double from what it was on the other bridges. But as I want to walk you down the entire length of the Rue de la Huchette, we are going to start out from the Place St. Michel again, for when we are on this square, our street will be right at the cathedral end of the square, and one very short block in from the Seine.
If you have ever read Elliot Paul’s best-seller, of twenty years ago, The Last Time I Saw Paris (Random House, 1942) the entire action of which takes places on the Rue de la Huchette, you will probably want to walk down this street before you leave Paris anyway. Nevertheless, I would not want you to think that Mr. Paul discovered the Rue de la Huchette. He didn’t. It was probably discovered by Francois Villon way back during the middle of the fiftenth century, though it probably was already about four hundred years old then. But if Mr. Paul did not discover it, he certainly was the man who wrapped it up and brought it home with him. The Rue de la Huchette, which is only about five hundred feet long, and certainly not much more than fifteen feet wide, and its adjacent streets are probably as typical of the Paris of the twelfth century, as the tourist is apt to find.
In the days of Francois Villon this street used to be known as the street of the “rotisseries,” meaning the street of the cookshops. But although it may at one time have been a street for gourmets, it is difficult to imagine it as anything like that now. If you have read Elliot Paul’s book, you will probably remember a certain house known as “Le Panier Fleuri” (The Basket of Flowers) and its jolly inhabitants-the inhabitants having been the flowers -which was located at the corner of the Rue de la Huchette and the Rue Xavier-Privas. However, if you plan to visit this street, you need not spend any time looking for it. It is no longer there, as all such places have, in the meantime, been declared strictly interdit. But the subterranean cave through which Mr. Paul first became acquainted with this street probably is. In fact the entire neighborhood appears to be dotted with small, inconspicuous cafes and night spots, some on the street level, others in cellars or caves.
The El Djazaire, a small Turkish night club, is on the street level at number 27; the Caveau des Oubliettes, a fourteenth-century cave, featuring old French songs, mostly of the naughty kind, and eighth-century costumes, is in a cellar at the end of the street at number 11 Rue Julien-le-Pauvre. Another similar place is the Caveau de la Bolee, but that is on the other side of the Place St. Michel, at number 25 Rue de 1’Hirondelle. However, these places do not open before ten P.M. and the only acquaintance I have made with any of them was one evening after midnight, when I dropped in on one of them briefly. However, there is one of these caves at number 16 Rue St. Julien-le-Pauvre, which is run as a museum and is open to the public for a small fee during the day. You will find a cellar there-complete with appropriate instruments of torture-of which the vaults, if not the instruments, are said to go all the way back to the fifth century. However, in spite of these grisly surroundings, I would not consider the Rue de la Huchette a dangerous street to walk down on, even after midnight. It probably would have been a different story two hundred years ago. But now, let us continue with our day tour and leave the revelers to their own.
About half way down the street on our left we will come to what is generally considered to be the narrowest street in Paris, the Rue du-Chat-qui-Peche, in other words, the Street of the Cat who Fishes. This “street”-and it is a street because the sign says so, but how different this is from London where one never finds any street signs any place-is about six feet wide and runs the very short distance between the Rue de la Huchette and the Quai St. Michel. Well, maybe two or three hundred years ago there was a cat once which walked up this “street” to look for fish on the banks of the Seine. The Rue de la Huchette, which is not as straight as it looks on the map, ends at the ancient Rue Saint-Jacques. When you come out on this street you will be in full view of Notre-Dame again, but it will, of course, be on the other side of the river. By following the quai, which here becomes the Quai de Montebello, for a few steps you will come to a little, treelined square, known as the Square Ren6-Viviani. It is from this square that you will have the best view of the splendid side elevation of Notre-Dame. In addition to the splendid view you will have of Notre-Dame from this spot, you Will now also be on the site of another famous church, for the church of Saint Juilien-le-Pauvre is right next to this little park.
After you have looked at the side elevation of Notre-Dame, you will probably wonder why I mention the Church of Saint Julien at all. However, not all churches can be as large as Notre-Dame, and if this little church is no older than its big sister across the river, its founding at least goes back much farther in history, for there has been a church, an abbey or a chapel standing on this spot ever since the sixth century. The present church Nvas built during the years 1165 to 1220, which means that it was started shortly after Notre-Dame. It derives its name from Saint Julien who was Bishop of le Mans and was so generous with his purse that he often went lungry himself. It was built to replace a fortified abbey which had stood there for many centuries. At that time, and for many centuries before that, the Rue Saint-Jacques was the principal road into Paris from the south and led directly into the Petit-Pont, the approaches of which were guarded by the Petit-Chatelet, just as the approaches to the Pont-au-Change were guarded by the Grand-Chatelet. Travelers who arrived before Paris after the city gates were closed usually put up at this abbey until the next day. Saint Julien-le-Pauvre is a rather small church and, apart from the fact that some sort of chapel has stood on this spot ever since the sixth century, the present church is known today principally for its richly ornamented columns. At one time it served as a chapel for the nearby Hotel-Dieu, but since 1889 it has been used for the Greek Catholic rites.
Incidentally, I might also mention here that the large section of a wall which juts out toward the left of this church, but seems to be no part of it, is not part of Phil ippe,Auguste’s wall, as you will sometimes see stated in guide books. His wall was quite a bit farther up-stream. This wall is more likely part of the old fortified abbey and was never removed. Anyway, Philippe-Auguste’s wall was a lot more siibstantial than that, as you will see when we get to the Pantheon tomorrow.
And now, there is only one more church we are going to visit in this crowded section, and that is the Church of Saint S6verin. In order to reach this church from our little park, all we will have to do is to walk a few steps past the Church of Saint Julien’s and we will be at the Rye St. S6verin. If you ever make this delightful little excursion into Old Paris, you will probably note that one of the subterranean nightspots I mentioned is right next to the Church of Saint Julien-le-Pauvre. In the one you can hear sacred music in the morning and in the other bawdy songs at night, and all within fifty feet of each other. But these are some of the odd contrasts you are apt to find in the old parts of Paris. However, in all fairness I will have to mention that this is one of the few places of entertainment in Paris that is closed on Sundays. Looking down the Rue St. Severin from the corner of the Rue St. Julien-le-Pauvre and the nearby, sinisterlooking Rue Galande, you will have another view of old Paris that has been many times reproduced in print. Many of the old houses hereabouts lean over crazily and are shored up with heavy timbers. Occasionally, when one returns to one of these old neighborhoods a year or two later, one will find that the shoring has disappeared and that the house has, apparently, been granted another ninety-nine-year lease on life. And since these houses have been standing there for so many centuries, it would be a shame to see them disappear. I, for one, hope that Paris will always keep just a few of its old streets, if only to show us what the city looked like two or three hundred years ago. In addition to the few nightspots I already mentioned, this entire area is dotted with small bistros and restaurants. As you might suspect from the closeness to the Sorbonne, this entire section was, at one time, intimately connected with student life; for before the Boulevard St. Michel was cut through, the Rue SaintJacques was the principal thoroughfare through the Latin Quarter, so that the streets running parallel to, or off from each side of it, were mostly occupied by students. It was during this time also that this quarter obtained its name. Because Latin was the language of the schoolmen, everybody who lived in this quarter came to speak Latin, even in everyday life. In fact, we are told that even the women of the streets did their soliciting in Latin. The quarter, in consequence, became known as the Quartier-Latin, a name by which it has gone ever since.
It was on the Rue Saint-Jacques, but more likely on the section of it closer to the Sorbonne, that Francois Villon first ran afoul of the law when he accidentally killed a clerk, who had provoked him into a brawl, by thumping a rock on his head. Some of the other interesting streets around the vicinity of Saint Julien’s are the Rue du Fouarre, so called because the students used to purchase the straw there on which they sat during their lectures. Also the Rue Dante, which is a continuation of the former and runs into the Rue Saint-Jacques, on which a short walk will take you to the Sorbonne. Dante, .as you may know, was a student at this university at one time too, so that this street is probably named after him for a very good reason. Directly across the street from the Rue Dante, but on the other side of the Rue Saint-Jacques there is another street the name of which will remind us of the people with whom this quarter was formerly associated, and that is the Rue de la Parcheminerie, or the street of the parchment makers, the copyists, and the illuminators. This street is adjacent to the south side of the Church of Saint Severin and we will take a brief look ,at it in a little while.
The Church of Saint Severin is about a five-minute walk from the Church of Saint Julien-le-Pauvre and if we did not tarry to take in the sights-and we are tarryingwe could probably make this entire trip, starting at the Place St. Michel, down the Rue de la Huchette, then back the parallel Rue St. Swerin, in less than thirty minutes. Incidentally, if you want to know what a real ,cul-de-sac looks like, you will find one on your right, running off this street just after you crossed the Rue SaintJacques, which, in spite of the fact that it was at one time a main thoroughfare through the Latin Quarter is not as wide as you might have pictured it. This cul-de-sac is marked on your map as the “Imp. Sal.” which, written .out, means Impasse Salembriere. Some day, when I want to test a Paris taxi driver’s almost miraculous knowledge .of the city, I am going to ask him to take me to the Impasse Salembri~re and see what he says. Anyway, to come back to Saint Severin’s again, when we come to this church we come to another religious site the history of which goes back for many centuries. The Church of Saint Severin originally obtained its name from a pious hermit who lived on this spot during the time of Clovis (481-511), and believe me, that is going back quite a bit. Outside of the fact that it was Severin who induced Clovis’s grandson Clodoad, who later became Saint Cloud, to become a monk, nothing is known of S6verin. When he died, an oratory was erected on the spot where he had lived. This was later replaced by a chapel and still later by a church, so that by the middle of the eleventh century the Church of Saint Severin had become the principal church on the Left Bank of the Seine.
The present church, or perhaps most of it, dates from the thirteenth century and is Gothic in style. The interior of it is considered by -many critics to be the most exquisite of any church in Paris. But, of course, every church has its own particular feature which distinguishes it from any other. In the case of Saint Severin’s the particular feature is the apse and the feathered columns that surround it, and look like spreading palm trees. Another unusual feature of Saint Severin’s is its unusual width in proportion to its length, the church being one hundred twelve feet wide against only one hundred sixty-four feet long. In comparison, Notre-Dame is one hundred fiftyeight feet wide and four hundred twenty-seven feet long. The disproportion at Saint Severin’s resulted from the fact that the church had to be enlarged during the fourteenth century. Since it stood between two streets, the only way to make it larger was to make it wider. Accordingly, an additional aisle was added on each side of it. When the Dmhess of Montpensier, who was also known as La Grande Mademoiselle, moved from the parish of Saint Eustache to that of Saint Severin in 1681, she contributed large sums of money to have the choir and the nave of this church “modernized” by the architect Le Brun. This was the same Grande Mademoiselle who, during the wars of the Fronde, when she was only twenty-five years of age, ordered the cannons of the Bastille turned on the armies of the breat Cond6 and then went in person to open the city gates to the armies of ‘Turenne. She, too, was no dummy.
The last addition to the Church of Saint Severin was probably made in 1839 when the eighteenth-century portal from the Church of Saint Pierre-aux-Boeufs, which Baron Haussmann had dismantled on the Cit6 in order to make room for the Rue d’Arcole, was brought here and installed as the main portal. All this will probably suggest to you that it is not always easy to state in a few words when these buildings went up or who was responsible for them. To the right of the church, adjoining the Rue de la Parcheminerie, there is a little garden surrounded by a fifteen th-c:entury gallery. These galleries at one time enclosed a little cemetery and also acted as an ossuary when the cemetery got too full. It is said to be the only ossuary still in existence in Paris, though the bones have, of course; been removed to the catacombs long ago.
And now, we shall go back to the Place St. Michel again, but in order to take in just one more old street we shall not follow the Rue St. S6verin to its termination on the Boulevard St. Michel, but turn up the ancient Rue de la Harpe just before we get to the boulevard. It was on this sweet, we are told, that Madame Roland lived when she was arrested, but that was probably after her husband, who had been Minister of the Interior, had had to flee to Rouen. When `ve come to the end of this street we tivill again be on the Rue de la Huchette and our tour through old Paris will have come to an end. I will see you next at the Pantheon.