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In Paris I Visit The Marais

Professor Arnie Greenberg

It was once a place for kings, a place where grand houses originally called Hotels were erected and aristocrats moved from the traditional center of the city. Located between the Beaubourg and the Bastille this area of Royalty, known as Le Marais or ‘swamp’, was totally abandoned, looted and turned into a wasteland during the Revolution. But in the 1960’s the reconstruction began and the 17th century world of Henry IV came to life again when the Place Des Vosges, and the surrounding royal residence was reconstructed together with the great buildings like Hotel Sully, Hotel Carnavalet, Hotel de Rohan and the Hotel Sale. Le Marais is now a protected area. Filled with galleries, fashionable restaurants, cultural centers and narrow streets, The Marais became the most fascinating area of Paris. Declared an historical monument by the de Gaulle government in 1962, the narrow streets offer artisans, cafes, pastry shops and a wonderful ethnic mix. It should be high on every visitor’s list. I can’t imagine Paris without the smart Marais.

I walk from the Place de La Bastille west along rue St Antoine, once the most elegant street in Paris. I turn into the tiny rue de Birague, once the site of my first Paris hotel. It is from here that one enters the magnificently elegant Royal Square, later to be renamed Place des Vosges with the arcaded symmetrical buildings surrounding a beautiful square. Behind is a King’s Pavilion. Ahead, lived the Queen on the opposite side of the grassed square. Yes, the King and Queen had different residences in those days.At No.1 Madam de Sevigne was born. Cardinal Richelieu lived for a time at No. 21 and Victor Hugo lived at No. 6 from 1832-1848. In the center of the magnificent garden stands a beautiful statue of Louis XIII.

On that early morning, when I first arrived, people were doing Tai Chi and nannies pushed their baby prams under the square cut trees filled with singing birds. What more could I ask for? I was in the place of my dreams and that image would never leave me.

By the time I left, a few days later, the city work crews had covered the square with sand and had planted a display of lavender. The shock of color was breathtaking against the orange and beige stone of the arcaded buildings. In the shade I walked past elegant restaurants and art galleries that lent color to the already colorful place.  I was on my way to the old Hotel Sale, now the home of the Musee Picasso. This 17th century salt tax collector’s palatial home now boasted the largest collection of Picassos in the world. On my way I would discover untold beauty and a plethora of buildings, statues, gardens and tiny streets that lifted my spirits as only the Marais could.

I turned west on rue des Francs Bourgeois to the Musee Carnavalet, devoted to the history of Paris. Befittingly set at the corner of rue de Sevigne, I was immediately taken with the courtyard statue of Louis XIV in Roman dress. Inside was a fascinating collection showing Mme de Sevigne’s collection of letters and her wonderful smiling portrait. I saw reception rooms, decorated ceilings by 17th century artists the Regency style Louis XV Blue Room and the murals of the queen of Sheba in the ballroom decorated by the painter Jose Maria Sert y Badia. The collection of paintings and Fouquet Jewelers were chronologically arranged. I stared long and hard at the portrait of Georges Danton and tried to conjure up thoughts of the Revolution.

At the next corner I examined the excellent art and furniture collection in the Musee Cognacq-Jay. Farther on des Bourgeois I came upon the Musee Kwok-ON and the Oriental theatre and objects from far Eastern street festivals.

I entered rue Elzevir and near the tiny square at the corner, I looked into the beautiful Hotel Liberal Bruand, now a museum devoted to locks. Unfortunately it was closed but the courtyard gave promise of much more than a museum inside.

Now I was standing at the wooden gates of Hotel Sale, Musee Picasso. I was beside myself with joy. I had been a student of the master for years. He and his work was the subject of much of my teaching and writing. The beautiful old mansion dating back to 1652 had many uses over the years.  Originally built for Aubert de Fontenay the name ‘Sale’ comes from the fact that de Fontenay was a salt tax collector. Sale means salty. In 1985, after Paris received part of the Picasso collection by law, the building became Musee Picasso.

The collection is large and was obtained when Picasso died without a will. The government took its share of the collection and they selected ‘first’. So what you see here is a wonderful cross-section of Picasso’s Blue, Pink and Cubist periods. There is also sculpture both inside and in the corridors or garden. Most of the painter’s early works are in Spain. I often hear people say they don’t like Picasso. That bothers me since a good guide can explain what Picasso was doing and opinions will change. There was a certain genius in the man. But there are works by other painters too which Picasso had obtained during his lifetime. The visit is rewarding.

A visit to the Marais is not complete without a stroll in the ‘pletzl’. Walk south on rue Pavee then turn left onto rue Des Rosiers. While this was once considered the Jewish Quarter, the narrow street is but a shadow of what it once was. But you can find Kosher bakeries, food shops, butchers, restaurants, falafal, synagogues and libraries. It is a colorful area where Jews settled during the 13th century. The street name means ‘rosebushes’ and people came here from various parts of France, Russia, Poland and central Europe. More recently they came from North Africa, mainly Algeria. For a typical meal try Goldenberg’s.

It’s a popular delicatessen, serving traditional pumpernickel and rye breads.

There are other sites worth visiting in the Marais. Look for the half-timbered house at 3, rue Volta. Long considered the oldest house in Paris. Now they say its “only” 300 years old.

The Square du Temple was named after the Knights Templar who fortified this area after the crusades. The quiet corner of the Marais was once a walled refuge with a high wall and drawbridge. Inside was a church, palace and shops. In this self-contained area the Templars attempted to maintain their independence from the king.

At 60, rue des Francs-Bourgeos you’ll discover Hotel de Soubise, part of the national archives. The inner courtyard is worth a photo session. Inside the sumptuous decorations were done by artists like.

Carl Van loo. You’ll discover Napoleon’s will. Coupled with this building, but not similar, is the famous Hotel de Rohan at 87, rue Vieille-du –Temple. This too is part of the national archives and in the courtyard you’ll see the stable doors adorned with 18th century Horses of Apollo.

Although technically not in the 3rd, I would return to the Place des Vosges via busy rue St Antoine. Just past rue De Tourenne you’ll see the entrance to Hotel de Sully. This Renaissance hotel was originally built for a notorious gambler. Its double courtyard opens onto the Place des Vosges and you are back where you started. Hotel de Sully often stages exhibitions. The visit to this beautiful old mansion gives you an idea of how the other half lived.

So forget the idea that this was once a swamp. Great families had the funds and insight to turn the marshy land into what I think is the most beautiful area of the city.

Take time to enjoy it. Lose yourself in the maze of tiny streets. Sip tea or coffee in a café. Eat under the arcade of Place des Vosges or stay in a beautiful hotel like Pavillon de la Reine set back behind a garden in the Place at No. 28. It is a sumptuous refuge decorated with antique designed furnishings. And take time to walk around the arcade. You might find a painting you like. I usually do.


The doll Museum at 20, rue Beaubourg

Museum of Jewish Art & History

71, rue de Temple


Les Petits Marseillais, 72, rue Vieille du Temple Tel.  42 78 91 59

Chez Jenny 39 bd du Temple,  Tel. 44 54 39 00

Ma Bourgogne on Place des Vosges is a great place for eating  snails.

Au Petit Trou de Bretagne with a sunny terrace is a welcoming bar.

at 14, rue Bretagne.

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You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at


Over the past few years, Professor Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the globe including Italy and most of China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters from St.Petersburg to Moscow. 

"He took a group to Greece and another to northern Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico.  His newly found spare time is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders..  "So You Want To Be A Tour Leader." 

Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.  Keep reading his web for travel ideas.  His next novel HELLSTORM'S Folly, will be available this fall. He now lives in British Columbia.

Go to: or contact him directly at

(More about the writer.)


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