Posted by: reecejharley | January 7, 2010

Les Halles, Saint Eustache & Rue Montogrueil

The Halles (not my photo!)

Les Halles

A market has stood in the vicinity of Les Halles for more than 800 years. In 1183, King Philippe II Auguste enlarged the marketplace in Paris and built two stone halls to provide shelter for the merchants. Covering a space of more than ten hectares, it was, up until the 1970’s the throbbing belly of Paris; stuffed full with merchants, bellowing out the prices of their produce, and swarms of Parisians shopping for their daily meal. Les Halles was described by Napoleon Bonaparte as the Louvre of the people and is quoted as saying that the three most important things for a Parisian were water, wine and food. Makes sense!

It is the kingdom of strong smells, deserted at certain times, but in the early hours of the morning swarming with feverish activity. Among the mountains of foodstuffs, at the foot of Saint-Eustache, the most beautiful church in Paris after Notre Dame, in these old streets and small cafes there seems to survive something of the atmosphere of the middle ages. And perhaps more than any other, the quarter does evoke the old municipal and commercial Paris of yesterday. (pge 139)

Sadly, not everything described in Nagel’s Guide to Paris circa 1950 is still accurate. Les Halles, marketplace of the city for more than 800 years, was demolished and moved to the outskirts of Paris due to over-crowding, infrastructure concerns and commercial interests. The massive, underground Chatelet metro station, which is the hub of all metro and RER stations in Paris and sits at the city’s geographic centre is buried beneath the old Markets. Above the metro station (but still below ground) is a multi-level shopping mall, cinema complex, gymnasium, swimming pool, and food court. From the air, the old Les Halles looks like a peaceful park, but below ground level there is nothing peaceful or beautiful about Les Halles. The whole atmosphere is one of unfortunate loss.

Saint-Eustache

Adjacent to Les Halles stands the church of Saint-Eustache. The scale and grandeur of this church is indicative of the wealth generated by the market and its close proximity to the former Royal Palace, The Louvre. The church is steeped in aristocratic associations; Cardinal Richelieu, Molière (famous French playwright and actor) and Madame de Pompadour (official mistress of King Louis XV) were all baptised here and Louis XIV took his first communion here.

The Eglise Saint-Eustache, after Notre Dame the most beautiful church in Paris, is a rare and magnificent building built from 1532 to 1637, where the gothic persistance shows itself in the middle of the 17thc, not in the ornamentation which is Renaissance, or even beyond Renaissance, classical, but in the ossature, in the plan, the equilibrium of the arches. Moreover the excellence of its religious music attracts many visitors to Saint-Eustache…

Saint-Eustache is particularly dear to musicians; apart from the funeral rites of Rameau, those of Mozart’s mother were also solemnised there (1778); Berlioz presented his Te Deum there, April 30, 1855 and Liszt gave his ‘Messe de Gran’ in 1866 and 1886.

The interior, 270 ft. long, 130ft. broad and 100ft. high, gives a good impression of nobility and grandeur.

Saint Eustache


Rue Montorgrueil

In a direct line north from the Church of Saint Eustache runs one of my favourite streets in Paris… Why? Because it’s FULL of food!

The lengthy rue Montorgueil is one of the best food streets in Paris, lined with everything from meat, fish and produce markets to bistros, patisseries and bars.

It’s also home to the historic Pattisserie Stohrer, the oldest continually operating Pattisserie in Paris. It was founded in 1730 by Nicolas Stohrer a Polish pastry chef who first came to to work at the Chatteau of Versailles as head Pastry chef when Marie Leszczynska (the daughter of King Stanislas of Poland) married King Louis XV in 1725. The tiny store is an Aladdin’s cave of flans, eclairs, cakes and pastries, as well as a healthy smattering of savoury delights, piled high in colourful arrangements to entice all who pass by. This is not self service… No no no… Despite there being food stacked high, surrounding the customers on all sides, you must make your order at the register, and the dutiful staff will step out from behind the counter,weigh your selection, and delicately wrap it up for you to take away… though I doubt most  purchases make it past the next block before being eaten. I ordered a Tomato and Basil tart (which was still warm) and proceeded to meander up the rest of the street in a kind of food-induced euphoria 🙂

Rue Montogrueil

Tomorrow,  Paris street-life and fashion…

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