In the heart of Paris (3rd and 4th arrondissements), the Marais is one of those neighborhoods that look like no other. Its name « marais » litterally means « swamp », which it used to be until the XIIIth century, when the Seine banks were reinforced to keep the water out of the area. As from then, it started to grow into one of the most interesting quarters of the capital. It first became the neighborhood of choice of the nobility (and the royalty!) to settle, and of the tradespeople to do business. In the seventies, during the big sexual revolution, the Marais started to be the favorite area of the gay community of Paris, which it still is to this day. But the Marais is also a unique cosmopolitan place, where hipsters walk along fashion designers, Orthodow Jews and artists. It is a lively, highly colorful neighborhood, filled with small paved streets, centuries-old mansions, religious buildings, museums and shops to discover. In short, an unavoidable step in your trip to get to know the Paris of today, of yesterday … and of tomorrow.
History in the walls
It is true that the capital is full of historical sites and monuments. Spread accross the city, many points of interest allow visitors to travel in time. But for those who feel passionate about History, the Marais is certainly the neighborhood that will bring you back to the Paris of old times.
Did you know that it is there that you will find the oldest houses in Paris ? Even though several buildings are fighting over the prestigeous title of « oldest house in Paris », know that while you take a walk in the Marais, you will be able to take a look at a few houses that are more than six centuries old ! Officially, the oldest one is thought to be situated at 51, rue Montmorency, but some prefer to see it at numbers 11 and 13 of the rue François Miron, in a charming medieval house with visible wood beams. But as architecture goes, it is the XVIIth century that has provided the Marais with its most beautiful constructions. For intance, the famous Place des Vosges, built by King Henri the Ivth, and on which many like to relax on a bench when the sun comes out. The Hôtel de Sully and its French gardens, as well as the many private mansions that were built around the square during this time to accomodate the aristocracy. Nowadays, these tremendous buildings are mixed to the more modern urban landcaspe and make a walk in the Marais into a perpetual journey between past and present time.
But first and foremost, the Marais is known to be the historical Jewish neighborhood of the capital. Its center is situated around the charming rue des Rosiers, where Orthodox Jews still meet in the many restaurants, bakeries and book stores of the area. This explains why the Marais was chosen to host two of the major sites for Jewish History in France : the Museum of Art and History of Judaism (71, rue du Temple), and the Shoah Memorial (17, rue Geoffroy l'Asnier).
Fashion and design : the cream of the crop
But the Marais is not only a place for History. Nowadays, his definitely modern neighborhood also draws in a whole population with a thirst for fashion and design. Carried by creators and their « hipster » clients, the Marais is the cream of the crop when it comes to trendiness. The north part in particular (also known as the « Haut Marais ») is litterally filled with small workshops and art galleries, as well as fashion shops and concept-stores. There, design and fashion are more than just consumption goods, they have been brought up to the true pillars of the Marais lifestyle. The success of concept-store « Merci » (Boulevard Beaumarchais) is a proof of that. This ever so popular place offers not only the trendiest creations in terms of clothing, accessories, decoration and furniture, it also has a coffee shop, a restaurant … and a library.
So, no matter if you are a shopping addict, or just want to look at beautiful things and get into the modern and arty atmosphere of the neighborhood, one can only advise that you go wander around the streets of the Marais, and discover its galleries and shops as you please.
A bit of culture
You know it by now : the Marais is the neighborhood in which to walk and look around. However, it also is one of the most culturally interesting areas of Paris. There, you will find many museums, galleries and other cultural places. Here is a brief overview of some of the most stop-worthy of them...
5, rue de Thorigny (Paris 3°)
Timetable : from tuesday to friday from 11.30 a.m to 6 p.m / saturdays and sundays from 9.30 a.m to 6 p.m / open until 9 p.m on the third friday of every month
Fee : 11€
23, rue de Sévigné (Paris 3°)
Timetable : from tuesday to sunday from 10 a.m to 6 p.m
Fees : free entrance / temporary exhibitions from 3,50 to 7 euros
17, rue Geoffroy l'Asnier (Paris 4°)
Timetable : from monday to saturday from 10 a.m to 6 p.m / open until 10 p.m on thursdays
Museum of Art and History of Judaism
71, rue du Temple (Paris 3°)
Timetable : from monday to friday from 11 a.m to 6 p.m / from 10 a.m to 6 p.m on sundays
Fees : from 4,50 to 8 euros
Swedish Cultural Center
11, rue Payenne (Paris 3°)
Timetable : from tuesday to sunday from 12 p.m to 6 p.m