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The Left Bank, Paris

My last trip to Paris was mostly devoted to Musée du Louvre that it left very little time to explore the Left Bank. The only sight that which I afforded a closer look was St-Germain-des-Prés. Built to house a relic of the True Cross brought from Spain in 542, this church was so powerful in the Middle Ages that it became a town within a town. Now at the heart of the 6th arrondissement, the quiet spiritual oasis is surrounded by glossy shops that epitomize the consumer paradise of St. Germain. Aristocrats began to build around here in the 1600s on land made fashionable by la Reine Margot, recently divorced from King Henri IV, one of the first influential people to move to the Left Bank, which became more accessible when Pont Neuf was built in 1606.

My all-day walk through the neighborhood started on the pedestrian-only bridge across the Seine, the Pont des Arts, next to Musée du Louvre. Voltaire’s (who said Jesus committed suicide) statue greeted me and introduced me to the Left Bank. Along and off Rue de Seine are locations of historical values: La Documentation Photographique Générale Roger-Viollet, Hôtel d’Alsace (Oscar Wilde’s last residence in Paris), Musée du Delacroix, and Richard Wagner’s house. On Rue des Canettes I had a delicious crêpe avec du nutella et chocolat.

My footsteps lingered at the Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, which is considered the oldest church in Paris. The Romanesque bell tower of the entrance was built as a solid buttress to support the weight of large bells, and is one of the oldest that are still standing in France. Inside you can see a Romanesque nave and Gothic choir. Along with all the Merovingian kings who are buried there. We can also find the remains of Descartes, one of the undisputed fathers of logical reasoning and science today.

Also on Rue Bonaparte is Église Saint-Sulpice, a Roman Catholic church. Inside, the main attractions of St-Sulpice are the Delacroix frescoes in the Chapelle des Anges (Chapel of the Angels), on the right inside the entrance. Subjects include Jacob wrestling with the angel, St. Michael defeating the devil, and Heliodorus being driven from the temple. More of the artist’s work can be seen at Paris’ Musée Delacroix. St. Sulpice also hosts organ concert everyday.

Rue Bonaparte itself has become a street full of smart shops (mostly clothing). It ends at the Jardin du Luxembourg. Despite the air of luxury consumer culture, Rue Bonaparte is home to two great but hidden jewels of bookstores: Librairie Picard and Librairie d’Argences. They both specialize in religions, arts, literature, and philosophy. Edmund White, in The Flâneur, notes with satisfaction that Paris is a big city that pleases for its urban texture and the possibilities of anonymity a city affords. This is true enough, but it has also famously and often been observed that Paris is a collection of villages grown together over centuries, which would argue the opposite as the secret of its appeal—that’s its acknowledged charms come from these diverse origins. This village quality is what interests and mesmerizes me about Paris.

Pictures (from top) 1. Pont des Arts 2-3. St.-Germain-des-Prés 4. Église Saint-Sulpice 5. A La Boone Crêpe on Rue des Canettes 6. Librarie d’Argences on Rue Bonaparte

14 Responses

  1. Gorgeous! I’m so glad you enjoyed your time there. I’ve never been, but it is on the bucket list. My husband and I would like to take a cousin who is fluent in French and has been to Paris umpteen times. Show us the “real” Paris!

    • Having someone who is an expert hand is the way to go. He will steer you away from the tourists, which sometimes can be impossible. I’m spending less time to sleep in order to soak up everything waking moment here. Every arrondissement (district) has the charm, aside from all the tourist hot spots.

  2. Thanks for this post. I just finished looking at all of your photos on Facebook so this brought the photos to life and filled me in with more information!!

    • Everything in Paris—the street, the arts, the architecture, the people, even the little door knob, begs for a picture taken for it. I love Paris and want to capture every moment I’m in it.

  3. Sounds and looks as though you are having a lovely holiday!

    • I never though I could have such a blast other than being at the beach. A big part of the fun is that I am veering off the busy streets to see the hidden Paris.

  4. I heard the most wonderful concert at the St. Sulpice around ten years ago. Only, it kept getting interruped by a woman who would stand to give a speech every ten minutes or so, and all I can remember is her saying rather emphatically, “Donc…en donc…” (therefore…) It gave me the giggles. But, I am so enjoying Paris again through your eyes.

    • Little thing like going to an organ concert at the St. Sulpice is what make Paris so charming. I was wandering through St. Germain des Pres and someone at the coffee shop told me about the concert.

  5. you had a great time seeing all these great sights…

  6. Your photos and words are bringing Paris alive for me – thanks, Matt!

    • I’m glad you’re living vicariously through my experience. Paris is just dazzling and mesmerizing. Every little details beg for my attention. I have a lot of fun soaking it all up. I realize a modicum of the language really gets me far.

  7. Ah, I love your pictures. My dream is to go to France one day, but it’s a little hard when I’ve got four young kids. However, I feel like I’ve been there through your posts. Merci!

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