History, heritage, architecture: record-breaking sites of Eastern Paris

Parisians encounter history at every corner! The eastern neighborhoods of the capital hold several records: the steepest street, the narrowest building, and the largest park in the city can all be found there.

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Version française

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PARIS CENTRE

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51 rue de Montmorency – The oldest house in Paris

Completed in 1407, this house was built on the order of Nicolas Flamel, a Parisian bourgeois who is still rumored to have possessed the supernatural faculties on an alchemist. The building has undergone many changes during its long history, but its lower stone part has kept its original aspect. Two stores were then located on either side of the central door, which led to the upper floors. According to the inscriptions that still adorn its facade, the building used to house the poor in exchange for prayers for Nicolas Flamel and his wife Prunelle, who had died ten years earlier. It is the oldest house to still stand in Paris: the charming half-timbered buildings on Rue Volta and Rue François Miron, also in the Marais, claimed this title for a long time, before extensive research revealed much later construction dates. Listed as a historical monument since 1911, Nicolas Flamel’s house (where he probably never spent the night himself) now features a restaurant named after him.

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57 rue de Turbigo – The tallest caryatid in Paris

Adorning a building dating back to 1859, this three-story high winged statue rises above the Arts et Métiers metro station and the Place Theodor Herzl. It is the tallest caryatid in Paris. The angel of Rue de Turbigo was inspired by artworks of an aptly named Auguste-Émile Delange. The statue is featured in Agnès Varda’s short film “Les Dites Cariatides”, as well as in the movie “Peut-être” by Cédric Klapisch.

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Place des Vosges – The oldest square in Paris

If there were certainly quite a few open fields and other local squares in Paris at the time, it is the first “official” square in the capital. Built between 1607 and 1612 according to the plans of the architects Jacques Androuet du Cerceau, Claude Chastillon, and Louis Métezeau, the Place des Vosges forms an almost perfect square. It is surrounded by a harmonious ensemble of 36 pavilions, decorated with red bricks and supported by beautiful arcades. Place des Vosges is also the location of the Maison de Victor Hugo: the writer lived at number 6 between 1832 and 1848. Listed as a historical monument, the square and its central gardens have also been protected since the 1960s by an initiative to preserve the Marais’ remarkable urban heritage.

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Artwork by Raphael Federici on the walls of Rue des Degrés – 2019 © William Jexpire – Wikimedia Common

Rue des Degrés – The shortest street in Paris

Fourteen steps and 5.75 meters long: the staircase in the rue des Degrés, around the corner from the Grands Boulevards, is worth a little detour! The shortest street in Paris also boasts the peculiarity of having no numbers, and therefore no inhabitants – some architectural clues suggest, however, that this was not always the case, as doors and windows appear to have been walled up over time. Linking the rue de Cléry to the rue de Beauregard, this unusual street is regularly painted with new artworks.

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© Nord794ub – Wikimedia Commons

Gare du Nord Europe’s busiest train station

With more than 290 million passengers (including RER B traffic) in 2018, it is the busiest station on the continent. Expanded several times since its inauguration in 1846, this historic building could soon face renovation projects that are strongly contested locally, due to the large space that would be solely dedicated to retail. For a long time, the Gare du Nord metro station was also the busiest in the whole RATP network. It was overtaken by Gare Saint-Lazare in 2018, with 46.7 million passengers entering the station that year, around a million more than in the Gare du Nord underground.

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39 rue du Château d’eau The narrowest house in Paris

The dimensions of this two-story building rival those of the most cramped Parisian studios: it is 5 meters high, 3 meters deep, and only 1.4 meters wide! The record held by this house on Rue du Château d’eau has long been recognized: it was already featured on postcards at the beginning of the last century. A small store still occupies the first floor, while the “room” on the first floor is only accessible from the building next door, at number 41. While it is difficult to trace its true history, local legend has it that the construction of the house was the consequence of a neighborhood dispute over a passage linking Rue du Château d’eau to the nearby Rue du Faubourg Saint-Martin. Rather than building a simple wall, a more radical solution was chosen in order to definitively block this path, resulting in the two floors of this unusual address.

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Rue du Faubourg-du-Temple One of the first photo stories in history

During the June Days workers’ revolt, Parisian photographer Charles-François Thibault took a series of three photos depicting the barricades erected at the intersections of Rue du Faubourg-du-Temple. The daguerreotypes of June 25 and 26, 1848, constitute the first series of photographs of an insurrection. Although most of the buildings have since seen a few alterations, the faubourg has retained its cobblestones and distinctive layout: it even remains surprisingly similar to what it looked like at the time.

Full article (French) : En juin 1848, la rue du Faubourg-du-Temple devient le sujet de l’un des premiers photoreportages de l’histoire

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Passage Saint-Maur Some of the last wooden blocks used for paving in Paris

This distinctive passage conceals a singular detail: take a look under the porch by the entrance, and you’ll see one of the last examples of wooden paving blocks that remain in Paris! Fashionable at the end of the 19th century, this process was quickly abandoned because of its many drawbacks: the blocks were more slippery than those made of stone, presented risks of rotting, and had the unfortunate disadvantage of unsealing when the Seine was flooding. The only other wooden pavement left in Paris today is located in front of a building at 38 rue Notre-Dame de Nazareth, not far from the Place de la République.

Full article: Charming passages and secret courtyards of Eastern Paris

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Avenue Daumesnil The longest street passing through Paris

Including the section running along the Bois de Vincennes in the territory of Saint-Mandé, the Avenue Daumesnil is the longest road passing through the capital, with a total length of 6 kilometers. Spanning the entire 12th arrondissement, it runs from the Porte Dorée to the edge of the Place de la Bastille, flanked by the “linear park” of the Coulée verte René Dumont, and the arches of the Viaduc des arts. However, excluding the périphérique and expressways, the Rue de Vaugirard remains the longest road in Paris proper, with a length of 4.3 kilometers.

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© Hapi SNCF

Gare de Lyon The largest clock in Paris

The Gare de Lyon stands out from its Parisian counterparts with its superb clock tower, built just in time to welcome the visitors of the 1900 Exhibition – who would also discover the first line of the metro for the occasion. Standing at 67 meters, this clock tower is the second highest in Europe, after the famous Big Ben overlooking the British Parliament. Designed by watchmaker Paul Garnier, the tower’s four faces all measure 6.4 meters in diameter. Their large hands are 4 meters long and weigh nearly 38 kilos each.

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Sentier des Merisiers The narrowest street in Paris

This little-known passage at the edge of the capital holds a singular record: with a minimal width of 87 centimeters (2.9 feet), it is the narrowest street in Paris! Find its entrance from Boulevard Soult or Rue du Niger, a few steps away from the Alexandra David-Néel tramway station, to see its stone walls and intriguing iron gates. Urban explorers can also find rare half-timbered facades. Another passage of Eastern Paris holds the second place in this category: the Passage du Plateau, close to the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont.

Full article: Charming passages and secret courtyards of Eastern Paris

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Parc de la Villette The largest park in Paris

Built over the legendary slaughterhouse district that smoked out the surrounding neighborhoods of Eastern Paris for nearly a century, the Parc de la Villette is a retrofuturistic area that always manages to surprise. Around the massive Cité des Sciences, the vast site features a wide range of live music venues on 55 hectares, including 33 dedicated to green space. If you don’t take into account the Bois de Vincennes and Bois de Boulogne, it is the largest park in the capital. Within Paris proper, only the Père Lachaise cemetery, with its 44 hectares of greenery, is truly able to compete with the lawns of La Villette.

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Cimetière du Père Lachaise A record-breaking necropolis

The Père Lachaise cemetery holds many records: it is the largest cemetery in Paris, but also the busiest in the world, with nearly 3.5 million visitors a year. An impressive number of famous personalities are buried here, including Sarah Bernhardt, Rosa Bonheur, Maria Callas, Chopin, La Fontaine, Molière, Jim Morrison, Édith Piaf, and Oscar Wilde. The Père Lachaise was also the scene of some of the most tragic episodes of the Semaine sanglante, which brought the Paris Commune to an abrupt end. To the east of the cemetery stands the Mur des Fédérés, in front of which 147 insurgents were shot in the final days of the revolution. The site is now dedicated to their memory: many progressives meet there at the end of May to pay tribute to the victims and hopes of 1871. The tallest grave in Paris overlooks the 48th division of the Père Lachaise: the final resting place of diplomat Félix de Beaujour, a sort of funerary pyramid, reaches a height of nearly twenty meters.

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Rue Gasnier-Guy & Rue Robineau The steepest streets in Paris

With an incline of 17% and 14% respectively, Rue Gasnier-Guy and Rue Robineau are the steepest streets in the capital. Not recommended for amateur cyclists, their climbs end in a singular bump before reaching Place Martin Nadaud and its colourful pavement. These streets have kept their cobblestones and are still flanked by charming stairs: one of them connects the two, although it is not always accessible. The top of Rue Gasnier-Guy offers a panorama that extends beyond Paris.

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Rue des Pyrénées The longest streets on the right bank

It is the second longest street in Paris, with a length of 3,515 meters and no less than 401 building numbers. The record-holder on the right bank since its opening in the 1860s and 1870s, the street slaloms between the different neighborhoods of the 20th arrondissement, its name sounding like a tribute to its curves and occasionally steep slope. The Rue des Pyrénées is lined with charming passages and several squares with pleasant terraces, such as the Place des Rigoles – Henri Malberg or the Place du Guignier.

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Rue du Télégraphe The highest natural point in Paris

This story may sound familiar to local heritage enthusiasts: the hills of Montmartre and Belleville have long been competing for the record for the highest point in the capital – excluding the Eiffel Tower and other monuments, of course. In an effort to appease this antediluvian conflict, allow us to declare a tie: the heights measured at the top of Rue du Mont-Cenis (18th arrondissement) and Rue du Télégraphe (20th arrondissement) both stand between 128 and 129 meters above sea level. It is because of this elevation that, starting in 1792, on the site of the current Cimetière de Belleville, telecommunications pioneer Claude Chappe experimented with the device that would give Rue du Télégraphe its current name.

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Explore the history and heritage of Eastern Paris with our local guides:
Charming passages and secret courtyards of Eastern Paris
In the footsteps of Édith Piaf around Eastern Paris
Neighorhood Guide: Belleville & Ménilmontant
Neighborhood Guide: Buttes-Chaumont & La Villette

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Illustrations © Paris Lights Up (except when stated otherwise)

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