These days tourists flock to the Marais in central Paris for its picturesque streets, great shopping and, of course, the gay nightlife, but it hasn’t always been that way. The majority of our furnished apartments are in the heart of this central Paris neighbourhood—as are our own offices—so we thought we’d give you a flavour of the area’s history.
If you dredge your memory for some schoolboy French, you might recall that the French word le marais actually means ‘swamp’, which is exactly what the area was until the twelfth century, when it was drained and chosen as a new base by the Knights Templar. Given the neighbourhood’s central location in modern-day Paris, it’s hard to believe that it was chosen at the time because it was just outside the city limits.
The arrival of such a prestigious religious community soon was soon followed by others, and they were soon joined by the crème de la crème of the French nobility, who rushed to build hôtels particuliers, or private urban mansions in the area until the seventeenth century. Nowadays, many of the hôtels have been restored and are open to the public; others now house public buildings, museums and art galleries.
The apogee of this building spree was the spectacular square place Royale, surrounded by covered arcades, completed by Henri IV in 1612. It was the first ever example of large-scale urban planning and was closely followed by the monarchs in other European capitals. After the revolution, the square was renamed place des Vosges.
Out of Fashion
In later years, however, the area fell out of favour, with the capital’s nobles flocking to the Faubourg-Saint-Germain area on the other side of the river. Local businesses soon took advantage of the abandoned space and soon the spacious courtyards of the hôtels particuliers were home to bustling workshops.
By the nineteenth century, the area had become popular with the city’s Jewish population. Even today, the bustling rue des Rosiers is a busy centre of Jewish life, with restaurants, delis and synagogues vying for trade. Inevitably, one of the area’s darkest periods occurred during World War II when Nazi forces occupying the city saw the local population as a soft target.
The Marais Today
When authorities redesigned much of Paris in the late nineteenth century, installing the wide boulevards that are now the city’s hallmark, the Marais was largely exempt. The area saw very little official attention, in fact, until the 1960s when Culutre Minister André Malraux give the area protected status. Since then, many of the older buildings have been restored, Jewish community life has blossomed and a whole new set of inhabitants has come to call the Marais home: the neighbourhood has been the unofficial home to Paris’ gay village since the early 1980s.