Marais History: “Tax Farmers”& Kings

Marais History: “Tax Farmers”& Kings

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Place Des Vosges

In 17th century France, the word ‘farmer’ had more elaborate definitions. Here, they referred to the people who farmed or collected taxes for the king. Furthermore, it has been suggested that many of these important people collected much more than they delivered to the crown.

The Place Des Vosges was an expensive place to keep up and taxes were added on items as the king needed money. Hence, the tax-farmers made sure there was always a bumper crop.

At the time when the royalty was building in the Marais area, some of the ’farmers’ had great homes built nearby at the same time. One such building was built using funds from the salt tax. It is an architectural gem, and today, it is what was known as the Hotel Sale, coming from the French word for “salty”. After a long history of various groups occupying this beautiful building, it became the home of the French collection of Picasso paintings, housing what I consider to be one of the best collections of the artist’s work. No doubt he would be proud to see what hangs in this spectacular setting built by Pierre Aubert de Fontenay, a tax collector. In fact, not only can you see some of Picasso’s fantastic works here, but there are even paintings by other artists like Matisse, Rousseau and Braque, owned by Picasso.

Unfortunately, the museum is closed for the next two years, for renovations, but it is definitely worth waiting for as it is one of the most wonderful buildings in the Marais.

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Hotel sale main staircase

Another wonderful place to visit is the Carnavalet. This was once the luxurious home of Madam De Sevigne. Today, it’s a Paris museum with all sorts of artifacts and relics to see.  Before heading inside, be sure to stroll through the lush gardens, an area which is special and sophisticated.

Once inside, you’ll find sections of the museum devoted to each century of Paris’ history. The prehistory period includes information about the Gallic tribe of the Parisi and life during the Gallo-Roman period. There are also objects and works centered on the French Revolution, the storming of the Bastille and the imprisonment of the royal family. Furthermore, the 20th century collection showcases the feverish activity in literature and exhibits portraits of Jean Cocteau and a reconstruction of Marcel Proust’s bedroom, sights and scenes not to be missed!

The Carnavalet is located at 23 Rue de Sevigne, Paris 75003 and can be reached at 01 44 59 58 58. The museum is open from 10am to 6pm every day except Mondays and there is a bookshop open during museum hours. You can find out about their special events, plays, concerts and dedications by calling 01 44 59 58 33.

One of my most memorable walks was around the Place Des Vosges. Imagine how exciting this one-time palace was when it was first built in this boggy area. Many of the other great “hotels,” as they were called, were built nearby so that the rich could feel they were neighbors of the king. After all, they worked collecting various taxes much of which stayed in their hands.

It may surprise some of you to discover that the King and Queen lived in separate apartments on opposite sides of the square. Today, there are art shops, upscale restaurants on the square and the royal statue are a photographer’s paradise.

Walking around the square is as close as you can get to a peaceful and scenic walk through history. In the mornings on the square, it’s not unusual to find followers of Tai-Chi and at certain times of the year, it is square is decorated with lavender or seasonal ornaments.

For those who can afford it, I recommend the Pavillon de la Reine, a hotel which, despite its price tag, offers a nice blend of elegance, luxury, and comfort. It is now located at 38 place des Vosges and reservations can be made at 01 40 29 19 19.

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Other famous “hotels” which now function as museums include Hotel de Sully, a private palace dating from 1630 and the wonderful Musée Cognacq-Jay in the old Hotel Denon, which holds a collection of 18th century paintings, furniture and collectibles. (Tel: 0140 27 07 21)

Another gem is the Hotel de Soubise, which houses part of the National Archives. Definitely stop in here, as the architecture alone will stun and amaze. From here, if you turn left when you exit onto Rue des Archives then left again at the covered market on Rue des Blancs-Manteaux, you will come to the Rue des Rosiers. This is the center of the Jewish quarter where you can walk past the great synagogue designed in 1913.

Exit on Rue Pavée and cross Rue Rivoli. Here, too, are striking old buildings including the 15th century Hôtel de Sens, by the river. It was the home of Henri IV’s first wife, Queen Margot, a royal known for having suitors beheaded on the front steps. Today, it is the Fornay library. (Tel: 01 42 78 14 60)

From here, it’s a close walk east to Place de La Bastille, the Opera National de Paris-Bastiile, and the last remaining stones of the original Bastille. Here, you’ll find many markets and shops perfect for food shoppers and craft collectors. Also not to be missed is Victor Hugo’s house at 6 Place des Vosges, where the romantic author wrote the drama, ‘Ruy Blas’. (Tel: 01 42 72 10 16)

With its ancient architecture and narrow streets, the area has kept its historic charm, but is still undoubtedly a modern favorite.