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If there’s one thing the French hold dear, it’s their marchés (markets). Once you have experienced the sights, sounds, smells and colors of the marchés, surely they will also become your weekly addiction.
Paris has many markets throughout the city. One favorite Left Bank marché experience is in one of the oldest and liveliest neighborhoods—the fifth arrondissement—on rue Mouffetard. It is not just a daily outdoor vegetable and produce market, it also has excellent specialty shops for cheese (fromageries), pastry (pâtisseries), fish (poissonneries), wine and meat, plus a variety of charming and trendy boutiques.
In addition to the diversity of its shops, you will see street performers who add music and entertainment to this atmosphere of conviviality. Sunday afternoons are particularly lively as locals and visitors dance and sing in front of the Chapel of Saint-Médard in Saint-Médard Square, with its lovely adjoining park. From here the narrow cobblestone street of rue Mouffetard snakes its way uphill. The road has been in use for approximately 2000 years and it still has buildings dating from the 12th century.
French civic planner Baron Haussmann is best known for the magnificent redevelopment of Paris during the reign of Napoléon III. In June 1852, Napoléon III commissioned Baron Haussmann to modernize Paris. The name Haussmann readily comes to mind when we see the grand tree-lined boulevards and rows of stately apartment buildings now equated with Paris. Among his many reforms, Haussmann instituted uniform building heights, shopper-friendly neighborhoods, better traffic flow, improved sanitation, streetlights and improved railway access. The baron also inspired American architect Daniel Burnham in his plan for Chicago in 1909. Haussmann’s influences are wide reaching and are also seen in London and Moscow.
Rue Mouffetard is located on Montagne Sainte-Geneviève with the Panthéon at the top of the hill. Because of the location of the Panthéon and the hill, Haussmann decided not to include this small section in his redevelopment plans of 1860. We have Haussmann to thank for keeping the remnant of an old Roman road intact, keeping both an outstanding legacy and an ancient chapter of Paris history for the 21st century to marvel. Its location and atmosphere, reminiscent of the Middle Ages, provided inspiration to Victor Hugo while he wrote Les Misérables.
The French word mouffette means skunk and mofettes relates to pestilent (plague or infection causing) odors from the animal skinners that kept shop here. As a result, the quartier was long considered a sordid, unhealthy district. Despite this negative reputation, it was also an attraction for curiosity seekers. The fascination for this section of Paris lives on in today’s Parisians, tourists and fun-seeking students.
Originally, rue Mouffetard was quite long and extended along what is now Avenue des Gobelins to Place d’Italie. The name of the section was changed in 1869 from Saint-Médard Square to Place d’Italie. Today’s rue Mouffetard gently slopes up from Saint-Médard Square to Place Contrescarpe, which is another popular people-watching spot. From Place Contrescarpe, rue Mouffetard turns into rue Descartes. Continuing up rue Descartes, it is a short, pleasant walk to the Panthéon, and from the Panthéon it is a five-minute walk to the Jardin du Luxembourg.
Much of rue Mouffetard is closed to traffic, adding to the overall pleasure of strolling and stopping at one of its many cafés. The prime time for visiting is Saturday and Sunday morning. Remember: everything is closed by Sunday afternoon and remains closed until Tuesday morning. But, don’t worry! If you can’t visit on Saturday or Sunday mornings, it is still lively and seductive during the Tuesday to Friday weekdays too.
Métro: #7 Place Monge or Censier-Daubenton
141, rue Mouffetard, Paris 5th