Marché aux Oiseaux: The Famous Bird Market on Île de la Cité

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Marché aux Oiseaux: The Famous Bird Market on Île de la Cité
Early February 2021 the Paris City Council agreed to end the live bird market operating on the Île de la Cité, a stone’s throw from the Paris Prefecture of Police and the Hôtel-Dieu. The closure answers the calls of animal rights activists who consider the market a cruel and archaic operation. The closure not only addresses the concerns of bird trafficking, inhumane conditions and health issues surrounding live markets, but also falls in line with the planned a €5 million renovation from 2023 to 2025. Affected would be the 13 remaining licensed bird vendors – only seven of which still actively participate. Of particular concern was the sale of endangered species and goldfinches – highly prized songbirds that could reach a price of €150. But this concern is nothing new, as documents spanning over 100 years attest. The Marché aux Oiseaux epitomized old Paris. The history of the Sunday bird market is woven in and around that of the famous flower market, now known as the Marché aux Fleurs Reine Elizabeth II – a Paris fixture since 1809. A decree from Napoleon in 1808 ceded the land comprising the Île de la Cité to the City of Paris and a decision was made to move the flower and shrub market previously on the Quai de la Mégisserie to a vacant lot bordering the new Quai Desaix (part of the current Quai de la Corse). Flower Market Ile de la Cite. Photo credit © Hazel Smith The market opened on Wednesday August 16, 1809. While the flower and bird market is basically located on the same plot of land, the island it sits on has changed. The flower market was replaced in 1873 during Paris’s building boom. Baron Haussmann’s radical opening up of the Île removed a centuries-old maze of roads and bridges that linked the two sides of the Seine. On August 15, 1874, the contemporary publication L’Univers Illustré described the new flower market on the Île de la Cité: “The shelters are all built on a uniform model. Cast iron columns support roofs with a graceful profile, the tops and angles of which are tastefully decorated.” However, the iconic Wallace fountain is the only vestige of the Belle Époque still remaining. In 1905, the flowers and feathers of the market were ruffled once again as the square became a huge building site. The Paris Metro was built through the island – and an entrance to the Cité station was created. Before the disruption of the First World War, architect Jean-Camille Formigé designed the market shelters and pavilions we know today. A description dated July 13, 1914 read, “The main framework of these shelters will be assembled and wrought iron. The central promenade will be covered by wired glass, the lower sides by zinc. The irons will be painted.” But Formigé’s work wouldn’t be completed until the mid 1920s. The Wallace fountain. Photo credit © Hazel Smith

Lead photo credit : Le Marché aux Oiseaux, quai aux Fleurs, Paris. Photo credit © Géniaux, Paul, Photographe. Entre 1895 et 1905. Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris. PH135 CC0 Paris Musées / Musée Carnavalet

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A freelance writer and amateur historian, Hazel knew she wanted to focus on the lives of French artists and femme fatales after an epiphany at the Musée d'Orsay. A life-long learner, she is a recent graduate of Art History from the University of Toronto. Now she is searching for a real-life art history mystery to solve.


  • Marilyn Brouwer
    2021-02-25 01:21:45
    Marilyn Brouwer
    Marvellous article Hazel. As with all changes, a certain nostalgia inevitable, but caged birds always a crime against nature. Loved the Jacques Prevert poem. Have a book here from the 60's. Wonderfully researched as always.