On the Hunt for Philippe Auguste’s Wall in Paris

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On the Hunt for Philippe Auguste’s Wall in Paris
Paris is like a layer cake where 2000 years of history sit on top of one another. Much of this history is destroyed but fragments remain and reward those who search for them. Some of the most tantalizing traces are found in what remains of the city’s fortifications. Right up to the middle of the 19th century, Paris was always confined by one city wall or another. Even now, Paris within the Boulevard Périphérique is referred to as “intra muros” (inside the walls). But only the Philippe Auguste Wall has left visible remains. The longest existing part of the Philippe Auguste Wall is located at the corner of rue Charlemagne and the rue des Jardins-Saint Paul. Photo credit: Sam Spade/ Wikimedia commons France suffered many kings who were venal, incompetent or simply mad. Philippe Auguste was one of its more capable monarchs. In 1190 he departed France on the Third Crusade but had the foresight to strengthen Paris’s defenses during his absence. Between 1190 and around 1215, a wall was built encircling Paris, starting at the Louvre, continuing through the lower Marais, across the modern-day Île Saint Louis and through the Latin Quarter, before ending at the river again where the Institut de France now stands. Traces of the wall of Philip II Augustus. Credit: Open Street Map/ Wikimedia commons A measure of his success is that vestiges of these defenses remain over 800 years later. Let us take a walk around the eastern section, from the Marais to the Latin Quarter. Along the way we will see not just physical remains, but also hidden clues that make seeking the wall a fascinating detective story. Strolling through narrow streets with centuries-old houses, we can imagine all the noise, smells and dirt that filled the labyrinthine alleys of the city in medieval times. The Tour Pierre Alvart, part of the historic wall, on the rue des Francs Bourgeois in the Marais. © Pat Hallam We start in the Rue des Francs-Bourgeois, in the heart of the Marais. At number 57-59, tucked away down a passage behind the Crédit Municipal, we see an extraordinary polychrome brick tower. Yes, the base of this, inside the courtyard, is an original tower from the wall. The wall stood 8-10m high, about 3m thick at the base tapering to 2m, topped with a rampart. A dozen gates with drawbridges and portcullises provided entrances to the city. Every 60-70m stood a tower, including this one, the Tour Pierre Alvart.
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Lead photo credit : Map of Sebastian Münster (1572). In blue, the walls of Philip Augustus, and on the Right Bank by the wall of Charles V. Public domain.

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Pat Hallam fell in love with Paris when she was an adolescent. After many years of visiting, in 2020 she finally moved from the UK to live here and pursue her passion for the city. A freelance writer and history lover, she can spend hours walking the streets of this wonderful city finding hidden courtyards, bizarre and unusual landmarks and uncovering the centuries of history that exist on every street corner (well, almost). You can find the results of her explorations on Instagram @littleparismoments.