Left Bank: Hidden Treasures of Paris in Plain Sight, Part 3

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Left Bank: Hidden Treasures of Paris in Plain Sight, Part 3
Ahhhh the rive gauche, the home of the Latin Quarter, Jardin du Luxembourg and the Eiffel Tower. The ancient, cobbled streets that were well traveled by the Lost Generation of Hemingway and Fitzgerald and the great artists and authors of the 20th century. It was any given day you would see Picasso, Dora Maar, Jean Paul Sartre or Simone de Beauvoir on the terrace of Les Deux Magots enjoying their morning coffee or an early evening apéro. You could wander for hours in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, stopping at every plaque along the way learning about the people that called the Left Bank home. Tourists are numerous in the area, but many may never slow down enough to notice some of the treasures that are hidden in plain sight. Few details are overlooked in Paris; it is one of the amazing things that the planners going back hundreds of years took into account. From the grates that surround the base of a tree to the green benches in the parks, no detail is too small– but frequently missed by passersby. The Jardin des Plantes is a beautiful oasis off the banks of the Seine in the 5th arrondissement that includes a zoo and numerous museums. The lush landscape is filled with a peony garden, alpine garden, iris garden and– in the center leading up to the Grand Galerie de l’Évolution– a vast garden that is filled with pink blossoms in the spring. As you walk around, look down and you may find a little piece of Notre-Dame cathedral. All over the Jardin des Plantes the small, round grates that catch the rain aren’t the standard design. Look closely; they are in the shape of the rose windows of the Notre Dame de Paris. Created by the Jacquemin Fonderie, these lovely iron grates are exactly what make Paris so magical. I have spotted them around Paris a few other times– inside inner courtyards behind locked doors– so keep your eyes out for these little beauties. A short and lovely walk from the Jardin des Plantes is the Rue Mouffetard, one of the best streets in Paris, leading to the Place de la Contrescarpe that Hemingway mentioned in A Moveable Feast and just around the corner from his first apartment. Continue down Rue Descartes and a left on Rue Clovis. The street named for the king of the Franks holds one of the best remnants of the wall of Philippe Auguste. In the past Hidden Treasure articles, we have seen the wall in a parking garage and a basketball court. Of the many visible remains in Paris, this one on Rue Clovis gives you an idea at just how wide the wall was. A few steps away the Église Saint-Étienne-de Mont rises up in the shadow of the Pantheon. The church is well known for what is outside of it, but don’t skip going inside this gem. The steps on the north side are always filled with fans of the Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris, looking to recreate their own Gil moment to travel back in time. Head inside the church for a real treat. In front of you at the altar is the last Jube screen in Paris. Created by artist Biart le père, the single span screen stretches above the choir and on either side are carved stone stairs that are stunning. Biart carved angels, mascarons, ivy and palm trees into the screen that was once used during sermons. The Jube screens were commonly seen in many of the churches of Paris before removed. Notre Dame de Paris had one as well before they were abolished by the Council of Trent to bring the congregation closer to the choir. Take some time to walk around Saint-Étienne, the relics of Sainte Geneviève, the patron saint of Paris that saved it from the attack of Attila the Hun, are in a side chapel with beautiful stained glass windows telling the story of the life of Geneviève. Head down Rue Soufflot and take a right onto Rue Saint-Jacques. The Rue Saint-Jacques was once the cardo of Roman Lutetia, long before Paris became Paris. The north-south road led to the Chemin de St-Jacques and the Santiago de Compostela. At 27 Rue Saint-Jacques look up at the corner; one of the 120 sundials that can be found around Paris resides on the corner. This isn’t your normal sundial, it is by artist Salvador Dali. Placed on 15 November 1966, Dali had created it for a friend that owned the shop beneath it. The sundial is a woman’s face on a scallop shell, a nod to the Saint-Jacques de Compostelle. Her blue eyes shine beneath her eyebrows set aflame like the sun. Her hair cascades down forming the recognizable mustache of her creator. Dali’s signature can be seen in the lower right hand corner, but don’t set your watch to it, the surrealist artist never designed it to work. The Jardin du Luxembourg is filled with over 100 statues that line the terrace, hide beneath the tree-lined paths, and sit majestically in the middle of the perfectly trimmed grass. On the eastern side of the park a few steps from the terrace with the statues of the Queens of France, down a path is the statue with the faces of the great artists. Le Marchand de Masques by Zacharie Astruc is a statue of a young boy selling masks. In his hand, he holds the mask of the French novelist, Victor Hugo. At his feet are the faces of…

Lead photo credit : Les Deux Magots, photo by Robyn Lee/ Public domain

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Claudine Hemingway had a deep love of Paris instilled in her at an early age from her beloved grandparents. Following in their footsteps, she is happiest strolling the historic cobblestones soaking in the architecture, art and history. Highly sought after to plan your Parisian adventure that ventures off the beaten path and digs deeper into the historic and secret Paris. Contact her at [email protected] to plan your trip. You can follow her adventure and daily Paris history lesson on Instagram @claudinebleublonderouge


  • Claudine Hemingway
    2019-08-16 08:10:49
    Claudine Hemingway
    Thank you so much Ellen


  • Harriett
    2019-08-16 06:12:04
    This is the most interesting article I have read in awhile about Paris. I walk miles and miles every time I visit and live to discover new places and things. This has given me my agenda for a weekend in October. I have walked the Camino de Santiago twice so Rue StJacques will surely be a destination.


  • Ellen A.
    2019-08-16 05:32:23
    Ellen A.
    Excellent stories and treasure spotting. I always enjoy your pieces.


  • Nicholas Cox
    2019-08-16 05:01:21
    Nicholas Cox
    Fantastic, lovely article! I'd never noticed the rose grates, but the standard ones around the trees are also used in the French concession of Shanghai. Just one minor point, the Salvador Dalí sundial was installed in 1966, not 1666, that really would have been surreal!!