Flâneries in Paris: Saint Paul and Place des Vosges

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Flâneries in Paris: Saint Paul and Place des Vosges
This is the ninth in a series of walking tours highlighting the sites and stories of diverse districts of Paris. Coming up the steps at the St Paul metro station, where the Rue de Rivoli meets the Rue St Antoine, I’m thinking of the elegant Place des Vosges a few minutes’ walk away, of Victor Hugo and of the gossipy 17th-century socialite Madame de Sévigné, who both lived in this area. But I’m snapped back to the 21st century at the top of the steps by a cheerful community action group dispensing snacks to volunteers for a neighborhood clean-up, and a group of street musicians jollying things along. There’s a piled-high pavement fruit stall and a backdrop of enticing foodie shops. I’m already looking forward to returning after my walk! Just along the Rue St Antoine is the Church of St Paul and St Louis which I know has popped up numerous times in the history books; Cardinal Richelieu, no less, celebrated the first mass in the new building in 1641, but in the next century, the revolutionary Robespierre followed him into the pulpit, railing against religion and preaching his Cult of Reason. Not unconnected, in 1792 five parish priests were murdered here, in the September Massacres, which followed the revolution. Église Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis de Paris. Photo credit: Chabe01 / Wikimedia commons But as I gaze at the beautiful high-domed ceiling, the person I think of is Victor Hugo. This was his church, the place where his children were baptized and to which he surely came for solace after the death of his favorite daughter Léopoldine. She was married here, then drowned in a boating accident just months after the wedding. She was 19 and pregnant and her husband drowned trying to save her. Auguste de Châtillon, Léopoldine and the Book of Hours, around 1835. (Depicting Victor Hugo’s daughter.) Public domain Crossing the Rue St Antoine, I take the little Rue de Birague as a direct route to the Place des Vosges. I pass charming little shops like Y-Ness, where the window is filled with those nonchalantly thrown-together smart-casual outfits the French are so good at, and then go under the archway at the end to find one of my favorite Paris vistas. Occasionally it’s my privilege to take someone who doesn’t know what’s coming along this route and I always await their delight with anticipation. For, just through the arches, the stunning Place des Vosges opens up in all its 17th-century glory.

Lead photo credit : Place des Vosges. Photo credit: Marko Maras/ Flickr

More in Flaneries, Flâneries in Paris, Paris Neighbourhood, Place des Vosges, Saint Paul Metro

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Recently retired from teaching Modern Languages (French and German), Marian now has time to develop her interests in travel and European culture and history. She will be in Paris as often as she can, visiting places old and new, finding out their stories and writing it all up as soon as she gets home. Marian also runs the weekly podcast series, City Breaks, offering in-depth coverage of popular city break destinations, with lots of background history and cultural information. She has covered Paris in 22 episodes but looks forward to updating the series every now and then with some Paris Extra episodes.


  • Robert Rooney
    2022-09-23 08:23:38
    Robert Rooney
    On September 17, 2022 I entered the Place des Vosges and was immediately horrified by a huge billboard advertising Gucci on the south inner facade above the rue de Brague entrance. How such a visual abuse of a historic structure can occur surely wreaks of political corruption.


    • Marian Jones
      2022-09-26 05:00:38
      Marian Jones
      I agree that it does not look good. I am currently in Bordeaux and have discovered a massive advert for one of the Lord of the Rings films covering a whole section of the otherwise lovely Place de la Bourse. It is covering up scaffolding - perhaps they think the advertising is less ugly than the building work?