Discover the Hidden Cités of Belleville

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Discover the Hidden Cités of Belleville
Despite the gradual disappearance of “undiscovered” Paris under the onslaught of social media, Belleville is still mostly off the tourist track. Perched high in the 19th and 20th arrondissements, it clings to its radical, working-class past even as gentrification colonizes its main street, the Rue de Belleville. It is possibly the only district in Paris where the only election posters not to be defaced are those for the far left party, La France Insoumise.  Belleville today is a product of the 19th century. Not a Haussmannian creation – Haussmann never penetrated significantly in these outer arrondissements even after their core villages were incorporated into Paris in 1860 – but a product of the rapid industrialization of the capital after the fall of Napoleon. Cheap housing was thrown up to accommodate the thousands of workers arriving in Paris, much of it substandard, lacking basic amenities such as running water or connection to the main sewage system. Buildings stood three or four stories high at most because they were built over age-old quarries used for extracting stone, gypsum and clay. In the 1960s and 70s the very worst of them were demolished to make way for modern apartment buildings. To be fair, some of these are quite attractive résidences with leafy private gardens, but just as many, especially around the Place des Fêtes, are soulless high-rise blocks that typify the worst in postwar town planning. Belleville and Ménilmontant on the Roussel map of 1748. Wikimedia commons But not everything was demolished. Walk around Belleville and you will still come across narrow streets – still paved, not covered in tarmac – with modest three-story apartment buildings. In the neighborhood around Place Jourdain in particular (that is, the historic center of the original village), the streets run perpendicular to the Rue de Belleville. Why? Because they were laid out over plots of land formerly used for growing vines in long, straight rows.  The chaotic, unplanned development of Belleville means you can still find quiet corners where row houses hide shyly behind lilac and wisteria bushes in well kept micro-gardens, or jardinets. These enclaves are sheltered from the brouhaha of the city, where birdsong can be heard and not a great deal else. They offer a glimpse back in time to the country village that was Belleville before it was swallowed up by the noisy, smoky city. Let us take a walk through three of the most interesting of these enclaves, or cités.  The 19th-century Gothic-revival Église Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Belleville greets you as you emerge from Jourdain Métro station. Photo: Jeffrey T Iverson/ France Today magazine

Lead photo credit : Almost a country lane in the heart of Paris - the Cité du Palais Royal. Photo: Pat Hallam

More in 19th arrondissement, 20th arrondissement, Belleville, Butte des Chaumonts, Cité du Palais Royal, Cité Jandelle, Cité Saint Chaumont, cités, Église Saint Jean Baptiste de Belleville, Paris, Place Jourdain, Rue de Belleville

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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.


  • John ODonnell
    2024-07-11 07:39:20
    John ODonnell
    I was not aware of Belleville. Now I have a new area to explore, discreetly of course, on my next visit.