Halfway through our virtual tour of Paris we come across the fascinating 11th arrondissement—a neighborhood of grand entertainments like opera and circus, fashionable nightlife, and a tiny two-room homage to perhaps France’s most acclaimed celebrity.
Best known for the Place de la Bastille—former home to one of the most famous jails in Western history and now home to the postmodern Opéra Bastille (technically in the 12th)—the 11th, while quite historic, remains less touristic that other neighborhoods.
At the heart of the French revolution and the grandes révoltes of the 19th century, the people of the 11th were often the first to rise up and fight. Even during the Nazi occupation of World War II, some of the biggest names of the Résistance, many who gave their lives in the fight for liberation, came from this neighborhood.
Today the 11th is better known for its cafés, bars and restaurants and the resurgent nightlife of rue Oberkampf and rue du Faubourg St. Antoine.
Toulouse-Lautrec found lots of inspiration at The Cirque d’Hiver (a curiously round 19th century building that houses the circus). Likewise Richard Avedon took his famous photo Dovima with the Elephants here. And the building became somewhat famous as background for the 1956 Burt Lancaster/Tony Curtis film Trapeze. Today clowns, acrobats, and jugglers perform—sometimes on ice!
More serious culture can be found at the Musée Edith Piaf, (5, rue Crespin du Gast; by appointment only, call ahead: +33 (0)1 43 55 52 72), a collection of Piaf souvenirs housed in a super-fan’s apartment. Le Café Charbon (109 rue Oberkampf), with its tall ceilings, long zinc bar and tasty French fare, is a great place to try out the branché (trendy) Oberkampf nightlife.
Christopher Measom combines his love of history, art, and travel to create books like “Paris, Wish You Were Here!” and “The Little Big Book of Ireland.” He spends most of his time in New York (an artsy historic place) working on all kinds of books for Night & Day Design.