Paris - From The Porte De La Villette
( Originally Published 1921 )
It is five miles from this Porte de la Villette, through which, in 1814, Blücher came into Paris with his army, to the Cité Universitaire. For the courageous this walk would make a striking contrast with that from the Etoile to the Nation. It is far from picturesque at its either end, for the slaughter-houses at one end and the new University Center at the other are not exactly monuments of either history or art: they do represent, however, hunger of body and of mind.
Yet, it must be admitted that the forty-five acres given over to the great butcher shop of Paris do not offer the horrors you might expect; there is even an 18th-century atmosphere in the main buildings for the administration, put up in 1865. And the monumental clock, the statues on either side of the gate, are interesting evidence of municipal feeling.
You can, if you keep your eyes open, find old farm-houses along the rue de Flandre, barnyards where garages have unblushingly taken possession. But as may be expected, the industries attracted to the region have to do with the stock-yards, called simply la Villette, after the village which was once here.
Where the rue de Flandre makes a "v" with the canal, there is an isolated chimney, very tall and slim, which seems a monument to the age. And from the bridge over the canal, just where it reaches the Bassin, you can see the old Tower of St Jacques of the Butchers fitting sight! It is worth being etched from this point.
Where the rue Lafayette cuts the faubourg St Martin, you can see the largest bridge in Paris; its span over the railroad tracks here is three hundred and seventy-two feet, whereas the broadest single span over the Seine is that of the Pont Alexandre (354 feet).
One ancient silhouette still shows near the Gare de l'Est, that of the Recollets convent, today a military hospital. The interesting façades are within the garden, but this wall with its windows looks mysterious and medieval.
Here, where the approach to the Gare de l'Est is today, there used to be held the famous fair of St Laurent, named for the church upon whose ground it took place. It was because the abbots built their wall as they wished that this part of the faubourg of St Martin jogs a little. Stop long enough to visit the church of St Laurent, whose bells, given by the medieval Gardeners' Corporation, were turned into cannon by the lovers of liberty in 1789.
Down the street you come to the Mairie of the 10th Arr., a city hall impressive enough for a big town, one of the finest of the twenty in Paris. From this rue de Château d'Eau can be seen the perspective of the really "old rue St Martin" beyond that arch called the "Porte St Martin." The city gate was here. Louis X IV had the arch built in 1674. Consider his modesty in comparison with that of Napoleon and his arch of triumph.
The old houses begin to lean towards each other; that pepper-pot tower you see was built—pause and consider what that means in the 11th century! It was part of an abbey, and that abbey is today part of the Arts and Crafts Museum, in which there are more interesting machines, inventions, and collections dear to men and boys and to intelligent women than in any other museum of Paris. This church and monastery were so much out in the country when they were built that they were called St Martin-in-the-Fields.