Paris - First Arrondissement
( Originally Published 1921 )
You will have neither the time nor the interest to study Paris by arrondissements, although no doubt some enter-prising person may do so some day and may even write a book in twenty chapters for our guidance.
In that case the first chapter would perhaps be the longest although, geographically speaking, its area (with-out the Tuileries Gardens) is the smallest. The 1st Arr. is crowded with interest. Tumble out the contents and look at them in a heap :
To begin with, there is the enormous Louvre Museum; the Bank of France; the two oldest stone bridges, Pont Royal and Pont Neuf, besides the first cast-iron bridge in Paris, the Pont de Carrousel (soon to disappear). There is the Palais Royal with its historic gardens; the Place Vendôme; the Avenue de l'Opéra and the rue de la Paix two streets which are among the most famous in the world. There is the Corn Exchange (Bourse de Commerce) with its queer Médicis Tower; and the Municipal Savings Bank in a fine old mansion; the Central Markets which date back to the 12th century, and the Central Post-Office.
There are the Tuileries Gardens and the rue de Rivoli and the much more interesting rue St Honoré. And then there is the oldest part of Paris itself, the Cité, and in that part of the Cité which belongs to the 1st Arr., the most beautiful piece of Gothic architecture in France: the Sainte Chapelle, built in 1245!
You could easily walk the boundaries of the 1st Arr. The quay along the Seine forms the southern one. But the other three sides of what would be a perfect oblong except that the island breaks it, are just as interesting as a promenade.
The southernmost point of the eastern boundary is the boulevard du Palais, meaning the Palais de Justice; it used to be called the "Street of the Barrel-Makers," which I like better. After it crosses the Pont-au-Change (where in the Middle Ages the bridge held the houses of the money changers, the first bankers of Paris), the street becomes the Place du Châtelet. The Châtelet (Castle) guarded that bridge and was an early prison.
You go on by the boulevard de Sebastopol, which is a new street, opened in 1861, and never was a boulevard or "bulwark" as were the others. When you reach the rue Etienne Marcel you turn to your left, and you are on the north boundary of the 1st Arr. The street runs into the rue des Petits Champs. Follow it to the rue des Capucines, which jogs a little to the north but meets the boulevard de la Madeleine, where you start going south on the western boundary. The rue Richepanse and its continuation, the rue St Florentin, bring you to the Place de la Concorde and on to the river, where you can follow the quay back to the Pont-au-Change and so have done the whole outline of this arrondissement.
Consider the names themselves : the Seine and the boulevard du Palais need no explanation, unless it interests you to know that the river took its name from "Sequana," a prehistoric goddess of whom we know little.
But Sébastopol was a battle (siege of 1855) ; Etienne Marcel was a 14th-century Provost of Merchants who led a popular movement against the king and has his statue in front of the Hôtel de Ville. The Petits Champs were the Little Fields to which this road ran, where there was a market and, later, a cemetery. The Capucines (hoods) was an order of nuns who had their convent here. The Madeleine is named from the famous church; the Place de la Concorde named from an ideal, was once the Place Louis XV. Richepanse, which means literally "rich belly;" was the name of a famous general who died in Guadaloupe in 1802; and St Florentin, far from being a saint, was the minister of Louis XV who imprisoned by lettres de cachet the Protestants he did not Iike.
Now, taking the contents of the 1st Arr., you have a task to which you can give much or little time; but at least you know their positions; and their relations to each other are significant. For whatever their historic importance, they are a part of the living Paris, even the museum of the Louvre, with its school, its publications, and its appeal to the hundreds of thousands who visit it every year. The average annual door receipts of a million francs is proof of that.