Marais, a former marsh
Le Marais is an historic district that spreads over the 3rd and 4th (administrative) districts.
Millennia ago, a meander of the Seine encompassed a large section of the Rive Droite.
The river eventually changed its path to settle in its current bed, and consequently left behind a vast marsh or marais.
The Rive Droite remained therefore deserted for centuries.
There were a handful of settlements by the Pont Notre-Dame and along the Rue Saint-Martin, the antic road linking Paris to the north.
All started to change during the 11th century.
The first communities settled in their vicinity, however, the Rive Droite remained scarcely populated for the next 5 centuries.
The Hôtel Saint-Pol, the royal palace King Charles V built by the Seine in the 14th century, was the first major development.
Francois I pulled down this old palace in the early 16th to develop this area, which is today known as Quartier Saint-Paul.
The second oldest, and still standing mansion, is the superb 15th century Hôtel de Sens.
However, Le Marais (as we know it today) didn’t exist until the early 17th century, when King Henry IV built the Place Royale – Place des Vosges.
Aristocrats and wealthy bourgeois of the era soon followed in his steps.
They commissioned the constructions of the splendid mansions you can still admire today.
Le Marais remained an aristocratic enclave throughout the 17th century.
However, it began a long decline from 1682 when Louis XIV moved his court to his newly built Château de Versailles.
Aristocrats and courtesans left their prestigious mansions and followed him.
The deserted Marais started to draw a modest population of workers and merchants but mainly artisans who converted the mansions into dwellings and shops.
Le Marais – Transformation
Most of Le Marais escaped Haussmann’s renovation of Paris in the mid 19th century.
The district physiognomy, however, changed in the late 19th – early 20th centuries.
Indeed, many Askehnazes Jews from Eastern Europe who fled persecution moved to Paris and settled around Rue des Rosiers.
Then, the first Chinese community of Paris appeared during WWI and settled in the Arts et Métiers area.
Finally, the inauguration of the Musée Picasso in the Hôtel Salé in 1985 triggered the installation of countless art galleries.
Marais – Protected area
Art and heritage therefore define Le Marais.
This started on August 4, 1962 when the Minister of Culture André Malraux‘s act on the preservation of heritage was promulgated.
As a result, all projects of renovation and development, which take place in any conservation sector, are closely monitored.
Not only Le Marais is a conservation area, but the enclave along the river bank is part of the Berges de la Seine.
The UNESCO listed this enclave as a World Heritage Site on December 13, 1991.
Without the Malraux Act, no one knows what the galloping (and often out of control) urban development of the 20th century would have resulted in!
Therefore, as you stroll along the maze of narrow and picturesque lanes, you discover exceptional buildings, many listed or protected and some converted into museums.
Coordinates: Lat 48.858703 – Long 2.358804