His­toric Haunts

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To­ward the city’s pé­riph­erique – the ring road en­com­pass­ing its ur­ban cen­ter – are Paris’s grit­tier edges, where mid­week vin­tage cloth­ing mar­kets over­flow with Parisians search­ing for new trends, and rows of no-frills boulangères tout some of the city’s best baked goods.

A stroll down the fa­mous Rue La Fayette brings you to the in­ter­sec­tion of Rue de Faubourg Mont­martre and later to Rue Richer and Rue D’Hauteville. Here, in the 10th ar­rondisse­ment, is a charm­ing, slightly di­lap­i­dated district known for its whole­sale fur shops and where the city’s bo­bos (bour­geois bo­hemi­ans) have be­gun to oc­cupy cheap loft spa­ces, sur­rounded by bistros and cafés.

The 10th is also home to Porte Saint Martin, the site of one of Paris’s old for­ti­fied gate­ways, built dur­ing the reign of Louis XIV in 1674. Above the mon­u­ment’s enor­mous arch­ways, re­liefs de­pict the mil­i­tary vic­to­ries of Louis’hey­day, ac­com­pa­nied by a Latin in­scrip­tion ex­alt­ing the monarch’s de­feat of Ger­man, Span­ish and Dutch armies.

Ap­proach­ing from Rue du Faubourg Saint Martin – a slen­der street in­laid with fro­mageries and cafés – the mon­u­ment is an il­lus­tri­ous if in­con­gru­ous me­mento of Paris’s his­toric promi­nence, and makes for an im­pres­sive back­drop as you re­lax at one of the nearby cafés with a cof­fee and crois­sant.

Con­tin­u­ing east­ward over the scenic Canal Saint Martin and along Av­enue de la République will lead you to the enor­mous ceme­tery of Père Lachaise – home to the graves of a va­ri­ety of artis­tic greats. Six­ties pop le­gend Jim Mor­ri­son, com­poser Frédéric Chopin and Ital­ian sculp­tor Amedeo Modigliani are some of those in­terred in the 108-acre grounds, which are lo­cated near the city’s east­ern edge in the 20th ar­rondisse­ment.

The vast com­plex, which houses close to 70,000 tombs, is nav­i­ga­ble thanks to sign­boards that show how to get to the most vis­ited graves: un­sur­pris­ingly, th­ese in­clude The Doors’Mor­ri­son and Os­car Wilde, with other no­ta­bles in­clud­ing singer Edith Piaf, post-Im­pres­sion­ist painter Ge­orges-Pierre Seu­rat, play­wright Molière and writ­ers Honoré Balzac, Mar­cel Proust and Gertrude Stein all gar­ner­ing a steady through­flow of fas­ci­nated fans.

Another fea­ture of in­ter­est is the Mur des Fédérés, or Wall of the Fed­er­al­ists, which com­mem­o­rates the even­ing of May 27, 1871, when the re­main­ing Com­mu­nard in­sur­gents (sup­port­ers of the rad­i­cal so­cial­ist Paris Com­mune) fought an all-night bat­tle among the ceme­tery’s tomb­stones. The ar­rival of morn­ing re­vealed just 147 sur­vivors, all of whom were or­dered up against a brick wall, shot and buried in a mass grave.

To­day, the wall is a mov­ing sym­bol of the peo­ple’s strug­gle for a com­mon ideal and in­de­pen­dence – near to which many lead­ers of the French Com­mu­nist Party and the French Resistance have been buried. Though not so up­lift­ing, the mon­u­ment un­der­lines one of France’s great or­deals and the progress it has made to­wards peace and pros­per­ity – a heart­en­ing re­minder that noth­ing can ex­tin­guish this City of Lights. BT

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