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