I've made a challenge for myself this year; I want to walk every single street in Paris. After two months in though, I think I might have to scale back the project or at least think of it as a multi-year task as it has been quite an undertaking so far. I will say, I have been surprised that there are many gems that have been hiding in plain view very close to my apartment. I've been genuinely enjoying discovering another side of Paris.
The road leading from Bastille to Nation, the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, is one of the oldest streets in Paris, and when I find myself on it, the history of this working-class neighbourhood is tangible. One of the delightful quirks of the area is the labyrinth of little streets, passages and public courtyards that sprout from the Faubourg. A leftover element from a bygone era, bursting with strange stories to tell. Each one unique, different, and beautiful. When you find yourself wandering them on a bright sunny winters day past the faded paint murals and into the quiet cobbled courtyards, almost devoid of people, you can be forgiven for forgetting you are in the heart of the largest city in Europe.
An east-west street bisects Bastille from Saint Paul to Nation. Its name west of Bastille is called rue Saint-Antoine, named after the Saint-Antoine-des-Champs Abbey, however, on the east of Bastille, it is called Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine. What is a faubourg you might ask? Until the 18th century, the Bastille prison formed part of the Charles V city walls of Paris. What lay outside were in effect not Paris anymore; these urbanised areas were suburbs or faubourgs. In 1701, the city expanded and encompassed these faubourgs, but despite now being inside Paris, they still kept their suffix. When Paris was redesigned by Haussmannian, most traces of the old faubourgs were erased, and the term banlieue was coined for modern suburbs. But if you look closely, it is still possible to discern pre-1701 delimitations by seeking the change from rue to rue du Faubourg in streets like Saint-Denis or Saint-Honoré and of course, Saint-Antoine.
Since the 12th century, the area has been an essential zone of trade and craft industry. Located between the city and the Royal Fortress at Vincennes, it was well trafficked, and the proximity to the Seine, which carried all of the wood flowing into Paris, made it an ideal place for furniture construction, cabinet making, and all kinds of woodworking crafts. It was given an extra boost when the King gave all workers in the faubourg tax exemption status. So along all of the side streets, and at the back of all of the courtyards, one could find craftspeople and artisans working on their wears. Although most, but not all, of them have disappeared, this intricate network of open courtyards, passages and streets are left as a testament to the history of Paris.
The Faubourg can be busy, both with foot-traffic and vehicles hurtling along, but this means when you turn down one of these little dead-end cobblestone streets, the quiet solitude is amplified. Some are hidden behind gigantic wooden doors that lead you around corners and through archways before opening into delightfully manicured gardens, or vine strapped buildings. You can really lose your sense of place and feel as if you have wound up in a small village in rural France.
If you enjoyed these images and would like to learn how to use your camera like a pro, while exploring off the beaten track locations in Paris, book a walking photography tour with Aperture Tours Paris.
Author: Alexander J.E. Bradley
Alexander is the founder of Aperture Tours which run photography tours in the most photogenic cities across the globe. A professional photographer for over a decade, Alexander enjoys shooting the surreal by mixing dreamlike qualities into his conceptual images.