Lost Paris. It’s one of those phrases that sounds so much more poetic in French: Paris Disparu. Listen, you can practically hear the sad wind whistling around those forgotten streets.
Paris, it seems to me, has more than its fair share of lieux de mémoire – those places where history “crystallizes and secretes itself”, where it seeps into the very fabric of the world and it seems that all you’d have to do is pull up the right paving stones and you’d find it glitteringly waiting there for you. But if the Paris of today is defined and animated by visible badges and scars of history, it’s equally shaped by places that no longer exist, that have been wiped off the map, or had the life scrubbed out of them, or where people have simply forgotten the long and – this being Paris – frequently macabre stories that lurk in the shadows of the City of Light.
So today I begin a new series, Lost Paris, in which I’ll try to uncover some of these forgotten places, stroll around in them for a while and imagine what it might have been like to see them. Get on board the gaudy double-decker, time travelling history bus, and some of the sights we’ll be taking in over the next few weeks include…
- A beautiful birds-eye view of Paris in the 1730s.
- The elephant that rose out of the ashes of the Revolution on the Place de la Bastille.
- The nightmarish Cimetière des Innocents, burial place of all Paris.
- The Point Neuf, ‘the Eiffel Tower of the Ancien Régime’.
- The heady, topsy-turvy world of the the annual fair at Saint-Germain.
- A night at the Palais-Royal.
- A dark and cursed history you probably won’t want to read as you chew your baguette in the Parc des Buttes Chaumont.
- The Arènes de Lutèce, the surprising Roman arena in a sleepy Parisian square.
- The labyrinthine rat’s nest of the old Île de la Cité.
Do join me. You may want to bring a nose peg and a sturdy pair of Wellington boots…