Last Thursday, I went to an exhibit at the Bibliothèque Forney, a public library at the southern edge of Paris's Marais neighborhood. While the exhibit, called Gaz à tous les étages, didn't allow photos (I have got to make a fake press pass and see where that will get me...), I couldn't resist taking a few of the library itself.
The Bibliothèque from the back, with its beautiful French garden.
The Bibliothèque Forney is housed in the Hôtel de Sens, a medieval building that dates from 1475-1519. Although a lot of it has been restored, it's one of only two examples of grand-scale residential/civil architecture from the Middle Ages in Paris. The other, the Hôtel de Cluny in the Latin Quarter, which today houses the wonderful Musée du Môyen Age (the Museum of the Middle Ages), originally had the same purpose: to house visiting priests and other church officials from the regions in the "Hôtel" 's names.
In the early 17th century, the Hôtel de Sens became the residence of Marguerite de Valois (known as "La Reine Margot"), who had been forced into marriage with King Henri IV. Margot's life was full of drama, bloodshed, and depravity. A biography on her makes for some intriguing reading. I've heard that while at the Hôtel de Sens, apparently two of her pages fell in love with her, and one of them killed the other in a jealous rage. The murderer was decapitated as punishment. Margot moved away not long after.
The building looks like a lovely, whimsical castle. It's hard to imagine such a violent event happening here.
There is one sign of violence, though: on the facade facing the rue du Figuier, you can see a canonball and an inscription that reads"28 juillet 1830" -- the date that the cannonball was shot into the building during the July Revolution. It's not easy to spot if you're not looking for it; I only saw it this time because I'd read about it on the aptly named blog, Invisible Paris.
The front of the building, with the library's main entrance, on the rue du Figuier. If you look at the flat stone of the facade just below the roof of the turret on the left, you can see a small dark-colored mark. That's the cannonball.
Detail of the cannonball and inscription. You can see a clearer picture of it here.
I love the view from inside the Hôtel de Sens' courtyard, which anyone can enter.
After the exhibit, I had to meet a friend near the Centre Pompidou, and I decided to walk there. On the way, I wanted to pay a visit to two buildings that give a unique glimpse of medieval Paris:
Numbers 11 and 13 rue François Miron are located a few streets away from the back of the Hôtel de Ville (Paris City Hall). Dating to the 14th or 15th century, they aren't the only apartment buildings in the city that were constructed in medieval times, but they are the only ones that have had their plaster removed to reveal their original wooden beams. This is how most of the residences in Paris looked in the Middle Ages.
Why don't they look like this today? In 1607, a law was passed that all exposed beams had to be covered in plaster, to prevent fires from spreading quickly. One of the ways you can tell if an apartment building was constructed in the Middle Ages is if it has a sloping façade and/or sides. This is the effect of other hidden wooden beams - the ones making up the building's skeleton - warping with the centuries.