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Marais quarter

The Museum of the History of Paris is located at the heart of Le Marais, one of the few districts whose architectural heritage was spared by the major transformation projects of Haussmann. Even today it still offers plenty of evidence of its extremely rich past: town houses (sometimes with their decors), gardens, religious buildings, etc. For this reason, Le Marais has been a protected area since 1965.

The origins of Le Marais

King Philip II Augustus (1180-1223) surrounded the right bank of Paris with an enclosure which encompassed several districts including Les Halles, Grève and Saint-Gervais. The North Eastern area outside the enclosure was then filled with huge areas of swampland, owned by large Abbeys. These Abbeys dried them out and brought them under cultivation. They were then transformed into gardens. These cultivated lands (terres maraîchères) were the origin of the name of the district: Le Marais.

The Royal District

In the 14th century, a new enclosure was erected by Charles V (1364-1380), following the line of the current Boulevards Beaumarchais, des Filles du Calvaire and du Temple, thus setting the boundaries of the future district. The King then left the City palace and took up residence with his court in the Hôtel Saint-Pol: Le Marais thus became the Royal District. The many monastic establishments also bore witness to the intense religious activity in the district. Charles VII abandoned the Hôtel Saint-Pol (1422-1461) in favour of the Hôtel des Tournelles, a favourite dwelling place of Louis XI (1461-1483) and Henri II (1547-1559). This was in turn abandoned following the tragic death of Henri II in 1559. This event led to the Royal family moving definitively to the Louvre.

The Golden Age

In the 17th and 18th centuries, Le Marais experienced its glory years. King Henri IV (1589-1610) was at the origin of two major urban development projects: the Place de France, which never took place, and the Place Royale, now the Place des Vosges.
At the same time, the entire Le Marais district became filled with hotels which vied with each other in the beauty of their architecture and the richness of their interior design. They were the scene of the first "Salons", which brought together the fine minds, elegant ladies, men of letters and scholars who would give Paris its reputation as a capital of sociability. The district was also alive with an intense religious
life when the Counter Reformation began.

From decadence to safeguarding

The infatuation with Le Marais finished at the end of the reign of Louis XIV (1643-1715); there was no more construction and the majority of the aristocracy abandoned the area. While the King lived at the Tuileries, the Court moved West, first to Faubourg Saint-Germain and then to Faubourg Saint-Honoré.
Under Louis-Philippe (1830-1848) and in particular under the Second Empire, the district became poor and the population became industrious: workshops replaced the former gardens and the grand courtyards. Le Marais was abandoned, but was nevertheless spared the major breakthroughs of Baron Haussmann (1809-1891), who transformed a number of other districts. It was not until 4 August 1962 and the passing of a law on protected areas and the protection of old town centres threatened by property development, that the situation changed. On 16 April 1965, Le Marais officially became a protected area and the complete rehabilitation of the district began, which continues today.

Crédit photographique: Cour de la Victoire © DAC - Antoine Dumont