The Marais area, which is today one of the most appreciated historic districts of Paris, was born from the marshes in the 17th century, when the nobility made it their place of residence.

The Marais certainly experienced progressive and measured urbanization in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance – the Order of the Temple settled there, French King Charles V felt more secure there than in the Louvre palace (the Clisson mansion, built in 1371 and the Sens mansion, completed in 1519, offer two rare vestiges of private Gothic and Renaissance architecture) but the district only really took off with the development of the Place des Vosges at the initiative of the King Henry IV, from 1607 to 1612.

Place des Vosges is the first monumental royal square in Paris and was used as such for official ceremonies, including the marriage of Louis XIV and Marie-Thérèse of Austria in 1660.

Place des Vosges has the particularity of being a square place, almost closed, with identical facades made of red brick and white stone. The complex is made up of thirty-six private mansions which hide their depths, their courtyards and their gardens behind the symmetrical layout of the square.

Place des Vosges was quickly taken over by Statesmen (Richelieu moved there briefly) and aristocrats.

Marie de Rabutin-Chantal – future Marquise de Sévigné – was born there in 1626. Marion Delorme lead her life as a courtesan there from 1639 to 1648 and reigned over the Parisian gallant life with another lady from the Marais – Ninon de Lenclos. Marion was said to be more beautiful, but Ninon more spiritual.

Ninon de Lenclos, who resided Tournelles street from 1667, was a free, independent and cultured woman. She was a musician, a woman of science and letters and spoke several languages. Her literary salon notably welcomed La Rochefoucauld, La Fontaine, Charles Perrault, Racine and his mistress Marie Champmeslé and legend has it that Louis XIV, who knew her wisdom but had never met her often asked: “ and what does the beautiful Ninon think about it?”.

Beyond Place des Vosges, great figures of political, noble, literary or gallant spheres invested the Marais district from 1620. As a result, the mansions, which are of great beauty, punctuate the district which quickly became eminently aristocratic for nearly two centuries, before being later abandoned for the Faubourg Saint-Germain and the Faubourg Saint-Honoré, closer to Versailles and the King.

In 1634, Prime Minister Sully moved into a private mansion which communicates via the gardens with Place des Vosges and which still bears his name today, even if he rarely lived there.

The Saint-Aignan mansion (now the MAHJ museum) was completed in 1650 on behalf of Claude de Mesmes, Count of Arvaux, who served Richelieu and Mazarin in the negotiations for the treaties of Westphalia.

The Guise mansion was the epicenter of Parisian life during the Grand Century under the aegis of Marie de Guise, who organized sumptuous parties and who received artists and scholars, such as the playwright Corneille, the musician Charpentier, the poet Malherbe or the historiographer Gaignières.

The Carnavalet mansion hosted Madame de Sévigné, the famous French writer, from 1677 to 1696. Her voluminous correspondence shed a lucid, often funny light on her time and her contemporaries.

Molière lived in the neighborhood and the witty ladies he will later ridicule in his play “The Affected Young Ladies” were nevertheless cultivated, independent women, interested in science, letters and gallantry.

Like Ninon de Lenclos, Mademoiselle de Scudéry set up her literary salon in the Marais district in 1670. It quickly became very famous and she regularly welcomed Madame de La Fayette, Madame de Sévigné, La Rochefoucauld or Jean Chapelain, to name but a few. She urged women to perfect their education, opposed marriage – she will remain single until the end of her life – and paved the way, with Madame de La Fayette, for a new type of introspective novel.

Poisoners also settled in the Marais, like the Marquise de Brinvilliers who lived Charles V street and who rubbed shoulders with the Marais good society. After a long trial, the Marquise de Brinvilliers was beheaded in 1676.

A stone’s throw from the now defunct Saint-Paul church, the majestic Saint-Louis church was consecrated in 1641 on Saint-Antoine street.

Madame de Sévigné attended the sermons of the famous Jesuit Bourdaloue there and Charpentier was its music teacher from 1688 to 1698.

And since we are talking about Saint-Antoine street, it marks the invisible but nevertheless indisputable border between two districts of the Marais area: the district of Place des Vosges to the North and the Saint-Paul district to the South of the artery.

Saint-Paul, more confidential, calmer, older, has managed to preserve its village charm. The streets are punctuated by barely indicated transverse pedestrian alleys, which allow one to discover this district from the courtyard and the garden side.

The Sens mansion, which now houses the Forney library, remains one of the rare examples of private Gothic architecture – along with the Cluny mansion. Charles V preferred it to the Louvre palace and Queen Margot – wife of Henri IV and heroine of Alexandre Dumas – stayed there for a while.

May 19, 2023