I could neither spell nor find my way in la Place des Vosges at night till I took a turn round the square with author David Downie of Paris, Paris Journey into the City of Light.
'Thirty-six identical pavilions...shifting light of the Paris sky....In the square's center...children oblivious to the backdrop play in sandboxes while au pairs chat on double-sided benches.'
'Architects and art historians will assure you that Place des Vosges offers France's best example of early 17th century urbanism. Essentiallyit's a cross between Italianate Mannerism and late-Renaissance Dutch styles, neatly combining a gracious piazza and 4 sets of row houses.'
'Unlike the bustling, coldly beautiful Place Vendome or Place de la Concorde...Place des Vosges has always been animated and lived in and ultimately that is what makes it a likeable spot.'
You enter the square on rue pas du Mule coming in from rue de Turenne and turn right at cafe Ma Bourgogne.
And so the arcades begin.
David Downie easily points out vrais/faux restoration of the bricks overhead - I would never have noticed.
We pass elegant Damman Freres tea shop.
Further on peering through the window of another arcade shop David points out the courtyard leading to DSK's residence.
'If you wander aimlessly along the park's grilles of an evening you can catch tantalizing glimpses of painted ceilings, of rare and valuable pictures hanging high upon a wall.'
The gates are always open to posh Hotel Pavillon du Reine (formerly a garage David tells me).'Some pavilions were split long ago into cheap, rent-controlled apartments.
Others are occupied to this day by descendants of once-rich dynasties now living in genteel penury, their cluttered apartments lifted from a Zola novel...'
Other gates in the square are shut tight but that doesn't deter David from entering and leading me inside for a quick look. 'Many imporverished heirs have sold off apartments piecemeal over the past 40 years. Properties worth peanuts a few decades ago not fetch staggering sums. Etage noble flats ar the most valuable at up to $7,000,000'.
Many of these courtyards once had factories of specialized artisans. 'Other pavilions have been 'nationalized' and taken over...like the Victor Hugo museum (one of my fav museums in Paris)'.
'Framing its northern end is the Pavilion du Roi, built by Henri IV for his own use and therefore considerably larger than the square's other pavilions'.
'Overnight, the Marais mushroomed with townhouses, a vogue that lasted until the end of the 17th century (when the Saint-Germain and Saint-Honore neighborhoods became the rage)'.
'Given its age and the number of cataclysmic social events that have occurred around it - storming the Bastille, the Glorious revolution of July 1830, the Industrial Revolution, 2 world wars and rampant real estate speculartion - it's a miracle the Place survived at all'.
You can take a tour with David Downie or read Paris, Paris Journey into the City of Light full of insightful, informative indepth essays on Paris. A good choice for the dad who loves architecture and history.
If you want to know where to get the best macarons at la Place...
Follow me to Carette salon de the.