The 4th arrondissement/district/quarter of Paris has had a varied and lively history
Known as “Le Marais” (the French word for a marsh) it was an boggy area outside the Paris city walls subject to regular flooding as the River Seine overflowed its’ low lying banks., Originally an area of pasture when dry enough in the 9th century and by the 12th century had become cultivated farmland. With Paris’s river Seine often flooding the flat plain, it was not a residential area but dotted with Monasteries and, until the then King of France, Philip Auguste, destroyed the order and its’ buildings, held the Headquarters of the powerful and rich Knights Templars.
From the 13th Century onwards, the Marsh began to be drained and flood defences errected against the Seine’s exuberant bursting of its banks. As it dried out, it began to be seen as suitable for residential use and iindeed gradually became a very fashonable area. So much so that In the early 17 th century, King Henry IV drew up a plan for the famous Place des Vosges (Previously the Place Royale) while other members of the royal family took up residence nearby. The Place des Voges itself was picked by Louis XIII as the site of his wedding to Anne of Austria in 1612 Attracted by the royal connection, other aristocrats followed the trend and some of their magnificent town houses, the Hotel de Soubise, the Hotel Carnavalet and the Hotel de Rohan-Strasbourg can still be seen today. The Marais became a “highly desirable” place for the rich to settle.
However, in the 18th Century, a combination of population growth and the thinnning out of France’s elite by the French Revolution started a downward slide in the prestige of the area. Many of the palaces built by the old aristocracy were subdivided and open spaces were chopped into lots that were sold for housing. As a result, the Marais saw an influx of people of more modest calling, merchants, craftsmen, labourers and immigrants from Eastern Europe and North Africa. As a result, the housing needs of the new arrivals generated a rash of hurried construction and the consequent overcrowding. The Marais began a downward slide with falling property prices and the loss of many of it’s cultural monuments. It became an insalubrious ghetto with decaying buildings, rats and fleas.
But the slide was arrested and then reversed. Conscious of the historical value of the once so richly endowed quarter, General de Gaulle and his Minister of Culture, Andre Malraux. In 1964, taking advantage of an earlier piece of legislation, Malraux nominated the Marais as the first conservation area under that law. Since then, the “quartier” has never looked back, as a new kind of population gravitated there, becoming rapidly ‘gentrified’ as the new fashionable bohemian and prosperous trendsetters chose to make their homes there. With the upper market population moving in, house prices began to rise and subsequently to rocket, making the district now one of the three most expensive places to settle in Paris, and values are still continuing to rise.
The upswing in the Marais fortunes is typified by the story of the family Jouno. The head of the family Chef Julian and his 6 relations arrived in the area from Tunisia in 1951, settling in the Rue des Rosiers where they all lived in a maid’s room of 9 m2. While the more successful of his fellow new arrivals sought, as a symbol of that success to leave the Marais for the more fashionable areas like the 16eme, 6eme and 8eme, Julian refused to budge. Instead he stayed put in the Rue des Rosiers buying the “Marianne Restaurant where in 1984 he invented the world famous “Falafell” sandwich - "The Big Kif” - whose delights you can sample for 6 Euros (takeaway) or 8 euros on site.
And how wise Julian was. To give you some idea. In an adjacent street, Le Rue des Francs Bourgeois, 30 years ago, properties changed hands for 875 euros per sqm. Today that price has risen 15 times to a giddy 14000 euros per sqm. And with the uncertainties of Brexit making Paris an even more desiable place to live for high earners, there’s no telling when the Marais’s housing boom will end!
Article written by Nicolas de Brett Neel, Real Estate Consultant
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Crédits photos : Jean-Philippe Humbert, Nicolas de Brett Neel