I Love Touring Paris - the Thirteenth Arrondissement

by : Levi Reiss



The thirteenth arrondissement of southeastern Paris is situated on the Left Bank of the Seine River. Its land area is fairly large by Parisian standards, and measures more than two and three quarter square miles (over seven square kilometers). This district population exceeds one hundred seventy thousand and is home to about ninety thousand jobs. Both population and employment figures are growing, largely due an influx of Asian immigrants.

Les Olympiades is a residential high-rise district built well over thirty years ago on a huge, elevated pedestrian esplanade complete with a shopping mall, the Pagode (Pagoda) at the center. To many people this complex looks like a smaller version of La Defense, Europe's largest business district, situated just west of Paris. A driverless Metro (subway) feeds the complex, running every four minutes during the extended rush hour. Nearby is the huge Paris Rive Gauche project built on and near old railroad yards. Once again we are talking mostly high-rises. If that's your bag, be my guest.

The Bibliotheque nationale de France (National Library of France) is another resident of the new thirteenth district. It was founded by Charles V in the mid Fourteenth Century at the Louvre Museum, described in our companion article on the First Arrondissement. Later the library moved to its own quarters in the same district. The new library, said to look like an open book, opened to the public in late 1996. Despite being located in a modest neighborhood, accessing library materials costs money. A famous French historian was refused a library card. While complaints abound the library does contain ten million volumes.

The Pitie-Salpetriere Hospital started out as a gunpowder factory and was converted to a dumping ground for the Parisian poor, serving as a prison for prostitutes, the criminally insane, and others of that ilk. During the French Revolution many prostitutes were freed but other residents-inmates were murdered. On the upside the hospital's famous professor, Jean-Martin Charcot, nicknamed "the Napoleon of the neuroses" is often considered the founder of modern neurology. Furthermore it was the site of Paris's first vaccinations, way back in 1800. La Salpetriere has become a teaching hospital. This was where Diana, Princess of Wales, breathed her last. If you are in the neighborhood you should visit the Seventeenth Century Chapelle de la Salpetriere (Hospital Chapel). By the way, the word chapel is misleading as the complex can hold four thousand people.

Unless you are a Princess Diana freak, who can blame you for not wanting to tour a hospital once famous for its rats? You really shouldn't miss the next sight, unknown to many. The Butte-aux-Cailles (literally quails hill) is located in the west end of the district, not far from the very busy Place d'Italie. The hill is about 200 feet (65 meters) and Cailles was the family name of the family who once farmed the land. In 1783 the first hot-air balloon carrying people landed on this little hill. It was one of the strongholds of the Paris Commune in 1871, memorialized in a city square by that name. There has been so much excavation that the hill can't support the high-rises that mar so much of this arrondissement and so much of the "new" Paris. So you'll have to be satisfied with the co-op restaurants, trendy bars, and nightclubs that haven't erased the village atmosphere. The Butte is home to an art-deco public piscine (swimming pool) fed by a natural hot spring. You can even enjoy vaudeville and Brazilian music. If you fall in love with any of the cute little houses in the neighborhood remember, they were once inexpensive.

The Gare d'Austerlitz (Austerlitz Station) is one of Paris's major railway stations. It was named for a small Czech town in which the sorely outnumbered French and allied troops under Napoleon defeated the armies of Austria, Russia, and Great Britain in 1805. This railway station was first built in 1840 and extended a generation later. There are plans to rehabilitate and upgrade Austerlitz station doubling its capacity by 2020. The complex is moderately attractive but if you aren't a railroad buff, don't go out of your way to see it.

The Manufacture des Gobelins (Gobelins Factory) makes exceptional tapestries and has been doing so for centuries. It supplied the kings of France starting with Louis XIV. The company founder, Jehan Gobelin, discovered a special dye during the Fifteenth Century. Detractors called his company la folie Gobelin (Gobelin's folly). I guess he showed them. Some of his descendants purchased titles of nobility and left the trade. Other family members branched out to the tapestry business and later into carpets and upholstery. Part of the complex is a museum that offers guided tours.

Of course you don't want to be in Paris without sampling fine French wine and food. In my article I Love French Wine and Food - An Alsace Riesling I reviewed such a wine and suggested a sample menu: Start with Schniederspaetle (Onion Ravioli). For your second course savor Brochet d'I a la creme (Pike in White Wine and Cream Sauce). And as dessert indulge yourself with Strudel aux Pommes (Apple Strudel). Your Parisian sommelier (wine steward) will be happy to suggest appropriate wines to accompany each course.