Visiting Paris tour the Marais

Tour the Marais our guest post  written by travel blogger Audrey the blog Audrey Meets World.

Most Paris visitors come with a hefty itinerary that includes the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral and Moulin Rouge. Yes, it’s certainly true that Paris has no shortage of museums and attractions. The Guardian estimates that Paris receives 33 million tourists annually, making it the world’s top tourist destination. With this many travelers, it’s no surprise that popular attractions are frequently plagued with endless lines and long wait times.

Why visit the Marais

Two Jewish men walking on Rue des Rosiers in the Marais neighborhood, photo Audrey Hickey

Two Jewish men walking on Rue des Rosiers in the Marais neighborhood, photo/Audrey Hickey

That’s why I propose that Paris visitors forgo some of the aforementioned destinations and head to the less visited Marais. The Marais is a small neighborhood cradled between the 3rd and 4th arrondissements in Paris. It is especially unique because it’s the only area in Paris that survived the architectural ambitions of Napoleon and Haussmann during the 19th century. Consequently, the quarter preserves it’s narrow, winding streets and medieval architecture.

With this charm come boutique hotels, trendy bars and high-end fashion stores. Rent prices are astronomical and many businesses only last a year. But beyond the gentrification and flashiness lies a long-standing Jewish community that is quickly disappearing.

Jewish history in the Marais

Agoudas Hakehilos Synagogue on Rue Pavée in the Marais in Paris. It

Agoudas Hakehilos Synagogue, photo/Audrey Hickey

According to historical accounts, Jews were in Paris during Roman rule. Greater numbers arrived during the 10th and 12th centuries. During these early years, the Jewish community occupied Ile de la Cité (the current site of Notre Dame Cathedral) as well as parts of what is now the Marais district. At that time, the Marais district was outside of Paris city limits. Despite being separated by their geographical location, the Jews were still persecuted by the Catholic Church and charged higher taxes than Christians. The Jews were expelled from Paris time and again. The French Revolution emancipated the Jews but antisemitism remained. One of the most famous examples of this was the Dreyfus Affair in 1894. Jewish communities started to reappear in Paris between 1881 and 1914 following persecutions in Russia and in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Many took asylum in Paris where they created a quarter called in Paris’ 4th district which they called Pletzl (Yiddish for little place). This area now makes up part of the Marais.

During the years leading up to World War II, Pletzl (which is now known as the Marais) hosted the biggest Jewish community in Europe. Tragically 75% of the quarter’s residents were deported and killed in concentration camps during the war. The Agoudas Hakehilos Synagogue on Rue Pavée,  constructed from 1913 to 1914 and was dynamited the night of Yom Kippur 1941. Restoration work was completed after World War II.

Post war Marais

The former Goldenberg restaurant in the Marais in Paris the site of a 1982 anti-Semitic attack. Now it is the site of a clothing store but the restaurant's sign remains, photo Audrey Hickey

The sign remains at the former Goldenberg restaurant, photo/Audrey Hickey

After the war, Jews rebuilt their neighborhood and lived in relative tranquility until an anti-Semitic attack on August 9, 2019 at the Goldenberg restaurant. The shooting resulted in six dead and 22 wounded. No one has been found responsible for the attack.

In order to pay homage to the victims of the shooting, the awnings of Goldenberg restaurant have been preserved even though the building now hosts Les Temps des Cerisers, a high- end French clothing manufacturer. This pastiche illustrates a certain tension in the quarter; that between authentic Jewish culture and the push of the ever-gentrifying neighborhood. While it’s still easy to find Jewish bakeries, stores and synagogues, the Jewish presence is weakening in light of perpetually-increasing rent prices.

The future of the Marais

Diasporama, a Jewish boutique store featuring jewelry, artwork and Israeli music, photo Audrey Hickey

Diasporama, a Jewish boutique  featuring jewelry, artwork and Israeli music, photo/Audrey Hickey

Some fear that the Jewish presence will disappear completely, while others believe that what remains will merely be a caricature of actual Jewish culture: generic falafel shops or bakeries sheepishly selling challah bread. This image cooptation seems the more likely outcome given the prevalent Jewish history in Paris. With huge synagogues, the Memorial to the Shoah and all of the plaques commentating Jews who were killed during WWII, the absence of Jewish businesses would create a mysterious gap in the neighborhood.

Preservation of the Marais’ is vital. The only way to conserve Jewish history in this quarter is to learn about it and support it. Visit the Memorial to the Shoah, or eat at Jewish restaurants like Chez Marianne or Micky’s Deli. It won’t change everything, but it will help preserve a necessary culture and neighborhood in Paris


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