400 Quirks No.10 ~ "I'm Sorry, Could You Spell That Again?"


"I'm Sorry, Could You Spell That Again?"


The Marais, which is basically the fourth arrondissement and the bottom bit of the third is one of the oldest areas in Paris.

This is clearly evident just by wandering around the district admiring all the old buildings and shops, strolling down the narrow streets and simply soaking up the undeniably otherworldly atmosphere.

But if that's still not enough for you, things are looking up. Or rather, you need to.

Here's a rather juicy case in point. A closer look at what seems to be a pretty typical Paris street corner, complete with the double street labelling at different heights, reveals something very interesting indeed.

Check out the close-up here on the right and you'll see what I mean. Just under the highest of the Rue de Beauce street sign is a much older carved-in-stone version, which nonetheless indicates the same name... or does it?

Well, yes and no. As you can see it used to be Rue de Beausse, which isn't quite the same thing. Spelling conventions not being what they are today, no doubt some clever chappy in some official government street naming bureau must have tutted disapprovingly and said, non, non, non, this will never do, we don't spell the sound 'ohss' eausse, but eauce, and eauce it thence became. But we know the truth, don't we folks?!

As for the 14, that would probably have been, quite obviously really, the street house number, although these rarely correspond to today's system.

"A monumental Place de France with majestic thoroughfares radiating out from the centre, each paying homage to a great region of the country"

Beauce is actually a farming region of France and the naming of this street thus is a direct fallout from the first great urban planner, Henri IV's ambitious plans back in 1610 for a monumental Place de France which were sadly thwarted by a rather unfortunate yet inescapable event: his death.

The plan was to have eight roads radiating out from a majestic place, each named after one of the great regions of the country such as Provence, Picardie, Bretagne and Bourgogne. These main axes would then be united by a couple of arcs similarly to those around the Arch de Triomphe and would be named after lesser regions, of which Beauce was one.

So although this grandiose project never materialised, some of the projected roads did. Indeed, about 70 new roads were opened up during his reign, and the momentum carried on without him.

Anyway, be that as it may, this corner hasn't yet given us up all its secrets. Take a yet closer look at the other side of the massive stones...

Ah hah! What do we see here but more evidence of Henri IV's grand plan to honour as many of the regions and towns of France as possible.

The Rue d'Anjou was to have been part of the second arc of streets linking the eight main routes, along with others such as Saintonge, Angoulême, Touraine and Orléans.

For some reason the name was changed to Rue Pastourelle, the name of a landowner from the 14th century, which although a pretty word does lose for us the history which is so fun to discover.

Except that we haven't lost it - it's still there! Look at the same block which bears the old Rue de Beausse inscription and we can clearly see... Rue d'Anjou! Very exciting. For Paris freaks like myself (and you too?) anyway.

So there you have it. History written high on the streets of the city. There will be plenty of other curiosities of this type to discover as we troll the streets of this most quirky of districts.

See you down in the Marais, looking up, always looking up..! (Now comment below ;~S )



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