Paris Wanderlust: Islands of Urban Tranquility — Cottages & Row Houses

Islands of Urban Tranquility — Cottages & Row Houses

Some neighbourhoods and streets in Paris have evaded shouldering multi-storey Haussmannian buildings, opting for lower structures and a village ambience. Two geographical features played a role in the location of many of these Parisian “villages”: the Bièvre River valley and the underground quarries of Lutetian limestone, so important to Haussmann’s rebuilding of Paris. Both of these geographical conditions exist in the Maison Blanche district of the 13th arrondissement, which includes La Butte aux Cailles and areas south of that hill: Quartier des Peupliers and Cité Florale.

Many streets of low-rise cottages and row houses, sometimes built for workers, offer quite a contrast to Haussmannian structures. Because their ground floors were not built to accommodate businesses, these quartiers tend to be quiet residential islands, buffered from the urban bustle and fray.

Maison Blanche (13e)

La Butte aux Cailles

The village on a hill that is La Butte aux Cailles began in the 16th century as a vineyard. The Bièvre River (a tributary of the Seine) flowed nearby, encouraging development and attracting industries such as tanners and dyers.

The hill was important to Haussmann, yet he never built his grand edifices there. He mined the limestone under the hill for his massive rebuilding of Paris, and the void left by these subterranean quarries left the hill’s surface unstable. Large, heavy Haussmannian buildings might have caused dangerous subsidence.

The village atmosphere of La Butte aux Cailles has remained consistent over the centuries, and lower structures still line the streets of the hill.

La Butte aux Cailles; Église Sainte-Anne de la Butte-aux-Cailles is in the distance.
A village cat en plein Paris

Cité Florale

The triangular community of Cité Florale is a small island of older homes from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Surrounded by 20th-century buildings, the Cité Florale values its architectural preservation and maintains its floral reputation.

Cité Florale (13e)

Quartier des Peupliers

The Quartier des Peupliers gives the impression of a cluster of villages that surround the tree-lined roundabout Square de l’Abbé-Georges-Hénocque:

The area includes several small, quiet streets lined with houses of two or three storeys. Constructed between the late 18th to early 19th centuries, the row houses originally accommodated blue-collar or middle-class families.

Rue des Peupliers

A conspicuously-placed stone house at the head of Rue des Peupliers heralds the stone row houses lining that street:

The row houses below, with their stone walls and boxy shapes, present a unified succession.

Rue des Peupliers (13e)

The earthy hue of the stones contrasts with the dark slate grey of the squared mansard roofs. And the curved window trim on the ground floor, as well as the varied shape and colour of the stones, softens the austere form of the houses.

Rue Dieulafoy

The forty-four middle-class row houses of Rue Dieulafoy were built in 1921. Their distinctive Mansard slate roofs and recessed windows unify the row. On the other hand, the varying trim details such as window parapets, pillared gates, and quoins give each house a degree of individuality.

Some of these features borrow from the architectural syntax of grander homes, while the uniformity of the structures and their relatively modest size mitigate any impression of ostentation.

Architect: Henry Trésal, Rue Dieulafoy (13e)
Rue Henri Pape

These identical houses of Rue Henri Pape were built in 1909 by socialist architect Henri Rebersat for the cooperative society La Petite Chaumière. Like the houses of Rue Dieulafoy, those of Rue Henri Pape sport distinctive architectural features: jerkinhead or Dutch gable roofs, popular in Germanic countries, and decorative wooden balconies.

Rue Henri Pape (13e)

The Dutch gable roofs recall the famous row houses of Renaissance Amsterdam. Another characteristic of the 19th– and 20th-century revival of Gothic and Renaissance styles is the use of polychrome brickwork:

The street, by the way, is named after Henri Pape, an innovative piano manufacturer with 137 patents to his credit. Who knew?

Rue du Moulin des Prés
Square des Peupliers

A metal disk on the cobblestones marks the location of the underground Bièvre River:

Does the Quartier des Peupliers rest on Medieval rubble?

As I wandered around the quiet streets of the Quartier des Peupliers, I wondered what lay underneath — limestone quarries, like so much of the 13th arrondissement? Actually, the ground below Quartier des Peupliers was decidedly not quarried, due to the presence of the Bièvre River and its valley in the area that’s now the Quartier des Peupliers.

From the time that this area was annexed in 1860 until about 1933, the terrain saw major changes. The Bièvre River was enclosed by a culvert and covered over, creating a subterranean waterway. Its valley — essentially the Quartier des Peupliers and Cite Floral — was filled in with debris from Haussmannian urban works.

The reddish-brown area on the map above outlines the Bièvre River valley.

Map from “The Bièvre: the river that disappeared in Paris” in Paris Impressions

My question is this: If Haussmann was still clearing away medieval Paris at that time, then might medieval rubble have been used to fill in the Bièvre River valley running through the Quartier des Peupliers? If so, could future excavations reveal anything of archaeological interest?

Maybe my question arises from my fantasy of participating in an archaeological dig in Paris. I can dream.

Neighbourhoods near Park Montsouris (14e)

Rue des Artistes

An elevated street where young artists lived in the 19th century.

View of Allée Samuel Beckett, a tree-lined walkway in the middle of Avenue René Coty

Short streets west of Parc Montsouris


Rue des Thermopyles & Cité Bauer (14e)

Pleasant cobblestoned lanes with low-rise houses, artistic facades, and a community garden.

A neighbourhood community garden:

Rue Cremieux (12e)

The now-gentrified pastel houses of short Rue Cremieux were built in 1857 to house workers.


South of Tour Triangle (Hauts-de-Seine)

Rue Marcel Yol, in Hauts-de-Seine, south of Tour Triangle
Rue Marcel Yol, in Hauts-de-Seine, south of Tour Triangle

Next: Scenes of Urban Development in Paris

Camille Martin

One response to “Paris Wanderlust: Islands of Urban Tranquility — Cottages & Row Houses

  1. Pingback: Paris Wanderlust: Brick Play | Rogue Embryo

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