Paris connections, revealed

From its doorknobs to its house numbers, Paris is rich in architectural details. But it was the city’s iconic pavers that led me on my most recent historical adventure.

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In some streets the pavers are still arranged in beautiful fan-like patterns.

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The rue de l’Abreuvoir offers a nice view of the Sacré Coeur in Montmartre, above — if you can ignore the pavers.

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I was at one of my favorite spots along the Seine, on the Quai de Bourbon …

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… when I noticed a missing paver.

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I began poking at the hole with my foot to dislodge the cigarette butts, when a man approached. “You must not disturb the pavés,” he said, looking both stern and concerned.

My French is wobbly — and I’ve not yet been able to confirm the penalty — but I’m pretty sure he said “five years in jail” for removing a paver. I’d intended no such act, but still the encounter rattled me.

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Serious crimes in Paris get you a complimentary tour of the Palais de Justice (in the background). But I skipped it because none of my guidebooks recommended it.

But you know what they say about forbidden fruit: Soon I was obsessed with the idea of obtaining a paver. Legally, of course!

The city has been tearing out the pavers and replacing them with asphalt since the May 1968 riots, in which students turned the granite blocks into missiles aimed at the police. Surely City Hall might have saved a few?

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The Fontaine St. Michel, to the right in the frame above, is a favorite meeting spot for Parisians — and a traditional site for protests, too.

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Some of the 1968 riots took place near the Place St. Michel, so officials paved over this nearby crosswalk to prevent subsequent paver-hurlings.

That’s how I found this article — “Paris offrez-vous un pavé du Trocadéro.”  Translation: for €50 (plus €40 shipping to the U.S.) you can legally obtain a paver from the Place du Trocadéro, near the Eiffel Tower.

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The Place du Trocadéro — a great spot for spotting the Eiffel Tower.

Pavé de Paris also throws in a small wooden crate and a bilingual booklet of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, said their website.

This made me curious: Why was Pavé de Paris enclosing a copy of the resolution France’s National Assembly drafted? Seeking the connection, I pondered some of the people and places from the 1789 revolution.

Was the paver somehow related to the cheering crowds that gathered at the Place de la Révolution to watch madame la guillotine claim her victims’ heads?

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The site of the guillotine was renamed Place de la Concorde in 1795.

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Or was it related to the Conciergerie, where so many doomed prisoners awaited their executions? I thought especially of Marie Antoinette, writing one last entry in her prayer book before two white horses carried her to her death:

This 16th of Oct. at 4:30 in the morning
My God, have mercy on me!
My eyes have no more tears
to weep for you my poor
children; farewell, farewell!

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Conciergerie 1080542 CLHL BW BLOGThe oldest portions of the Conciergerie go back to the 12th century. It was also in 1186 that Philippe-Auguste ordered the first paved Parisian streets.

Then my mind turned to Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, the physician and politician who opposed the death penalty, but who ironically gave the guillotine its name.

Outraged by the messy and often inhumane executions he was witnessing in Paris, Guillotin had hoped a more humane method of execution would at least be one step closer to ending the practice.

Supposedly the “instant decapitation machine” he proposed was tested on sheep at his office on the Cour du Commerce Saint-André. I wonder how the owners of Le Procope — the coffee shop next door — felt about all the bleating and bleeding.

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On the right side of the frame above, look for Le Procope’s overhead sign. The façade of the white building to the right of it has a plaque mentioning Dr. Guillotin. Also, notice the pavers!

Only in hindsight, as I sought a connection to the pavers, did I realize I’d visited all of these sites.

But my question remained unanswered: What did any of this have to do with the more modern Place du Trocadéro where Pavé de Paris obtained its pavers?

Trocadero Parvis des libertes 1090435 BW BLOGThe inscription in the foreground reads “Parvis des Libertés et des Droits de l’Homme.”

A more careful read of both the Parisien article and the Pavé de Paris website cleared up my confusion: The booklet didn’t contain the 1789 revolution Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, but rather the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that the United Nations ratified at the Trocadéro in 1948.

Aaaah, I seeee …

Although I took a wrong turn in one sense, in another my mission was a success: I’d discovered the pavers’ omnipresence through centuries of history, and their starring role in many pivotal moments.

Anyway. Back to Pavé de Paris. My (totally legally obtained, nothing at all to see here, officer) paver arrived last week!

But I’ve decided not to keep it, because it’s the perfect gift for a certain young man named Noah, a fellow lover of Paris who will soon graduate from law school. I think he’ll enjoy using it as a bookend for his law books — but he’ll also have his first paver for storming the Bastille … just in case.

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Thank you for tagging along the past few days, and for all of your creative guesses. I will be back soon with more stories from the City of Light.

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90 comments

    • You know what’s funny? I thought of you when that popped into my head, Corey. You are the master of clever wordplay. 🙂

  1. Heidebee, I learned so much today about the beautiful city of Paris. Even the history of the guillotine, though gruesome, brings me closer to appreciating the intended humanity behind it. It’s fascinating stuff. What fun to have a paver of your own for a short time, and lovely that you’ll be passing it on to a fine young man. I’m sure he’ll ensure that it’s never hurled at anyone again. Though charming and beautiful, I’m sure those stones are also responsible for ruining the soles of many shoes, and perhaps a skinned knee or two or twenty.

    You’re a fabulous writer and photographer and a great story-teller to boot. xo

    • Oh, Alys … your comment will keep me walking on Cloud 9 for the rest of the WEEK. I am *so* pleased this post added to your own appreciation of Paris. Thank you so much for your kind words; you really have made my day.

      PS: Your observation about ruined shoes and skinned knees is right on! I don’t feel like I’ve really had a trip to Paris unless I’ve twisted my ankle on the things at least once. 🙂

    • Thank you, Yann — it’s quite a compliment coming from you! As for that second sentence: Please drop me a note a hmunro [dot] wordpress {at} gmail *dot* com. 😉

    • Thank you so much — I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I greatly appreciate your reading and taking the time to comment.

  2. Brilliant. I absolutely loved this treasure hunt. And I especially love that evocative picture of the Conciergerie. I am now so tempted to buy a pave myself – but what justification?
    I have so many pictures of paving, inspection covers, drains and cobbles, they are so often so quirky – do you find people slowing down trying to work out what you’re doing? I have some from New Orleans, some from Santiago de Compostela, some form Lisbon and various places in the UK – I love how individual they can be.
    Thanks for this, I really enjoyed it.

    • What a marvelous and diverse collection of paver photographs you’ve amassed. My goodness. Santiago de Compostela, even! I must visit your blog to check whether you’ve posted about that — for reasons I don’t understand I’ve been feeling a calling to make the pilgrimage (even though I’m not at all religious). I’m also keen to hear your impressions of Lisbon, because that may soon be on the list.
      As for buying your very own paver … well, they do make excellent book-ends, and the purchase does support some very kind young French entrepreneurs, and it is a bit of Paris you can have in your home. At least that’s how I justified my own purchase (before I decided to give it as a gift). 🙂
      Anyway. Thank you SO MUCH for your kind comment. You have made my day!

  3. I did post about both – went to Galicia and Lisbon, many pictures, summer 2015. Not sure if I included pavers – but I did include graffiti (am I weird I wonder??) (don’t answer that!). There are 4 post after this one I’m afraid: http://wp.me/p2vL4D-yL
    I really did enjoy the trip! I loved Lisbon and want to go back. Went by train so can’t claim to have done the Camino, but I know what you mean. There’s something elemental about the thought of doing it. I read a book called ‘On Pilgrimage’ by Jennifer Lash – she had been v ill and walked through France visiting pilgrimage sites en route and it is – well I thought so – fascinating and eye-opening. You might enjoy if you can find a copy. Thank you again for such an inspiring post. The paver, I’m succumbing …

    • Thank you SO MUCH for the link to your posts; I have just enjoyed the most delightful 45 minutes of armchair travel in … well, maybe ever. You are a wonderful writer and storyteller! What a privilege to be able to tag along with you vicariously on that adventure.

      Thank you also for recommending “On Pilgrimage.” I will see if I can find a copy — although your post about Santiago de Compostela actually helped shed some light on the mystery of my obsession with walking El Camino.

      As for that paver … I’m so sorry to have led you into temptation! But knowing your appreciation for history I think you’ll find it a meaningful and rewarding purchase.

  4. Very enjoyable read–put together so nicely. You prove that it is just as interesting to look down as it is to look up!

  5. Heide, that was a GREAT tour, journey, history lesson, and ending (a paver in the mail!). A totally creative way to link interesting history via beautiful photos and a unique focus. We don’t always look down, you know? Much to miss by being present and grounded (haha 😉 couldn’t resist). Thank you!

    • I’m so glad you liked the post, Lara — because I blame it for my neglectfulness as a pen pal (an oversight I shall soon remedy). 🙂 You’re right that we don’t always remember to look down, though! Although it’s a funny play on words, I think paying attention to the ground can help us be grounded in a very real way with the “here and now;” it’s kind of mind-blowing how seldom we’re aware of our connection to the earth, once I think about it! So … thank you for stopping by and blowing my mind! 🙂 You always give me interesting things to think about and new perspectives, Lara. Thank you for that.

      • =)! Glad it’s never preachy or like counseling in sound; not the intention! And I agree, definitely: looking down can actually be “grounding” in the moment. A reminder of where we are, what we’re doing, stopping and being present. A life-long habit to practice, whew! – Looking forward to your next installments. Seriously great, Heide – thank you!

  6. How cool! You know I’m going to love anything having to do with old pavement. Those pavers are lovely and I’m sad to learn that they are being covered in asphalt in many places.

    The main drag in my hometown was a brick street until about 50 years ago. I have always known it to be paved in asphalt but on a Facebook page about my hometown someone posted a slide from his father’s collection of the street not far from my childhood home from the end of the brick era in the early 1960s. It was super cool to see. It would be wonderful if it had been maintained that way even to the present day.

    • Ah yes, Jim — I know you’re going to love anything involving old pavement, which is why I’ve quietly kept working on that monster post about Freiburg for you! 🙂

      It’s sad that the main drag in your hometown was covered in asphalt, too, but I imagine those paved roads are a bear to maintain (not to mention the nightmare for the snowplow drivers). At least here in the Twin Cities they let you buy the old granite bricks — which my husband and I did many years ago to install a patio in our back yard.

      Alas … progress isn’t always pretty, is it?

      • A friend of mine in high school, whose dad owned a company that built roads, told me the brick streets were awful to plow and that was a leading reason they were being covered in asphalt! My hometown is close enough to Lake Michigan to get almost as much snow as Buffalo, NY, every year.

        • Ah, yes … “lake effect” snow. It sounds more poetic that way than “white death,” doesn’t it? 🙂 Actually, my mind went immediately to snow removal because my husband and I are currently in negotiations for a new front walk. He wants paver stones because we can do it ourselves and they’re easy to re-level as things settle. But I want concrete so the $@#! shovel won’t get caught on every other $@#! brick. I’ll let you know who wins. Grin.

    • How marvelous that my post sparked a gift idea for your aunt! I think anyone who likes Paris would appreciate it, and the packaging is lovely too. Thank you so much for stopping by, and for your kind comment!

  7. Thank you for the trip down memory lane. Mind you, my recollection of those pavers is not a romantic one as I found them incredibly hard underfoot! And by the end of each day filled with walking and seeing the sights, I was only too happy to soak my feet in a warm bath before giving those sore feet of mine a much needed massage.

    • You’re right that those pavers are hard on the feet — and the ankles too! I don’t feel like I’ve been to Paris until I’ve twisted my ankle at least once. 🙂 Nevertheless, they remain symbolic of the city for me, perhaps because there’s nothing like them in my home town. Thanks so much for stopping by, and many future happy travels to you!

  8. Loved the stroll down history lane (with pavers) to show the connections 🙂 It’s almost enough to make me want to order one….and I’ve never been to Paris! (and doubtful I ever will). Why fan shaped paving? It’s not like they need the support of the arch, and it would have to be more difficult to make and install.
    Still like that last shot the best 😀

    • I don’t know why they fan the pavers out like that, Jeff — but I suspect that pattern holds up better to traffic wear than something more linear would, especially in the days of carriages, when grooves would be more likely for form in the seams between the stones. Anyway. I will investigate during my next visit! But thank you SO MUCH for tagging along on this virtual trip. I always appreciate your readership and thoughtful comments.

  9. I love these locations! The black and white photos are truly breath-taking.
    It would mean a lot if you could check out my writing blog. It’s a universe of stories that I think you would love to explore. universeofstories.wordpress.com

    • Thank you for your kind comment, Harriet. And congratulations on your blog! I left you a comment or two, too. 🙂

  10. Lovely photos and a great journey you took us on. I was thinking of the Da Vinci Code movie and wondering where you were leading us. Your gift will be greatly appreciated by Noah, I’m sure. 🙂

  11. You truly know how to capture the beauty and charm of Paris. Your photos are gorgeous!! I loved the story about the pavés and your investigation into them. I always lived near Paris and I feel like I do not know its history enough. Now I must go see where Guillotin lived!! You should listen to this podcast Land of Desire which is about the history of Paris. This blog kind of reminded me of it – plus the added bonus of awe inspiring visuals. I love it! Will keep reading from now on!

    • Thank you so much for your kind words, Olivia — I am always honored when something I write stokes curiosity in someone else who loves Paris. And un énorme merci aussi for recommending “Land of Desire.” I will check it out! Thank you so much for your visit.

  12. A lovely series of images, with great textures and tones. We spend a lot of time walking around looking, but not actually seeing (bear with me, it makes sense in my head!), and the close ups and unusual angles you’ve used with the paviers really brings them to life. 🙂

    • I know *exactly* what you mean by drawing a distinction between “looking” and “seeing,” ck — so I’m extremely honored that you found evidence of the latter in my photos. Thank you!

  13. Such an incredible and rich stroll throughout Paris ~ you’ve taken the Paris people talk about in stories and added a touch of magic with your photos and words.

  14. Honestly, you really ought to consider a career as tour guide extraordinaire. That was all very facisinating. I’m sad that they’ve paved over the bricks but I suppose if it saves a brain or two during a riot, then so be it. I see a hole in their plan though, what’s to stop the hudlums from moving a block or two over to a spot with brick pavers?
    We were in Paris, June 2016, and booked a tour with another couple. They were absent that morning though, so we got a private tour with a fabulous young man. He was super knowledgable about history and a great story teller too. We tipped him well as we thouroughly enjoyed his company. Honestly, what a gig if you can manage the driving. Cheers my dear!

    • My life’s ambition is to be a tour guide extraordinaire, but since I live nowhere near Paris I’m content to give these virtual tours. And thank you so much for joining this one! I’ll have to find a hoodlum and ask him/her why they simply don’t move their protests to streets that still have brick pavers. (Knowing the Parisians, the answer will pertain to tradition — as in, “… but, we have *always* rioted on this street!”) All of that said, I’m more curious to hear about YOUR tour: What area did you see? And which facts most surprised you or stuck with you? Inquiring minds want to know. 🙂

    • I was deliberately a bit obtuse in my “clues,” Louise — but I’m so glad you enjoyed coming along for the ride! I hope you’ll have a chance to come back to Paris someday, and to stay a bit longer (though even staying a lifetime wouldn’t be long enough …)

    • Thank you so much for stopping by, and especially for your kind words, Meghna. And stay tuned, because I’m going back soon! 🙂

  15. Thank you so much for a history lesson on Paris. I adore this city and all the history that makes it such a wonderful place. I hope they do not get rid of all the pavers. Thank you again.

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