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Temple District

Paris cafe

3rd Arrondissement
M° Temple, Arts et Métiers, Rambuteau or République

In the 1990s, the Temple Quarter used to be considered a bit of a “dead” area, with nothing more than wholesale shops and ateliers for the leather and jewelry industries. But the neighborhood is experiencing a bit of a renaissance as art galleries, trendy tearooms and restaurants take over old workshops in the quiet streets off the Rue de Bretagne. Some Parisians even insist on calling it NoMa, for North Marais.

But where is the Temple? The quarter actually gets its name from the Knights of Templar, a religious and military order who once owned almost all the land around the Marais. Many artisans and craftsmen took refuge within the Templar’s walls, where the monarchy had no jurisdiction to collect taxes. Their impressive wealth and property eventually aroused the resentment of King Philip IV, who decided to get rid of this “state within a state”. The Knights of Templar were imprisoned in 1307, and their lands confiscated by the Crown. In 1314 they were burned at the stake on the tip of the Ile-de-la-Cité.

Begin at the corner of Rue de Turenne and Rue de Bretagne. You may notice a colorful building at the end of Rue des Filles du Calvaire at the top of the intersection. That’s the Cirque d’Hiver, an early 19th-century circus still in use today by different visiting circus acts. Continue along the Rue de Bretagne, crossing the Rue Charlot, a street full of many new cafés and shops. Have a stroll through the renovated Marché des Enfants Rouge (entrances on 33bis Rue Charlot or 39 Rue de Bretagne, 3rd M° Filles du Calvaire). Built in 1612 (making it the oldest covered market in Paris), it reopened in 2000 after many years of neglect, narrowly escaping transformation into a parking garage. Today there are 15 market stands and a wine bar, with the typical fish, bread, fruit and veggie sellers (open Tuesday-Thursday 8:30am-1pm and 4pm-7:30pm, Friday-Saturday 8:30am-1pm and 4pm-8pm, and Sunday 8:30am-2pm).

Continue along Rue de Bretagne to the Haussmann-era Square du Temple, flanked by the majestic Mairie du 3ème (the neighborhood’s Town Hall) and the Hôtel de la Garantie (Assay Office for precious metals). The English-style gardens feature a small duck pond and 19th-century pavilion used for summer concerts. Members of the local Chinese community gather here in the morning to practice tai-chi on the lawn. Follow the Rue Perrée past the Mairie to the Carreau du Temple, a covered market of glass and steel built in 1857. Over the past few years it’s been mostly empty save for a few uninteresting clothing stands, but the town hall is planning on converting the old market into a neighborhood arts and cultural centre…stay tuned.

The Templar Tower
The Carreau du Temple was built on the location of the former Templar Tower, where the royal family was imprisoned during the French Revolution before being sentenced to death. Louis XVI was immediately guillotined, and Queen Marie-Antoinette was transferred to the Conciergerie before it was her turn, leaving the dauphin alone in the Tower before he eventually died. Recent DNA tests from the preserved heart of the heir and hair from Marie Antoinette finally put an end to rampant speculation that the real dauphin actually escaped. Napoléon had the Tower razed in 1808 to prevent royalist pilgrimages, but a wall plaque on the corner of Rue du Petit Thouars and Rue Eugène Spuller shows exactly where it once stood.

Heading into the Arts-et-Métiers Quarter, take a detour to the Rue au Mairie, a narrow street dating back to 1280. Today it’s home to one of the city’s thriving Wenzhou Chinese communities, with colorful boutiques, authentic restaurants, and exotic food shops. This community, which now extends up to Belleville district, arrived from mainland China as recruited laborers during WWI. They’re unrelated to the Teochew Chinese in the 13th (different dialect, foods and customs), who first came to Paris from Vietnam in the 1970s.

Continue up Rue Volta (the second oldest house in Paris is at #3) to the Musée des Arts et Métiers (60 Rue Réamur), a museum illustrating humankind’s progress in science and technology. Kids will love the full-size flying machine models, and even those not interested in “how things work” will appreciate the beautifully-restored 18th-century architecture featuring vaulted, carved-wood ceilings. The whole place has a magical, Jules Verne atmosphere. Don’t miss the richly-painted interior of the 12th-century Eglise St-Martin-des-Champs, where Foucault’s pendulum and Bartholdi’s Statue of Liberty models are displayed. There is, regrettably, little translated into English (a guidebook can be purchased at the front desk).

Take the submarine! The Arts-et-Métiers Metro station (on the platform for line 11) is decorated with copper walls and portholes to resemble the inside of a submarine.