Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Manufacture des Gobelins

The Manufacture des Gobelins is a tapestry factory at 42 avenue des Gobelins in the 13th arrondissement. It was best known as a royal factory supplying the court of Louis XIV and later monarchs, but is now run by the French Ministry of Culture. The Manufacture des Gobelins is also a school, now 400 years old, that stills trains artisans to make and restore carpets and tapestries, making sure this great French tradition doesn’t die out.

Founded as a dye works in the mid-15th century by Jean Gobelin, Louis XIV purchased the Gobelins works in 1662. Jean-Baptiste Colbert united all the royal artisans, creating a royal tapestry, statue and furniture workshop. Royal painter Charles Le Brun was director and chief designer from 1663 to 1690. Because of the later financial problems of Louis XIV, the Gobelins works were temporarily closed from 1694 to 1697, after which the workrooms specialized in tapestry, chiefly for royal use. The buildings and grounds of the Gobelins factory adjoined the Bièvre river, but the many tanneries and dye works along this narrow stream so thoroughly polluted the water that the smell drove the 19th-century city officials to divert the water into an underground channel, through which it still runs.

The Gobelins rivalled the Beauvais tapestry works until the French Revolution, when work at the factory was again suspended. The Bourbons revived the factory during the Restoration, and in 1826 the manufacture of carpets was added to that of tapestry. In 1871 the main building was partly burned down by the Communards.

The factory still produces tapestries as a state-run institution. Today the operation consists of a set of four buildings dating to the seventeenth century, plus the building on the avenue des Gobelins built by Jean-Camille Formigé in 1912 after the 1871 fire. They contain Le Brun’s residence and workshops that served as foundries for most of the bronze statues in the park of Versailles, as well as looms on which tapestries are woven following seventeenth century techniques.

Factory at 42, avenue des Gobelins. Guided tours Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 2.00 p.m and 2.45 p.m. Admission 8 Euros. Reservations 01 44 54 19 33 and 01 44 08 52 00. Metro: Gobelins.

Louis XIV visiting the Gobelin factory with Colbert and his brother Philippe, 1667. Tapestry from the "History of the King" series designed by Charles Le Brun and woven between 1667 and 1672.

A small sampling of royal decorative items now on display (photos by Jason Whittaker):

Monday, September 21, 2009

Vespasiennes (street urinals)

Vespasienne (photographed June 15, 2005)

A vespasienne is a street urinal, and this is the last one still in use in the city of Paris (located directly in front of the prison on boulevard Arago at rue de la Santé, where the 14th, 13th and 5th arrondissements intersect). Photographer Anthony Atkielski (see image above) says, “Amazingly, it is still in use: while I was standing preparing to take this photograph, several men stopped their cars, got out, and used the urinal – you can see the feet of one in this photo. More amazing still, they were all wearing suits.”

Note: Anthony Atkielski also conducts completely customized personal tours of Paris, for individuals, friends, families and groups. Visit his web site at:

In the 1930s there were upwards of 1200 street urinals like this scattered throughout Paris. The locals referred to them as vespasiennes, deriving the name from Roman Emperor Vespasian, who was the first to impose a tax on public toilets.

Beginning in the 1990s, the vespasiennes (renowned for their smell and lack of hygiene) were gradually replaced by self-cleaning, high-tech Sanisettes (modern gray sculpted pay toilets), which, by order of Mayor Delanoë, are now free of charge. There is a vespasienne that can be seen in the Luxembourg Gardens (not usable) which stands like a sculpture, a relic of times gone by.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris

Museum of Fashion
Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris
10, avenue Pierre Ier de Serbie

The Musée Galliera is the City of Paris Museum of Fashion. Opened in 1977, it is housed in a Renaissance-style palace built at the end of the 19th century for the Duchesse de Galliera. The museum collects and displays creations that have marked the development of historical and contemporary fashion. Each year it presents two exhibitions, on a specific theme or a single couturier, revealing part of its huge collection of clothing and accessories from the 18th century to the present day. Open 10a-6p except Tuesdays. 7.5€ admission. Tél.: 01 56 52 86 00. Update: this museum is presently closed for work on security systems; reopening will be spring of 2011.

Metro: Iéna
16th arrondissement (between Place de l’Alma and Trocadéro)

Situated on the right bank of the River Seine, the 16th arrondissement is home to many diplomatic embassies, the famous Avenue Foch (the widest street in Paris) and the Bois de Boulogne (the second-largest public park in Paris). This district also hosts several large sporting venues, including the Parc des Princes (the stadium where Paris Saint-Germain football club plays its home matches), Roland Garros Stadium (where the French Open tennis championships are held), and Stade Jean-Bouin (home to the Stade Français rugby union club). Most tourists come to the 16th arrondissement to view the Eiffel Tower from the terrace of the Trocadéro, situated directly across the Seine from this great iron landmark of the city.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Le mur des je t'aime

Just off Place des Abbesses is a small park, Square Jehan Rictus, which is a pleasant shady corner of green offering a few wooden benches for a rest from navigating the steep streets of Montmartre. Its chief attraction, however, is “Le mur des je t'aime” – the wall of “I love you.” This wall is crafted of 511 enameled dark blue tiles that display the words “I Love You” in over 300 languages (311, to be exact). All of the languages from the 192 member states of the United Nations are reproduced. Equally represented are less known languages such as Dzongkha, Khirghiz and Bislama – plus Basque, Bambara, Catalan, Corsican, Kurdish, Innuktitut, Navajo, Occitan, Yiddish, and many others.

In 1992, as a disciple of Jules Verne’s character Philéas Fogg, composer/performer Frédéric Baron dreamed of a trip around the world in 80 "I love yous". He did not stop at 80, however. He asked his younger brother to write down the magic phrase. Then he turned to a neighbor who was Spanish or Portuguese or Russian – and so on. He opened many doors, particularly those of Embassies. In harvesting the most beautiful expressions of love, three large notebooks were filled with "I love you" written 1000 times in more than 300 languages. Then Frédéric Baron asked Claire Kito, an artist who practices oriental calligraphy, to design the collection of scripts. From their collaboration was born the image of a wall on which the principal languages and dialects of the planet glittered. Specializing in murals, Daniel Boulogne also fell in love with the project and successfully brought to completion the construction of this work of art.

The wall has its own web site at:
Be sure to click on “virtual tour.”

Thirty-two of the languages have sound files for correct pronunciation at: