Streets of Paris … Rue Mouffetard …

If you’ve been to Paris you will know that Paris is divided into twenty districts. We call such a district an arrondissement, and they are numbered in a circle from the middle, clockwise around and out. Therefore, if you draw a line from #1 out to #20, you will have a squiggle like a snail […]

If you’ve been to Paris you will know that Paris is divided into twenty districts. We call such a district an arrondissement, and they are numbered in a circle from the middle, clockwise around and out. Therefore, if you draw a line from #1 out to #20, you will have a squiggle like a snail shell on the paper.

The French love escargots (snails) yes, but the nice little garlicky creatures had nothing to do with the numbering of the districts. The districts had developed naturally from the 13th century due to what was where and how to get there. The twenty districts as we know them today however date from 1860 when the Bureau de la Ville de Paris finally decided on their borders. The name arrondissement, by the way, was first used in 1795; to be exact, in the law of October 11, 1795, which determined the borders of the twelve arrondissements in existence at that time.

Street naming had started in the 12th century already and then the name was carved into the stone buildings or written on wooden boards fastened to trees or hedges. For example on a street where there was a popular butcher, the street had become known as Rue du Boucher.

The current street name plates – white lettering on blue – dates from 1844 and I don’t think that it will ever be changed.

There are (when I last counted there were) over 6,000 streets in Paris. Each has a charm of its own despite that today not all of them are safe to walk along after night has fallen – even in daylight but don’t ever say that I told you so. I will from now on, every now and then, write about one of Paris’ streets, about how it got its name, what it’s like, what goes on there, and so on. I will go and take a couple of pictures of the street too to give you a visual idea of what it’s like.

I am tempted to commence with Rue Le Sueur where Dr. Marcel Petiot (see my book ‘Die in Paris’) murdered his victims and then cut them up to eventually try to get rid of the remains by burning or with quicklime, but I am going to start with Rue Mouffetard.

One of Mouffetard's old decorated buildings

There was a time I used to go there every Saturday morning for the next week’s fresh fruit and vegetables and for a spit-roasted chicken or quail, for it is a market street – an open-air market, that is. And I can tell you already now that when you are next in Paris, do go visit it, and if you live in Paris or close to Paris and you’ve not been there, then GO!

Mouffetard is in the 5th arrondissement, very close to Avenue des Gobelins in the 13th arrondissement. If you are going to take the Metro (underground railway) to the street, you can descend either at the Les Gobelins, Censier-Daubenton or Place Monge station. There are signs up directing one to the street, and whichever station you wish to surface at, this is a delightful area of Paris and you will enjoy the short (a few minutes only) walk to Mouffetard.

Once, Mouffetard was all about food, glorious food: pyramids of strawberries and cherries in the spring, mountains of mushrooms of all shapes, sizes and colors in the fall, baskets of white eggs, tiny spotted quail eggs, and white, yellow and orange cheeses, quarters of Brie, small round Camemberts on straw, and pheasants and guinea fowl in full feather still, and plucked hens, cocks, ducks and geese, all hanging from hooks no matter what the season.

Another of Mouffetard's delightful buildings

Today, though, with supermarkets everywhere in Paris and hypermarkets all along the periphery, some butchers and bakers have left so that one can also now buy other things on Mouffetard, for example clothes, but of the ‘flower people’ kind.

There are also more cafés and restaurants on the street, and when it’s not cold, tables are laid outside on terraces.

The market is very busy on Saturdays and Sundays because it is after all a produce market for Parisians (the well-heeled more likely who tend to cycle there, wicker basket hanging from the handlebar) but as there are no stalls open on Mondays, if you are not after a spit-roasted chicken, I would recommend you go walk around there on a Monday. You also won’t have a problem finding a free table on the terrace of one of the eating and watering holes.

Mouffetard's most interesting building: The sign reads 'The Happy Nigger'

The street dates from around 1254, and the name Mouffetard derives from the word mofette or mouf(f)ette which is French for a skunk.

You may well say, “Good heavens what a name for a street associated with food!” but those years the road from Paris, south to the Mediterranean and west and east into Europe, ran through the area and that was where traders – tanners, skinners, butchers – set up camp to await farmers and hunters to arrive with their produce.  In other words the area always stank – stank like a skunk and everyone said: “Quelle mouf(f)ette!” and, so, the street had become known as Rue Mouffetard.

I've no idea what the sign on this building represents

 

 

Marilyn Z. Tomlins

7 Responses to “Streets of Paris … Rue Mouffetard …”

  1. 7
    a perfect final day in Paris | Bird Brain Designs Says:

    […] morning I walked down rue Mouffetarde to buy a loaf of bread and find a spot to sketch. This is a lively area of market stalls, shops and […]

  2. 6
    Lynn McCain Says:

    I would like to see Nureyevs grave… if you should have time… would be so nice… I would pay… no problem… i m a big Nureyev lover…

  3. 5
    The Origin of Arrondissements Says:

    […] walk along after night has fallen – even in daylight but don’t ever say that I told you so. >more Posted in Paris […]

  4. 4
    Jeff Schraeder Says:

    Yes, rue Mouffetard is mostly about food and I enjoy not only shopping for dinner there but also eating lunch at Le Mouffetard. This restaurant is what most people imagine when they think of a Parisian market restaurant. When friends visit us in Paris I always take them to Le Mouffetard for a meal and it is inevitably one of their best memories.

  5. 3
    EM Says:

    Great little piece on the origin of arrondisements in Paris. Another interesting aspect of the arrondisements are their mayoral seats, the grand old city halls that host dozens of marriages every Saturday.

    Thanks…

    EM.

  6. 2
    The Paris Blog: Paris, France Expat Tips & Resources »Blog Archive » The Origin of Arrondissements Says:

    […] If you’ve been to Paris you will know that Paris is divided into twenty districts. We call such a district an arrondissement, and they are numbered in a circle from the middle, clockwise around and out. Therefore, if you draw a line from #1 out to #20, you will have a squiggle like a snail shell on the paper. The French love escargots (snails) yes, but the nice little garlicky creatures had nothing to do with the numbering of the districts. The districts had developed naturally from the 13th century due to what was where and how to get there. The twenty districts as we know them today however date from 1860 when the Bureau de la Ville de Paris finally decided on their borders. The name arrondissement, by the way, was first used in 1795; to be exact, in the law of October 11, 1795, which determined the borders of the twelve arrondissements in existence at that time. Street naming had started in the 12th century already and then the name was carved into the stone buildings or written on wooden boards fastened to trees or hedges. For example on a street where there was a popular butcher, the street had become known as Rue du Boucher. The current street name plates – white lettering on blue – dates from 1844 and I don’t think that it will ever be changed. There are (when I last counted there were) over 6,000 streets in Paris. Each has a charm of its own despite that today not all of them are safe to walk along after night has fallen – even in daylight but don’t ever say that I told you so. >more […]

  7. 1
    Jowake Says:

    Interesting, I don’t think I ever visited that street.

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