Numbers: 14, 16, 20, 41, 56, 63, 65
Until the 1960s the narrow road climbing up from the Boulevard St Germain towards the Boulevard St Michel was much as it had always been in the 19th and 20th centuries: a very low-cost area for students, artists and revolutionaries to live amid cafes and bookshops.
The road originally skirted the Charles V city wall and was called after the court title of the Prince of Condé, whose palace grounds bordered the road. From 1793 to 1805 during the French Revolution the road was renamed ‘Rue de la Liberté’.
To get an idea of the wealth and stature of the Condé branch of the Bourbon family, you can take a look at the door to No. 4 – built on the site of the stables of the Condé town house.
The black American writer Richard Wright lived at No. 14 from 1948 to 1959, the year before he died in Paris aged 52. A plaque has been put up to his memory, not mentioning the reports he gave to the American embassy on Nkrumah and French communists he met, arguably doing so to ensure the renewal of his passport. The building has another interesting door built under the Second Empire.
Next door, at No. 16, there used to be a very long-lasting anarchist bookshop. It survived from 1908 to 1932 and before the First World War was a regular meeting place for anarchist trade unionists.
A couple of doors further up the road, the Communist Party owned the Racine/Social publications bookshop at No. 20 in 1938.
No. 20 was also where, after midnight on December 5 1986 a young student, Malik Oussekine, coming out of a jazz club, was chased down the road to the entrance where he was beaten to death by riot police who attacked him because he was an Algerian and young. The previous day hundreds of thousands of young people had taken part in the day’s demonstrations against the Devaquet election reform. The police tried to cover the murder by calling an ambulance that took the dead body to hospital. Three years later two of the three police were found guilty of wounding Oussekine so badly that he died, and given suspended sentences of five and two years in prison.
Over the years Verlaine and many other writers and artists like James Joyce, Hemingway and Max Ernst used to eat at the Polidor restaurant on the ground floor of No. 41. Until recently its old style benches on which basic French food is served was commanded over by a stereotypical in-your-face French waitress. Now, however, it has even expanded and set up a wine shop.
In 1920, Nguyên Ai Quôc, the future Ho Chi Minh, lived at No. 56. He would have been not at all pleased by the coincidence that led the Indochinese section of the Trotskyist Communist League to meet at No. 65 in 1930.
The first cheap room where the teenage Émile Zola lived on arriving in Paris in 1858 was at No. 63.