Fourth Republic

During the Cold War Picasso supported the Communist Party’s campaign for peace that was essentially aimed at stopping the rearmament of West Germany by the United States

Cold war in France, Trade union split, Indo-Chinese war, European Economic Community, Suez, Algerian War – in progress

Boulevard Beaumarchais

Arrondissement 11

One of Paris’ very old boulevards, first called the boulevard Saint-Antoine and renamed boulevard Beaumarchais in 1831, after the important Enlightenment musician and poet. Two of its buildings (Nos. 23 and 28) are classified as historic monuments.

The low-level concert hall and theatre at No.10 was demolished in 1972

No. 10 isn’t. For good reasons. It’s now an ugly modern building. But from 1855 it was the entrance to a major cafe and music hall. The old entrances to the space behind the facade on the street are still there at Nos. 12 and 8.

The Dance hall le Grand Concert de l’Époque, in 1925 it became Concert Pacra until 1962

Initially opened as a dance hall called le Grand Concert de l’Époque, it became a theatre in 1905 and then a cafe-concert hall, Chansonia, in 1908. In 1925 another name change to Concert Pacra lasted until 1962, when for its last decade it became the Théâtre du Marais and then Music-Hall du Marais and finally a cinema.

Among those who appeared at the Concert Pacra were Charles Aznavour, Edith Piaf and the anarchist Georges Brassens.

In May 1968, while all the other shows in Paris stopped with the strike on the metro and the street battles in Paris, a concert of folk music took place there in support of the French Global Campaign against Famine.


Rue de la Gaîté

Arrondissement 14

Number 11bis, 20, 20bis, 21, 26, 31

Crammed full of smallish theatres since 1818, when the Montparnasse Theatre first opened its doors, the road ran along the outside of the Farmers’ General tax wall. This made it a good location to drink wine that was not subject to the Paris tax, and the numbers of music halls, theatres and restaurants that sprang up gave it its name. It was absorbed into Paris in 1863.

Sometimes political meetings were held in the cafés in the street. Gustave Courbet and many of Paris’ bohemian intellectuals and artists used to drink at the Café des Mille Colonnes, next to Bobino at No. 20bis, in the 1860s. On December 17 1904 all the Russian revolutionary groups in Paris met there together.

Bobino was the most famous music hall in the street. Lenin went often between 1909 and 1912. Edith Piaf sang there at the end of the 1930s and Georges Brassens had a five month residence there in 1976.

During 1870-1871 the dance hall, Bal du Jardin de Paris, at No. 21 was used to hold 30 public political meetings.

While Lenin was living in Paris in 1909-1912 he is recorded as seeing a friend, the singer-songwriter Montéhus appear at No. 26, the Théâtre de la Gaîté Montparnasse.

The Montparnasse Theatre you now see at No 31 was rebuilt in 1886 and is on the list of historic monuments. It staged the Paris premier of Berthold Brecht’s ‘Threepenny Opera’ (l’Opéra de Quat’sous) in 1928.

The writer Simone de Beauvoir spent the academic year of 1936-1937 based at the hotel then named Royal-Bretagne living there with Sartre when he was in Paris at No. 11bis. Today, this art-deco hotel has another name and looks more upmarket than it did in the 1930s.

The hotel where Simon de Beauvoir spent a year while teaching at the right-bank secondary school, the lycée Molière

Nearly opposite De Beauvoir’s hotel was the famous Bobino music hall at No. 20, sadly demolished in 1985 and turned into a Mercure hotel with a new Bobino now at the back. De Beauvoir and Sartre saw two singers there in 1932, singing anarchist and anti-militarist songs.

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Rue Gassendi

Arrondissement 14

Number 46

46 rue Gassendi

On his first visit to Paris in 1902, Natalia Sedova found Trotksy a place to live at No 46. near her flat in Rue Lalande. The 14th arrondissement was a frequent choice of destination for the Russian social democrats of the late 19th century and early 20th century. One source suggests Trotksy was living there when he married Natalia in 1903.

The street was constructed in 1887 and given the name of the Pierre Gassendi (1592-1655), a mathematician, astronomer and philosopher.

In 1999 a public library was opened at No. 36 and named after the anarchist, poet and singer, Georges-Brassens.


Rue Saint-Denis

Arrondissement 1, 2

Numbers: 20, 79, 90, 92bis, 93-99, 120, 151, 221, 237/239,

This is one of the earliest known streets in Paris. It was named after an abbey built on the site of a Roman Villa directly to the north of the Roman city of Lutetia. Many believed the villa was the burial site of the Italian evangelist Denis who came to Paris between AD 250 and 270, and was its first Bishop and martyr. So in 630 King Dagobert (of the Franks in what is now northern France) started to build a huge basilica on the spot and called it Saint-Denis. When he died in 639 he was buried there.

From that year on until the French Revolution when the body of the guillotined Louis XVI was disposed off in a quicklime pit, all French kings were buried in the St Denis Basilica. The church was also used to crown the King’s Queen and the road from it into Paris was also always used by the royal family for their processions into Paris, and so was known as the ‘royal route’.

Today the St Denis road begins its journey to the north of Paris at the Place du Châtelet where it is crossed by the Avenue Victoria. It used to go right down to the ‘Grand-Pont’ (Big Bridge) that from the 9th century crossed the wider reach of the Seine and accessed the central island, the Ile du Cite. That bridge was washed away several times and finally replaced by the Pont au Change.

The northern end of the road is at the magnificent Porte St-Denis, a huge triumphal arch created by Louis XIV in 1672 on the site of a major fortified gateway through the (now demolished) Charles V defensive wall that protected the right bank of Paris. The photograph of the arch above was taken in the 1930s.

On June 23 1848 one of the main barricades of the workers’ insurrection against the closure of the national workshops blocked the Boulevard Bonne-Nouvelle from being used to move troops from West to East Paris where the movement was strongest. It was defended by engineers who worked on the Northern Railway Company, and was only taken by the government’s troops after their canon had fired 80 shots at the barricade.

This painting by Nicolas Edward Gabé (1814-1865) captures the moment when a woman picked up the insurrectionists’ flag on the barricade at the Porte St Denis and challenged the soldiers to kill her – which they did.

The Rue St Denis continues beyond the Porte’s Arch northwards towards the Saint-Denis suburb. From this point it becomes the Rue du Faubourg St-Denis which runs as far as the Boulevard de la Chapelle.

Number 20 used to be the entrance to the Halles Centrales café and concert hall, where Blanqui spoke at several meetings in 1870.

The weekly anarchist journal Le Libertaire that had resumed publication on December 21 1944, thanks to the financial support of Georges Brassens, was able to install itself alongside the Libertarian Communist Federation in an office at No. 79 in March 1954. Series 5 of the paper finally stopped publication on July 12 1956.

Subsequently, from 1960 to 1976, No. 79 became the headquarters of the exiled Spanish anarcho-syndicalists who believed that the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo should work with the exiled government.

One of the few barricades built by the leftists who participated in the Society of Seasons uprising on Sunday May 12 1839 led by Blanqui and Barbes was at No. 90. It blocked the road at the junction with the Rue de la Grande Truanderie.

The 1839 barricade was just next door to the one built at No 92 bis in front of the St Leu church on November 19 1827. This was the first barricade in Paris since 1795 and was put up after troops were ordered to remove all signs put up in houses celebrating the liberal victory in Paris in the November 17 legislative elections. The resulting riot was put down with a cavalry charge and some gunfire in which a young Blanqui was wounded by a bullet in the neck.

At the principal barricade built across the road at No. 120 on the same day the 18th regiment fired at the defenders, killing four of its defenders.

No. 151 (or No. 153 or No. 243 where the family lived soon afterwards as is suggested in the Paris birth records) was the birthplace of Léon Blum on April 9 1872. Then, like today, it was in the heart of the Parisian textile and clothing industry. But where once it was predominantly Jewish, today the businesses in the area are largely of North African origins.

A sad plaque on a modernised building that does not indicate that Blum was Jewish, a Socialist or that he was France’s prime minister in 1936

The bloody week that ended the Paris Commune took its toll at No. 199. This was where a barricade was built across the corner with what is now the Rue Réaumur saw serious fighting on May 24 1871. Another barricade at No. 237/239 that crossed to the Passage du Caire covered alleyway was defended by the Commune’s 92nd battalion.

After Honoré Daumier was released from Ste Pélagie prison in 1833 he lived in an artists’ house including Narcisse Virgilio Diaz at No. 221.

As long ago as the Middle Ages the central Paris area around Rue Saint-Denis, Rue Grenata, the Rue aux Ours and the Rue de Saint-Martin was known as the ‘Huleu’ (screeching) quarter because of the prostitutes calling out for clients as men passed by. The women used to hire covered wooden stands, and men climbing on to the stand went ‘en bords’ (onboard). This was the origin of the now internationally recognised word ‘bordel‘ (brothel). Paris counted some 50,000 prostitutes by the mid-19th century.

For me, the southern part of the road near what used to be the huge Les Halles market still conjures up memories of that night in 1962 when I and my close school friend David walked on a cool dark summer night, with money in our pockets, determined to lose our virginities. I was quite amazed to find that more than 50 years later, despite the removal of the Halles market and the gentrification of central Paris, Tripadvisor is actually still selling the area as the place to go to see ‘Paris nightlife’.

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Twenty 19th century French writers, including George Sand, Victor Hugo, Arthur Rimbaud, Paul Verlaine and Émile Zola

Those referenced will include 20th century leftist writers (novelists, poets, song-writers, philosophers such as: Aimé Césaire, Jean-Paul Sartre, Victor Serge, Ernest Hemingway, Andre Breton, Louis Aragon, Guillaume Apollinaire, Georges Brassens, Marc Bloch, Pierre Bourdieu, Louis Althusser, Andre Gorz, Daniel Bensaid, Simone de Beauvoir, Frantz Fanon, Benoite Groult, Andre Malraux as well as many 19th century republicans and socialists such as Victor Hugo, Daniel Stern, George Sand, Flora Tristan, Alphonse de Lamartine, Emile Zola, Guillaume Apollinaire, Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud, Stephane Mallarme

Poems from the left