From one war to another

The Dreyfus affair was the moment that redefined the French Left between the two wars against Germany

Anarchism, Socialism, Paris Exhibition, Dreyfus, Revolutionary syndicalism – in progress

Rue de Bruxelles

Arrondissement 9

Number 21bis,

Rue de Bruxelles photographed about 1900

Built in an area designated under Charles X as the ‘European district’ in 1826, the road’s name was intended to celebrate the close relations between France and Belgium after the 1820 Treaty of Kortrijk with the Kingdom of the Netherlands that defined Belgium’s borders.

Its only real historical signficance is that having done extremely well as a writer,  Émile Zola, occupied the whole of the ground and first floors of No. 21 bis.

Zola’s principal home, living with his wife Emilie for over 20 years until his mysterious death in 1902.

On two of the walls of the house were portraits of Zola and his wife given to them by Édouard Manet, and on others paintings by his childhood friend, Paul Cézanne. There is now a plaque to Zola next to the main entrance.

Avenue Émile Zola

Arrondissement 15

Place Alfred Dreyfus, Number: 146

The front of the small stone commemorating Zola that since 2000 is in the centre of the Alfred Dreyfus Square

In 1907, within five years of his death the new left-wing majority on the Paris Town Council decided to change the name of the recently built (1905) Rue Frémicourt, to Emile Zola, after the prolific social realist writer.

The 1924 Statue of Zola with a figure representing Work on his right and Fertility below him was melted down along with many other left statues under the German occupation in 1942. Constantin Meunier, the Belgian social realist sculptor had died in 1905. It was only in 1985 that a small commemorative stone was put in its place.

Besides his huge output, Zola’s principal claim to fame is his denunciation of the travesty of justice served upon the Jewish Captain Alfred Dreyfus in 1894. In 2000 the section of the avenue where Zola’s memorial stone stood was renamed the Alfred Drefyus Square.

The back of the small stone commemorating Zola that since 2000 is in the centre of the Alfred Dreyfus Square

For a few years from 1908, No. 146 housed a Mutual Aid (Entr’aide) (lingerie and fashion cooperative founded by the feminist and trade unionist Gabrielle Duchêne, who had become politicised by the Dreyfus Affair and was a rare trade unionist who opposed the First World War. She directed the French section of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom from 1919 until her death in 1954.


Rue Hautefeuille

Arrondissement 6

Numbers: 13, 32

Gustave Courbet‘s workshop from 1848 up to the Paris Commune was based at No. 32. Among those who visited him here were Charles Baudelaire, who was born at No. 13 in a building that was knocked down when the Boulevard St Germain was driven through the Latin Quarter, and Emile Zola.

Painted between 1854 and 1855 in the former medical school in the Rue Hautefeuille,it’s full title is: ‘The Artist’s Studio, a real allegory summing up seven years of my artistic and moral life’. Rejected for the 1855 Paris World Fair, it now hangs in the Orsay Museum.

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Rue du Havre

Arrondissements 8, 9

Numbers: 3, 8,

Leading up to the Saint-Lazare station built in 1837 the road was called du Havre in 1845 after the port in Normandy that the station served. The name was extended to include a section of the Rue de la Chaussée-d’Antin with its reference to the Duke of Antin whose town mansion was built there.

The earlier name had been changed during the French Revolution first to Rue Mirabeau le Patriote from 1791 to 1793 and then to Rue du Mont-Blanc from 1793 to 1816. With the Bourbon restoration it had gone back to Chaussée-d’Antin.

The odd numbers in the road are in the 9th arrondissement and the even numbers in the 8th.

Zola met Jeanne Rozerot in 1888 when he was 48 and she was 21. Their children were born in 1889 and 1891. This photograph was taken in 1893, two years after Zola’s wife found out about the relationship.

Emile Zola was often seen walking in this road, since in 1897 he rented an apartment at No. 3 for Jeanne Rozerot, his mistress and mother of his two children.

At No. 8 the Lycée Condorcet, opened in 1803, in the relatively recent monastery of the Capucin monks built in 1780 and nationalised in the Revolution, is one of the four oldest secondary schools in Paris.

Besides three former presidents of the Republic, among the leftists who were educated there were Victor Schoelcher and Paul Verlaine, and much more recently Alain Krivine. Jaurès and Sartre both briefly taught philosophy there while Mallarmé taught English.


Rue Monsieur le Prince

Arrondissement 6

Numbers: 14, 16, 20, 41, 56, 63, 65

Rue Monsieur le Prince viewed from the Boulevard St Michel

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’.

The triangle of land, mansion and estate occupied by the House of Condé between the Rue Monsieur le Prince, the Rue de Condé and the Rue de Vaugirard in the Turgot plan of Paris in 1740

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 wonderful door and window above it at 4 Rue Monsieur le Prince are all that remain of the private Hôtel de Bacq, built in 1750 for Pierre Darlons, the secretary of the Prince of Conde

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.

The wooden sculpted entrance to the four-floored building at No. 14 is in the Napoleon III style. On the right the libertine, on the left the student.

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.

On December 6 2006, 20 years later, a memorial plaque was put in the pavement outside No. 20 at a ceremony led by the Paris Mayor, Betrand Delanoë. The sister of the victim found it strange that it wasn’t on the wall. Others criticised the reference to a demonstration that had occurred on December 4, and that it didn’t say that two policemen had been found guilty of his murder.

Paul Verlaine, moving frequently in the last years of his life, lived in No. 21 in 1894, while much earlier, Arthur Rimbaud had a room at No. 41 in May 1872.

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.

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Rue Montmartre

Arrondissements 1, 2

Numbers: 1, 24, 64, 113, 123, 138-142, 144, 146, 154

The cafe at the corner of Rue Montmartre and Rue du Croissant where Jean Jaurès’ assassin fired two bullets through the café window in the street on the right of my photograph.

On January 11 1898 Zola submitted his defence of Alfred Dreyfus J’accuse to Georges Clemenceau, editor of the L’Aurore newspaper at No. 144. It was printed the following day.

Jean Jaurès was assassinated in the adjoining cafe at No. 146 on 31 July 1914.

Rarely for Paris, two plaques mark both these important spots in the story that helped define the modern French left.

The street has many other associations with the history of left struggles in Paris too. At No. 1, the barricade across La Pointe St Eustache saw considerable fighting on May 24 1871.

No 24 was the location of an arms depot created in 1942 by Paris city employees during the German occupation.

Nearly a century earlier, in March 1848, the Hôtel d’Angleterre at No. 64 was the location of the German Social Democratic Society organised by the poet Georg Herwegh, and the arms depot set up by the Republican National Guard to arm the ‘Democratic Legion’ of German volunteers formed to go to the support of the German Republican Hecker insurrection in Baden in April 1848.

During the 1830 Revolution François-Vincent Raspail was the president of the Revolutionary Club based at No. 113 that Buonarroti supported. It soon became the Society of the Rights of Man that was responsible for the first huge demonstration (and riot and barricade made famous by Victor Hugo) of June 5-6 1832.

A northern stretch of Rue Montmartre was a centre of newpaper printshops.

No. 123 was associated with left newspapers. In 1893, Le Chambard socialiste was based there. The CGT and then CGTU trade union paper Worker’s Life (La Vie Ouvrière) was printed at the Dangon printworks there from 1919. In 1927 the same printshop produced Ho Chi Minh‘s Vietnamese paper, l’Âme annamite (The Vietnamese soul).

On 18 April 1904 the first issue of the daily newspaper l’Humanité founded by Jean Jaurès was printed at No. 138-142. The same address in 1916 saw a left socialist anti-war newspaper, Le Populaire de Paris, appear. It was founded by Marceau Pivert, Jean Longuet, Paul Faure and Henri Barbusse.

On July 18 1927 the then Communist leaders Marcel Cachin and Jacques Doriot (who became a fascist leader between 1934 and 1936) were arrested at the L’Humanité offices now based at its printing works. The same address, No. 138-142, was the interwar editorial offices of the Young Communist publication, L’Avant-Garde.

On 27 February 1848, Proudhon published the first edition of his newspaper, The People’s Representative, at No. 154.

On November 15 1793, four months after Jean-Paul Marat‘s assassination, the delegates from the Montmartre commune called for the Rue Montmartre to be renamed Rue Mont-Marat.

Originally some believe the name Montmartre derived from ‘Mont Mars’ because of an alleged Roman temple to Mars built on the hill. Others consider it was because criminals or Christian martyrs were executed on the top of hills.

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Boulevard du Montparnasse

Arrondissements: 6, 14 and 15

Numbers 99, 102, 103, 108, 126, 132, 142, 159, 171

The terrace of Le Dôme reflects the Metro station and La Rotonde café on the uneven numbered side of the boulevard du Montparnasse

The boulevard du Montparnasse crosses three arrondissements. The odd numbers on the north side are all in the 6th; the even numbers from 2 to 66 are in the 15th; and from number 68 onwards the addresses are all in the 14th. It was named with reference to the Greek residence of the muses by 17th century students after a tiny hillock in the area.

One excellent source on the left in Paris, the website Parisrévolutionnaire suggests that both Lenin and Trotsky were at the Dôme in 1905. Hazan (IOP), however, insists the Dôme… should never have been allowed to call itself the café of Trotsky and Kertész.

What is certainly true is that in the early years of the 19th century, the Dôme at No 108 became a major intellectual centre, and attracted many left political and artistic people.

Pablo Picasso as well as Modigliani, Utrillo and Apollinaire all drank or ate at le Dôme (No. 108) and la Rotonde (No. 103). The owner of La Rotonde was denounced by Aragon on July 13 1923 for having been a police informer on Lenin before World War One. Other neighbouring well-frequented intellectual and artist cafes of the interwar years included la Coupole (No. 102-104) and le Select (No. 99) .

The wounded black Foreign Legion corporal, Eugene Bullard, is reported as having decided while at the Coupole in the Spring of 1916, to become a pilot in the French air force.

Simone De Beauvoir lived in a flat above the Rotonde for the first ten years of her life before the father’s family lost most of its wealth in World War 1.

Diego Rivera was also part of this leftish Montparnasse scene in the early 20th century.

Léon Blum moved to the group of artists studios and flats soon after it was built in 1908 at 126 boulevard Montparnasse.

Léon Blum saw himself primarily as a writer before 1914, moving into the artists’ block of flats and studios at No. 126 boulevard Montparnasse. Henri Matisse lived and worked at No. 132 in 1927.

From 1865 to 1866, after the publication of his first novel, Émile Zola lived in a room at No. 142.

In the 1920s Le Dôme became a meeting place for many English-language writers like Ernest Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis and Sylvia Beach. In 1924 John Dos Passos joined other American writers at No. 171 the La Closerie des Lilas bar.

La Closerie des Lilas used to be a cheapish outside bar with dancing visited by lots of poets, artists and philosophers from the first half of the 20th century is now a big pricey restaurant

At the eastern end of the Boulevard near the Port Royal, this famous restaurant is where in June 1941 Simone De Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre organised a clandestine ‘Socialism and Freedom’ meeting of about 50 intellectuals, including Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Yet in the face of increasing repression they did not do much more, and in September 1941 Sartre agreed to take the job of a secondary school teacher who had been fired for being Jewish.

Hemingway was also known to eat frequently in the years 1924-1926 at the Le Nègre de Toulouse restaurant at No 159.

Louis Aragon met Mayakovsky for the first time at the Coupole on November 5 1928. The Coupole was requisitioned between 1940 and 1944 for German-only events

Earlier, under the Second Empire that he satirised so brilliantly, Émile Zola lived at No 142 in 1865 to 1866.


Avenue Rachel / Montmartre Cemetery

Arrondissement 18

Montmartre Cemetery

Montmartre cemetery from where Louise Michel, a member of the 61st Foot Montmartre battalion of the National Guard, witnessed some of her comrades being executed on May 23 1871. The Babeuvist Philippe Buonarotti is also buried here as was, temporarily, Emile Zola before his body was transferred to the Pantheon.

The Montmartre Cemetery was opened in 1825. Like the two larger Parisian cemeteries, Père Lachaise (1804) in the east and Montparnasse (1824) in the South, it was located just outside the Paris Farmers-General Wall after laws were passed banning the burying of corpses within the city.

The cemetery was laid out in an abandoned gypsum quarry that had been used as a mass grave for the bodies of the Swiss Guards killed when the Tuileries Palace was stormed in 1792.  Its official name is Cimitière du Nord. 

A little obelisk remembering the communist insurrectionist Buonarroti has had two bronze medallions stolen: one depicting Buonarroti, the other Charles-Antoine Teste

Philippe Buonarroti (1761-1837), the Italian revolutionary who resurrected Babeuf’s communist and insurrectionist politics in France from 1830 onwards, is buried here.

Tomb of Henri Murger behind which Louise Michel sheltered during shelling by the Versaillais troops on May 23 1871.

This is also where on May 23 1871 Louise Michel sheltered behind the tombstone of Henri Murger as the Versaillais troops shelled the Communards. From there she made her way to top of the Montmartre Hill, to the National Guard post at the corner of the old Rue des Rosiers and Rue de la Bonne, now 36 rue du Chevalier de la Barre, to exchange herself for her mother as a prisoner.

Émile Zola (1840-1902) was one of the many other radicals who was buried in Montmartre Cemetery. His, however, was, only a temporary burial. Six years later his remains were moved to the Panthéon. During the ceremony, Alfred Dreyfus (who had been pardoned two years earlier) was shot twice and wounded in the arm by a nationalist who was later acquitted on the grounds that it was ‘a natural nationalist act’.

Zola was asphyxiated (possibly murdered) a few hundred metres from his first resting place in the Montmartre Cemetery before being moved to the Pantheon. His tomb is still here.

His wonderful art nouveau tomb designed by Frantz Jourdain and sculpted by one of Zola’s oldest friends, Philippe Solari, can still be seen near the entrance to the cemetery.


Rue Rollin

Arrondissement 5

Number: 4

Moving often around cheap rooms Zola lived for a few months in 1860-1861 in one at No. 4 after being thrown out of his Rue St Victor room for non-payment of his rent.

Henri Curiel, the major Egyptian-born internationalist activist, a supporter of the Algerian FLN and founder of the Sundanese-Egyptian Communist Party, also lived here on the 7th floor. He was assassinated coming out of the lift there on May 4 197 after the right-wing press mounted a campaign against him, claiming he was ‘a terrorist boss’.

Two far-right groups using the code Delta claimed the murder, but no-one has been tried. It is also possible that the murder was carried out by the French state, at the time very close to the apartheid regime in South Africa.

On April 25 2019 a ceremony was held in the Rue Rollin where a plaque to Curiel was unveiled, but by late 2019 it has not yet been fixed to the wall at the bottom of the Rue Rollin staircase where his son and campaigners have wanted it placed.

In the 16th century this ancient narrow road was called the Road of the Windmill, although this changed several times before being renamed in 1867 after the 18th century university rector Charles Rollin.

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Impasse Royer-Collard / Cul-de-sac St Dominique

Arrondissement 5

Number: 5, 7

The short narrow road was named Royard-Collard in 1867 after the nearby road given the same name in 1846, the year after the death of a liberal philosoper-politician Pierre Royer-Collard.

Paul Verlaine lived in a hotel in the street for some time, sketching it in 1889.

The Hotel de la Paix at No. 5 was where Sigmund Freud stayed when he first came to Paris in 1885 to follow the courses of Professor Martin Charcot on hypnosis. It is now called the Jardins du Luxembourg. Naturally it has a plaque!

When Émile Zola started to work at the Hachette bookshop in 1862 he lived in a room at No. 7 cul-de-sac St Dominique, now called the Impasse Royer-Collard.


Rue Saint-Jacques

Arrondissement 5

Numbers: 2, 10, 44-46, 54, 115-123, 158, 176, 216, 241, 260, 272, 277, 278

One of Paris’ oldest streets the road was the main north-south route through Paris under the Romans, who paved it and widened it (to half its present 20 metre width).

Use of St Jacques in the road’s name dates from the 1218 founding of a monastery of Dominican ‘brother preachers’ with a Saint-Jacques chapel. The location of the Jacobin brothers’ monastery was approximately around No. 158. It was closed in 1790 and its building gradually demolished over the first half ot the 19th century. In the early 17th century a second monastery for ‘reformed Jacobins’ was built on the Rue Saint-Honoré.

Pre-revolutonary Paris showing the Rue St Jacques from left to right with the College de Plessis, the Sorbonne University and the Jacobin monastery

The road was definitively named the Rue Saint-Jacques in 1806 and variously widened and extended out to the Boulevard de Port Royal in the 1860s and 1900s.

No. 2 used to stand with other houses and shops in front of the Saint-Sevérin church was finally pulled down in 1907 for the last road-widening.

Saint Sevérin church with about-to-be demolished houses and shops in front of it in 1907 before the road’s definitive widening at its northern end close to the Seine (and the tourists).

But on June 23 1848 workers resisting the closure of the world’s first workshops for the unemployed took shelter in the novelty shop No. 2 (not unlike the one I photographed in 2017 in the Rue des Petits Ponts a few metres away and shown here). The bourgeois armed guard entered the shop after them and massacred all of them.

A small narrow shop like this one a few metres to the north of the Rue St Jacques was the scene of a summary execution of those fighting to defend the first ever unemployment pay system.

The Saint-Sevérin church itself at No. 10 witnessed the summary execution of Communard supporters within the Church’s domed apse on May 24 1871. Many had been defending the barricade across the street at No 54 that was helping protect the Versaillais troops from attacking the Panthéon further up the hill.

Another barricade across the road at No. 195 was bypassed by the Versaillais troops and all its defenders killed on that same day during the ‘bloody week’ of the Commune.

The first student demonstration against the German occupation took place on 8 November 1940, when students gathered at the cross roads of the Rue des Écoles and Nos. 44-46 Rue St Jacques to protest against the arrest of Paul Langevin.

The Jesuit-origin Lycée Louis-le-Grand  at No 123 has helped train French ruling elites since the 17th century now includes the site of the old Collège du Plessis at No. 115.

From 1792 to 1799 the Collège de Louis-le-Grand was renamed the Collège de l’Égalité. Its alumini included Danton, Desmoulins and Robespierre, but also before the Revolution, Moliere, Voltaire, Sade and after Victor Hugo, Delacroix and Marc Bloch.

Part of the Plessis college was used as a prison, initially keeping those sent to Paris to be tried or executed by provincial towns lacking a guillotine, and then as an overflow. It was here that Babeuf met and influenced Buonarroti, Joseph Bodson (or William Bodson), Claude Fiquet, Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lefranc, Morel, Claude Menessier, Jean-Baptiste Cazin, Guillaume Massart and Mathurin Bouin and other future members of Babeuf’s “conspiracy”. They were rounded up as Robespierre’s supporters in the summer of 1794 but used the months together to develop a more radical, communistic revolutionary politics.

The Academie d’ Absinthe café used by Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine was situated at No. 176. Absinthe was banned in 1914 in France but it remained the only European country not to allow the name to be used when it was approved by the European Union in 1988.

In 1888 Verlaine restarted his Wednesday literary meetings at the Grand Hôtel des Nations at No 216 where he was living. Later, in 1891, he lived at the dancer Eugénie Krantz’s flat at No 272 before moving to No. 187, which was where in 1893 he asked her to come and live with him.

When she came back to France in October 1910, the Bolshevik Inessa Armand first lived at No. 241 before moving to a flat next to Lenin’s in the Rue Marie-Rose.

Half a century earlier, No. 241 had also been one of the addresses where the teenage Emile Zola had stayed in 1859-1860 soon after arriving in Paris.

Zola moved to the sixth floor of No. 278 in 1864-1865 when he was 24 and worked in a bookshop. This was where his first novel, Contes à Ninon (Stories for Ninon), was published.

The school for deaf children founded by Charles-Michel de L’Épée at No 254 became a centre for revolutionary republican clubs in 1848. Those based here included: the Club des Intérêts du Peuple, the Club démocratique Ibérique and the Comité électoral démocratique du 11ème arrondissement.

The plaque at No 254 recalls the Institute’s history of welcoming pilgrims on their way to St Jacques de Compostelle in the Middle Ages, but not its revolutionary credentials in 1848.

Further south down the street is a plaque outside No 260/262. This honours Emile Durkheim, the ‘founder of sociology’, who lived there from 1902 to 1912.

The military hospital, Val de Grâce, at 277bis, now houses an interesting museum. During the First World War Apollinaire was a patient there, while Louis Aragon and André Breton first met when they were stationed there.

In 1979 the military teaching hospital in the old abbey was moved to a new building with an entrance in the Boulevard de Port-Royal. It was finally closed in 2016, after having treated people like Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy and the Algerian president from 1999 to 2019, Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Marc Blondel died there in 2014.

Today outside the Val de Grace hospital the authorities have hung a copy of De Gaulle’s 18 June 1940 proclamation calling for the French to fight together to ‘Save France’.

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Rue Saint-Joseph

Arrondissement 2

Number: 10

Rue Saint-Joseph from the Rue Montmartre

Once called ‘Lost Time’ (Rue du Temps Perdu), in 1640 it was renamed after the Saint Joseph funeral chapel that used to occupy the corner with the Rue Montmartre.

On April 2 1840 Emile Zola was born on the fourth floor of No. 10 to a Venetian father and a French mother who came from Dourdan, 44km south of Paris. He is one of the rare leftists to be honoured with a plaque commemorating the first three years of their lives.


Rue Saint-Victor

Arrondissement 5

Numbers: 16, 24, 35

The now much shortened road was originally named after the nearby 11th century Saint Victor Abbey on the banks of the Seine whose walls it skirted. That was closed in 1790 during the French Revolution and then demolished and replaced by a huge wine market in 1811. the abbey site is now occupied by the Paris Global Natural Phenomena Institute (Institut de physique du globe de Paris) and by the Jussieu University campus.

Under Haussmann and the construction of the Boulevard Saint-Germain, the Rue Monge and the Rue des Ecoles the original road lost 75% of its length, and as a result of successive rebuilding, the pavement in places now has two levels

Paul Verlaine was put up by his mistress, Eugénie Krantz, at her flat at No. 16 in 1895.

The conference centre, the Maison de la Mutualité, was built at No. 24 in art-deco style in 1931. From then to the present it has witnessed many significant left meetings.

The Internatlonal Youth Congress against war and fascism took place at the Maison de la Mutualite on May 26 1933. Organised by Paul Langevin and others it aimed to build a common front against fascism.

On July 24 1934 Jacques Prévert held the festival of French anti-militarist songs at La Mutualite. On October 23 1934 under the chair of André Gide there was report-back meeting from the Moscow International Writers congress, with speakers including André Malraux and Fernand Léger. Malraux, Gide, Louis Aragon, Max Ernst, Bertolt Brecht, Aldous Huxley, André Breton and Ilya Ehrenbourg were among the 230 participants from 38 countries who attended the International Writers Congress in the Defence of Culture there on June 21 1935.

After the Second World War around 1,500 Algerians were arrested on April 1 1951 when they went to a banned meeting about Algerian independence at No. 24, the ‘Mutu‘.

Simone de Beauvoir chaired a meeting there on 26 January 1971 with speakers including Sartre, Jean-Luc Godard and Marguerite Duras in support of the banned Maoist newspaper, la Cause du Peuple.

In 1860 Émile Zola was thrown out of No. 35 for not paying his rent after staying in a room under the roof for a few weeks. During that time his friend from Aix-en-Provence, Paul Cézanne, visited him there.

A view Zola would have had of the St Nicolas du Chardonnet church before it got its1934 facade.

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Rue Soufflot

Arrondissement 5

Numbers: 1-2, 11

One of the three barricades defending the Panthéon on May 24 1871 was across the neck of the road from No. 1 to No. 2. It was here that Jean Allemane fought until the barricade was overcome. The 400 Fédérés (Communards belonging to the Paris National Guard) who were captured were then shot after the barricade battles ended.

Another brief stay for Émile Zola as the young man moved around the Latin Quarter in the early 1860s was at No. 11, where he found a room over the winter of 1861-1862.

On June 23 and June 24 1848 violent battles took place at the barricade across the road at No. 12, as the government’s troops attacked the workers who had risen up in defence of the National Workshops.

The day after the June fighting ended, on June 25 1848 a National Guard corporal called Raguinard and another fighter on the barricade across the Rue d’Ulm were summarily executed outside No. 22, then at a corner with Rue St Hyacinthe, a road that disappeared entirely in the 1860s rebuilding under Haussmann.

The painting by Horace Vernet of a barricade battle in Rue Soufflot on June 24 1848

The third barricade defending the Panthéon on May 24 1871 was across the road at No. 23, just where it joins the Boulevard St Michel – a site now occupied by a McDonald’s.

The road gets its name from the main architect of the Panthéon, Jacques-Germain Soufflot, who died shortly before then Sainte-Geneviève church was finished.

A 1790 plan shows the then Rue du Panthéon Français leading only as far as the Rue St Jacques, and how its extension involved the final demolition of the Jacobin Monastery where the revolutionaries meeting in its dining room during the French Revoltuion were given the political name Jacobins.

The first part of the road was built during the building of the Law School and the Church in the 1770s and called the Rue du Panthéon Français  in 1790.

The road was renamed Soufflot in 1807 and work begun in 1859 finally led it to be straightened and extended to its present form and name in 1876.

On the day he was invested as French President, 21 May 1981, Mitterrand walked up Rue Soufflot to the Panthéon to put roses on the tombs there of three of its 19th and 20th century residents, Jean Moulin, Victor Schoelcher and Jean Jaures.

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Rue de Vaugirard

Arrondissements 6, 15

Numbers: 4, 7, 9, 10, 15-17, 36, 85, 86-88, 93, 102, 150, 393, 399

The Luxembourg Palace (No. 15-17) is the most well-known building in the old Roman road that is the longest street in Paris. The road now stretches 4.360 Km westwards from the Boulevard Saint Michel to the junction of the Boulevards Lefebvre and Victor on the inner ring-road called the ‘Petite Ceinture‘ on which route a small train used to run round Paris

The end of the road was where, at Nos. 393 and 399 barricades were built across the street in March 1871 to prevent the Versaillais troops from entering.

The road’s name comes from the ancient village of Vaugirard, called after the mid-13th century owner of the land there, ‘Val du Girard’.

Among the tens of thousands who have lived in this old road are some who we feature in Left in Paris, often living alongside forgotten bits of left history.

The Trianon-hôtel, for example, at No. 1- 3 witnessed one of the first attacks by the resistance against a hotel requisitioned by the German army. The bombing took place on 14 November 1942 organised by the largely foreigner and Jewish Francs-tireurs et partisans – main-d’œuvre immigrée (Fighters and partisans – Migrant Workers) group.

At No. 4, then called the Hôtel Lisbonne, Paul Verlaine lived off and on between periods in hospital from 1889 to 1994. Today the hotel boasts of its earlier desperately poor and severely ill guest, and calls itself the Hôtel Fontaines du Luxembourg.

From 1906 Jacques Prévert lived at No. 7 and went to school next door, in No. 9. I’ve very fond memories of the Vaugirard school where my son Michael spent a happy four months when he was ten. The area has completely changed since then. The school was constantly complaining about the bourgeois dog owners who allowed their tiny animals to deposit all over the surrounding streets as they walked them to the Luxembourg Garden.

Émile Zola lived in rooms at No 10 in 1866 with Alexandre Meley whom he married in 1870.

After the Farmers’ General wall was completed there were two customs posts across Rue Vaugirard. One was at No. 102 and another (la barrière du Maine) from Nos. 111-132.

Victor Hugo and his wife Adèle lived at what was 90 rue de Vaugirard but is now numbered 86-88 for the first three years of their marriage, from 1824-1827.

Lenin sat for Naoum Aronson in his studio iat 93 rue Vaugirard on December 10 1904. The bust was subsequently displayed in the Soviet pavilion at the 1937 World Fair in Paris.

On December 10 1904 Lenin sat for the Russian sculptor, Naoum Aronson (1872-1943) at his studio in No. 93.

When she first arrived in Paris around 1860, the feminist bookbinder and Communard Nathalie le Mel mother of three worked at Pasquier et Vigneau’s bookbinding works at No. 150 (in the 15th arrondissement).

French measurements of distance

MËtre Ètalon par Chalgrin

For the real historical nerds among us, in the wall at No. 85 is an early 18th century ‘half-league stone’. The Fleur de Lys on it was removed during the French Revolution. The marker (borne) indicates the first half-league (lieue) – that is 500 toises.

A toise was the distance between a man’s outstretched arms, approximately 6 feet) or 2 Km from the entrance to Notre-Dame cathedral. 1 lieue = 1,000 toises, or approximately 4 Km. A toise is the equivalent of the fathom in English, but in France it was used both on land and at sea.

At the French Revolution France still used hundreds of different weights and measures, originally derived from Roman units where the leuga (lieue/league) was the distance that a man can run in an hour. King Charlemagne (742-814) had added the pied du Roi (the King’s foot) and the toise. The pouce (inch) was the width of a human thumb, and was 1/12th of the pied du roi. The ligne (line) was 1/12th of a pouce, and the point (Truchet point in English) was 1/12th of a ligne.

After Charlemagne the fragmentation of France and of Europe accelerated. So distances varied from town to town, with the variation in 1 league (lieue) being from 3.268 km to 5.849.

On August 4 1789 a successful resolution from the Jacobin Club at the Constituent Assembly abolished all the privileges of the Crown, including its right to determine measures of distance and weight.

In 1790 Talleyrand proposed the drawing up of a Universal Measure, and the National Assembly proposed doing this jointly with the United Kingdom, who refused.

In 1791 a law established a Commission to establish the universal measure. They decided it should be based on a quarter of the length of a meridian and gave two geographers the task of measuring it exactly. They took seven years to measure the distance between Barcelona and Dunkerque.

This exercise was considered too long-winded for both military and political reasons. So on August 1 1793 the National Convention passed a decree determining the ‘provisional’ length of what in 1795 was named the metre. This was based on a millionth of the 1739-1740 distance measured by Lacaille from the North Pole to the Equator. It was exactly 3 pieds, 11 lignes and 44 hundredths of the principal toise used in Paris.

Finally, on 7 April 1795, the new system of weights and measures adopted by the French National Convention were named: metres and grams. A metal metre-long yardstick embedded in marble was then placed in the wall at no. 36 rue de Vaugirard. And in a shop window at No.r 215 there is an 1840 cast iron kilometer stone marking 3.5 km from the centre of Paris.

The old and new systems were used concurrently in France over the next half century. Metric leagues were used from 1812 to 1840 with one metric lieue = 4000 metres or 4 Km. The use of the old system was finally ended across the whole of France by the law of 1837.

But when in 1988 Joe, Joan and I bought a half-finished farm/barn in the Haute Savoie, and I had to finish off the plumbing, I can still remember the plumbing shop in Thonon-les-Bains where the width of copper pipes and joints were still in pouces (inches). In the UK metrication became government policy under Wilson in 1965 and in 1973, with accession to the European Economic Community, the UK was given 5 years to adopt metric units and by 1980 virtually no schools continued to teach in feet and inches.



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