About Secrets of Paris

American-born travel journalist and guidebook author Heather Stimmler-Hall created the Secrets of Paris in 1999 to share the hidden side of the City of Light. Discover what you've been missing:

* Custom Travel Content
* Travel Writing Workshops
* Calendar of interesting Paris events 
* Monthly Secrets of Paris newsletter
* Secrets of Paris Tours & Travel Planning

Read more about the Secrets of Paris here

 

 

 

Calendar of Paris Events

Through July 31
The 22nd annual Paris Jazz Festival: come enjoy traditional Parisian and international jazz music in the Bois de Vincennes's Parc Floral. Entrance to the park is 6 €.

Through August 21
The 30th annual Fête des Tuileries funfair with carnival rides at Tuileries Gardens starts today, free entry, rides with individual tickets. Plenty of food stands, too!

Through August 27
La Nuit aux Invalides is an impressive sound and light show in the courtyard of Invalides highlighting the monument's history (Louis XIV, Napoléon, Charles De Gaulle), in English on Monday and Thursday nights. Tickets €18 (adult price). See the teaser video.

Click here to see the full calendar of events...

Secrets of Paris gives 10% of all tour fees to the French food bank, Les Restos du Coeur

Entries in French Culture (82)

Friday
Jun242016

Tour of the Great Mosque de Paris

Join the Secrets of Paris team for a FREE one-hour tour of the Paris Mosque this Wednesday July 20th at 11am. Contact us to sign up. 

Written by Secrets of Paris guide-in-training Philippe Maillet

Paris is not only a romantic city, it’s also a real melting pot of cultures. And nothing is stranger than when your steps lead you to an exotic architectural site right in its heart. That’s what happens in the 5th district, at the foot of the Saint Geneviève hill, where a white wall hides a mysterious building, flagged by a colorful tower and a massive wooden door. This monument is actually the Great Mosque of Paris, a little piece of Morocco hidden in the French capital.

This sanctuary built between 1922 and 1926 was built as a tribute to the Muslim soldiers who died during World War I fighting for the French Republic. One hundred thousand volunteers from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia perished during the war, far from their native lands. Afterwards, the French people wanted to give the Muslim community a place to commemorate this tragedy. Thus a project was launched, including a mosque, a Muslim Institute, several reception rooms, and a library. A restaurant and hammam (steam baths) completed this Moroccan haven in the heart of the Latin Quarter.

Nowadays, visitors and prayers go together in this quiet atmosphere of the Great Mosque. A peaceful garden welcomes you to this reconstituted paradise, with its fountains, palm trees and roses. Beyond that is the courtyard of the mosque, decorated in the tradition of Fez, the spiritual capital of Morocco. Ceramics, engraved plaster, sculpted wood, and calligraphy running all along the walls and beneath the arcades evocate the North African heritage. At the end of the corridors and terraces a huge door opens onto a majestic reception hall reminding us of the Tales of 1001 Arabian Nights.

But the mosque is above all a meeting with Islam. And it seems important in these troubled times to try to understand this religion, its rituals, and its differences. The mosque of Paris is a good place to lift the curtain on this often misunderstood culture, where we can find an open-minded aspect of Islam, welcoming to visitors. By learning about the history and cultural heritage of this religion we can better understand how it relates to our own heritage.

Free Tours of the Great Mosque and Islamic Culture in Paris

Philippe grew up in western France, in the area of Nantes. He came to Paris in 1999 to study art history at La Sorbonne. After specializing in Islamic architecture he went on to the Paris-Belleville School of Architecture where he acquired a diploma in traditional heritage restoration and in the Ecole du Louvre for a degree in museology. What characterizes Philippe’s background is a passion for North Africa, its arts, its history, its cultures. Eager to follow his family’s steps, he moved to Morocco where he worked on research projects for the Moroccan government concerning the conversion of traditional buildings into guest houses in the old city (medina) of Marrakech. After many stays in Morocco and Algeria, he is now an expert on North African architecture, from the Middle Ages up to now. Having embraced the Arabic culture in all its aspects, he knows not only history of art but also traditions, music and food. As a guide-in-training, he's offering free tours with a focus on Islamic architecture and culture in June and July 2016. Contact us for more information

Friday
Jun172016

Les Halles Sixty Years Later

by guest contributor, Anne Daignault

In May, my visit to the Musée Carnavalet -- the City of Paris's museum of the history of Paris and its people -- nurtured a growing curiosity about the evolving political, social and  economic factors that created today’s Paris. However, it was a walk in the Forum des Halles -- the site of Paris’s central market until it was demolished in the 1970’s -- that took me out of a museum of history and landed me smack down in a construction site: a noisy, smelly, vibrant lesson about the changes in Paris over the past sixty years. 


Médiathèque de l'architecture et du patrimoine-RMN

In 1956, sixty years ago, my father held my hand as we walked in circles around Les Halles, Paris's central market since the 11th century, trying to find the restaurant, Au Pied de Cochon. As we dodged puddles tinged with the blood of animals being prepared and sold in the market, we almost lost my brother. Excited to be showing us his Paris, the Paris he had known as a child in the 1920’s and 30’s, Pop never stopped talking. I really didn’t listen, too mesmerized by the mess of stacked wooden boxes, discarded heads of lettuce, and the occasional smell of urine and rotting meat. 

It was dark, maybe dinnertime or maybe the passages were so narrow that they lacked daylight. Pop probably explained that the restaurant had been in business since World War II, that it was open 24 hours a day to feed the men and women working in the market at night, and that the house specialties were onion soup and pigs’ feet. Pigs’ feet? All I recall is being squished between two grownups and their damp coats on a banquet in a dark restaurant. I suspect that my brother and I, less adventurous eaters, had steak frites.

On a fall day in the 1980’s, almost thirty years after our family meal at Au Pied de Cochon, I exited from the Chatelet-Les Halles metro station in search of the Centre Georges Pompidou expecting to find myself in some variation of the market I had seen  and smelled. Instead, an escalator carried me through an underground shopping mall, fashioned after the malls in the States but designed in layers rather than spread out horizontally. Many of the shops were closed and boarded up. For the first time in all my wanderings around Paris, I was afraid. Disoriented and chilled by all the damp concrete, I finally found my way to the street.

On investigation, I learned that the market, which I remembered as built of ornate iron and fashioned after the Gare de l”Est, had been demolished in 1970. Only the church of St. Eustache, built in 1532 and restored in 1840, and the Bourse du Commerce (Commodities Exchange) remained. A major urban renewal project requiring collaboration between the government of Charles de Gaulle and the City of Paris, as well as municipal train and metro companies, had begun in the late 1960’s. Above ground, I found a park with no place to sit on the grass and few pedestrians enjoying the greenery.

The market vendors had moved to Rungis, outside of Paris. There, it is said, they would have a larger, more hygienic area to sell their wares. The Chatelet-Les Halles station now served five metro lines converging with three RER trains, the express trains that go through the city and into the suburbs. As I stood on the sidewalk all I could ask myself was, “What were they thinking?”

The Forum des Halles circa 2010. Photo by Pavel Krok

If I could have listened to the politicians, city fathers and railway men in the late 60’s and early 70’s as they planned the future of Les Halles, perhaps I would understand their intent. At the time Andre Malraux was De Gaulle’s Minister of Culture. He was known for his convincing oratory, his progressive views about democratizing and revitalizing city space, as well as his desire to beautify city centers. Perhaps these were the goals, but walking around I would say that nobody really got what they wanted. Even the park was maze-like and uninviting.

Now, in 2016, the latest project to revitalize Les Halles is nearing completion. Eager to see the results, I walked down rue Montorgueil, a lively, semi-pedestrian street with cheese, produce, fish and meat markets open to the sidewalk, cafes on the sunny corners and numerous historic markers to bring history alive. At the end of the street, on the right stands the church of St. Eustache, its gothic facade facing the work underway. The Bourse du Commerce, a round, solid and reassuring building is to the west. Ahead lies a construction site with a fence and signs promising four hectares of garden to be called Le Jardin Nelson Mandela. Between the Bourse and the construction is a well-worn green space with cement benches surrounding vents from underground. People are eating, talking, reading and nuzzling. Others are hustling across the park. Two street musicians are competing with canned music from the Forum les Halles, which lies to the east.

The steel and yellow glass Canopy of the Forum les Halles undulates above the 2.5 hectare area that contains the mall complex, designed by Patrick Berger and Jacques Anziotti. Under the Canopy is a media library and recording studios, a hip-hop center - whatever that is - an auditorium, cinemas, gym and open spaces for events. As I walked around the complex looking into a Sephora store and a restaurant, people were gathering for a concert in an outdoor space to be given by Christophe Mae, a popular musician.

The new entrance to Forum des Halles under the Canopy. Photo Heather Stimmler-Hall

Security guards stood at each of the escalators leading down to the trains, subways and more than 130 shops and 19 restaurants. After showing the contents of my shoulder bag to the guards, I set off down the escalators to see the shops. On the third mezzanine level below ground, but still exposed to the outside, there were signs of dampness on the concrete floors. Perhaps it was just the cement reacting to the damp weather Paris has been experiencing. Perhaps the panels of the canopy, which have been referred to as “piss yellow,” are leaking.

The trendy stores and coffee shops, such as H & M, Starbucks, McDonalds and Darty, are still surrounded by construction making it noisy and difficult to picture the finished space. Nonetheless, the desire to cater to all the people of Paris -- not just the wealthy and middle-class who can afford to live in the city center -- is apparent in the choice of stores and on the faces of the young people enjoying a day shopping. The complex has been designated an International Tourist Zone making it possible for the shops to remain open in Sundays. The city intends to complete construction on the entire complex in 2018, opening sections as they are ready. At a cost of $1 billion, I ask, “Was it worth it?”

As an individual with an emotional attachment to Paris, I celebrate the desire over the past 60 years to democratize the city, including its museums and central marketplace, especially since its population has become more and more diverse. I’m delighted that the underground shopping area and metro station of the 1970’s are being improved, but bemoan the loss of the iron marketplace, a touchstone with the past. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish that the changes had been completed with a more faithful attention to this historic structure, while still creating accessible green space in the center of the city, encouraging venues for music and dance, and improving the space below ground.

I look forward to revisiting the finished Forum des Halles to see the final project before evolutionary change takes it in yet another direction.

Anne Daignault is a Massachusetts-based creative non-fiction writer who attended the May 2016 Paris Travel Writing Workshop

Sunday
Jun052016

French Film Extras Needed July 25-August 31

The Academy Award-winning director of L'Artiste, Michel Hazanavicius, is looking for extras  for an upcoming film Le Redoutable about the love story between Jean-Luc Godard and Anne Wiazemsky during the Mai 1968 events in France, starring Bérénice Bejo, Stacy Martin and Louis Garrel. 

They are looking for extras available for 1-10 days of filming between July 25th through August 31st, with at least one half day available for wardrobe between July 4th and July 22nd. Payment follows standard French film industry rates for extras. The following profiles are needed:

  • hommes et femmes "profils étudiants" de 18 à 30 ans
  • hommes et femmes italiens de 16 à 80 ans
  • hommes et femmes de 16 à 80 ans

You need to be legally able to work in France (ie you need a French Social Secutiry number) and fluent enough in French to read and fill out the application...and obviously follow directions. 

Click here to apply 

Sunday
May082016

Will.i.am Sings in the Louvre: Mona Lisa Smile  


Will.i.am - Mona Lisa Smile with Nicole Scherzinger by Louvre

On April 12th the American singer Will.i.am (one of the founding members of the Black Eyed Peas) released this music video reinterpreting his song "Mona Lisa Smile" from his album #Willpower. Set in the Louvre, it features the singer Nicole Scherzinger as La Jaconde, and Will.i.am in over a dozen of the museum's most famous paintings. How many can you identify?

And for those of you who know the Louvre well, you'll quickly realize the wall with the Mona Lisa on it (which should be in Salle 6), is actually superimposed into another gallery of paintings with red walls. Can you guess which one? (hint: look at the ceiling)

This video isn't just a one-off gimmick by the singer, he's actually been planning this for several years. According to the Louvre website:

"This remarkable and unprecedented collaboration is the fruit of many years of work. In 2010, the Louvre welcomed a production team from New York to film a documentary that was part of the “Visionaries” series. This episode was devoted to will.i.am and used to launch Oprah Winfrey’s TV channel, OWN. Deeply inspired by his visit to the world’s largest museum, will.i.am tapped into the experience to create a video for the song “Mona Lisa Smile.” But the creative juices didn’t stop there: the artist sought to perpetuate, and especially share with others, his great appreciation for the museum by producing a documentary on the newly renovated rooms of the Department of Decorative Arts and the surrounding galleries."

After this Will.i.am was inspired to film a 12-minute documentary called "Will.i.am at the Louvre", a sort of "Highlights of the Louvre" tour with the editor of Wired UK and the curator of the Decorative Arts department (where he falls in love with an elaborate 18th-century clock). This is a great little video to watch if you're hesitant to visit the Louvre, because it shows how it's so much more than just paintings and the Mona Lisa. 


will.i.am at the Louvre by Off

The funniest quote is when he's in the stunning (and highly gilded) Napoléon III Apartments, and his guide infers that it must look like the interior of many hip-hop moguls houses, and Will.i.am responds, "Oh no, we don't do it like this. They put the gold in their teeth." But generally it's a great documentary about how art is still important to today's culture. You'll also learn the meaning of the fabulous French phrase, l'esprit de l'escalier.

You can follow Will.i.am's Louvre tour yourself here.

Monday
Mar282016

Time Machine Gimmick at Place de la Bastille

There's a new machine at the Place de la Bastille that promises to take you on an immersive virtual reality trip into the past to see the square as it looked in the 15th and 18th centuries when it was still dominated by the Bastille fortress. If you've got a working internet connection to pay the €2...

Click to read more ...

Monday
Mar212016

13th Arrondissement has the Best Baguettes

The winning baguette for 2016 might have come from a bakery in the 6th arrondissement, but not only are 80% of the winners on the Left Bank (go Rive Gauche!), the largest number of them, three out of ten, are from the 13th arrondissement. My neighborhood!

Click to read more ...