It’s not easy walking on cobblestones. Especially with a cane. And there are a lot of cobblestones lining the narrow, winding streets of the Maris, my neighborhood in Paris’ 3rd arrondissement.
Cobblestones and Paris have a long and, well, bumpy history. The famous stones have cobbled the streets of Paris for more than 800 years. They’ve been around as long as Notre Dame and they have laid witness to much of the city’s history. Cobbled streets have stumbled conquerors and welcomed liberators. Kings and revolutionaries have walked them, as well as writers, artists, Tour de France cyclists – and millions of tourists.
Paris is a walking city. A flaneur city best explored on foot. And that’s just what I did this trip. I wandered the square mile or two of my “neighborhood”. A lame foot and shortness of breath make walking challenging for me, so I reveled in “flat” Paris. The pleasure of the jaunt, the meandering, is the charm of being a flaneur. And what makes that possible for me, in addition to a flat terrain, are the many “rest stops” along the way.
I don’t think any other city is as “foot friendly” as Paris, with its parks, gardens, quiet corners and sidewalk cafes.
Still, I’ll level with you and admit cobblestones are hard to navigate. They’re certainly not cane-friendly and they challenge your balance.
But what would Paris be without them?
Cobblestones were used not only to pave the streets of Paris, but at times to build barricades and to hurl as weapons.
So, when Haussmann undertook his make-over of the city in the mid-1800s, he took aim at the city’s narrow streets and cobblestones. He widened streets into boulevards and paved over cobblestones.
Today, asphalt covers cobblestones on about one-third of Paris’ streets, though fortunately, some cobbled streets are untouchable. The oversized stones still surface the Champs-Élysées and surround the Bastille. They also have survived in historic neighborhoods like Montmartre and the Marais.
Still the displacement goes on. Each year, city workers dig up about 10,000 tons of old cobblestones to repair and repave the streets. Which raises the question:
Where do the old cobblestones go? Is there a secret cobblestone burial ground in Paris?
Check out the next post to find the very interesting answer!!