Surprisingly for an old city, Paris has very few mediaeval houses and when someone asked me recently where the oldest house was, I had absolutely no idea even though I later learnt that I had actually been inside!
For very many years, it was thought that the house at n°3 rue Volta in the 3ème arrondissement was the oldest in the capital. All the history manuals showed it to be the oldest and it was depicted in thousands of postcards. It wasn’t until 1979 that an historian finally proved that it was a copy built in 1644 by a Parisian bourgeois. That must have been a rude shock, particularly as the historian was a woman!
I trekked off to have a look and found myself in a mini Chinatown. The half-timbered house with its stone pillars is now home to a Vietnamese restaurant called Taing Song-Heng where the same family has been serving two dishes, Pho and Bo Bun for twenty years.
I had also been told that there were two other mediaeval houses at n° 11-13 rue François Miron in the 4ème arrondissement. This is not an area I know well, and I found all sorts of intriguing things on the way such as this bike doubling as a menu holder. A young man was leaning against a car smoking, dressed in chef’s attire. “It’s a very old bike”, he said. “And a very unusual way of presenting a menu,” I replied. “I saw the idea in Malta. You won’t copy it, will you?”
I eventually reached N° 11 which used to have a sign with a reaper while n°13 had a sheep. The oldest records show their existence at the beginning of the 16th century but they might have already been there in the 14th century. In 1508, a royal decree prohibited jettied upper floors because of the risk of collapse. As a result, the gable was removed from n° 13 in the 17th century. It was rebuilt in 1967 when the two houses were being restored. In 1607, an edict ordered the timbering on this type of houses to be covered with plaster to prevent fire. Original drawings were used to guide restoration.
My last visit was to n°51 rue de Montmorency, back in the 3ème arrondissement, to Nicolas Flamel’s house. As soon as I saw it, I remembered a Gargantuan meal there with French friends a few years ago. I suggested we have the food and wine pairing. It was excellent but I definitely wouldn’t recommend our choice. We still talk about it!
So, the oldest house in Paris only dates back to 1407. No half-timbering here. The façade is entirely made of stone, all straight lines and no curves. It was built by Nicolas Flamel, a scrivener and manuscript seller. The money he earnt from renting out the ground floor shops was used to house labourers and vegetable gardeners from the surrounding area.
The inscription on the wall says, “We, working men and women living beneath the porch of this house, built in 1407, must each say an Our Father and an Ave Maria every day, to ask the grace of God to forgive poor sinners their trespasses. Amen.”L’Auberge Nicolas Flamel, 51 Rue de Montmorency, 75003 Paris, 01 42 71 77 78 L’Atelier d’Alexandre, 26 rue de Beaubourg, 75003 Paris, 01 40 27 08 31 Taing Song-Heng, 3 rue Volta, 3 Rue Volta 75003 Paris, 01 42 78 31 70 If you enjoyed reading this, don’t forget to subscribe to new posts – that way you’ll get them directly on your smart phone or in your mail box! And I love to hear your comments!
I’ve added this post to Lou Messugo’s All About France link-up. Click to find other posts about France from other bloggers
33 thoughts on “The Oldest House in Paris”
Thank you so much for researching these wonderful old houses. I will definitely keep this information in a file to take with me next year when I visit Paris in order to seek them out myself. I go to Paris every year and love finding new places to go to.
Welcome to Aussie in France, Fiona. You might like to check my posts on Fast Walking and Slow Walking e.g. http://www.aussieinfrance.com/2012/02/slow-walking-on-rue-du-louvre/ as they talk about other places in my neighbourhood.
would love to get new posts. At the moment we are based in Delhi because of my husbands’ work but as we have a house in Collioure, Pyrenées Orientales, we are quite often in France and I would love to visit some of the places you decribe in your posts.
Hi Ellen. Thank you for commmenting. How lovely to have a house in Collioure – more sun than here most of the time! You will receive an email asking for confirmation of email subscription.
A very interesting post and I am pleased that it was an Aussie who wrote the first article (that I personally ever saw) on the oldest houses in Paris. I lived for awhile in Hobart, in Cromwell Street, Battery Point, where it was claimed, was the oldest house in Australia, built in the very early days of 1800. Surprisingly it had large French windows. Of course most dwellings prior to then would have been wood or wattle and daub, and long since disappeared. I think the oldest house in Sydney was the Macarthur Homestead (Elizabeth Farm?) and that was falling down and totally neglected back in the 70’s. I enjoyed living in Rome for six years but when I was expecting our first child I had to accept that the tiny flat we were able to afford in the heart of Rome (3 flights of steep stairs, no lift or central heating and no laundry) was not the place for a child. Thankyou for sharing all your great experiences in France. Gwendoline from Ballarat, Australia.
Maybe having a house that’s four hundred years old gives me a special interest in old houses! We visited Hobart last but I don’t remember the house. Our tower in Blois would have been wattle and daub and it’s still visible on the ceiling of one of the outbuildings. I’ve been to an old house in Parramatta but don’t remember the date. I know that I saw a very old house on the quayside in Sydney.
Real estate in the centre is always so expensive, isn’t it? I love Italy too and I hope we’ll manage another visit in the near future.
Thank you for your comment.
Not sure if this is the Elizabeth Farm you remember…
Great article, Rosemary. I’d love to see these buildings when next in Paris.
I’ve taken friends on a tour and they really enjoyed it. It was a lovely day on my own.
I love a good pho and bun bo but what a shame that building has been so heartlessly transformed! Somehow it’s never occured to me that there aren’t any medieval building in Paris, but now I think about it it’s true you don’t see really ancient ones. Thanks for searching out these lovely houses for us Rosemary. The inscription is beautiful. Thanks for linking this to #AllAboutFrance
Hi Phoebe, you’re very welcome. It’s a lovely area to visit.
Incredible: combining two of my dearest passion: Old Paris and Pho, how cool!
Thanks for those pics, insights and snippet of history. Definitely something we missed when we used to live in Sydney!
I’m so glad that you found two of your dearest passions so close together!
Wow, those are stunning! I’m surprised there aren’t more given that London still has medieval bits and bobs. Thank you for sharing. #allaboutfrance
You’d imagine with all the bombing in London that most places would have disappeared. You have to go deep into the heart of France to find mediaeval buildings these days.
I love old houses!
This is fascinating…I have never given much thought to the fact that there are few medieval buildings in Paris….#AllAboutFrance
We were in Aubigny recently and I was surprised to see how many are still extant. Have you seen my photos of the marvellous half-timber churches in “wet” Champagne? So many areas were bombed in France that most of the old buildings have disappeared. http://www.aussieinfrance.com/2013/01/mondays-travel-photos-wet-champagne-half-timbered-churches/
I went to that post as well as the “interior of the churches” post. Those are so different from any churches I have ever seen in France! Lovely and fascinating. Thanks for sharing.
They’re amazing, aren’t they? The Norman villages should be full of them, of course, but they were all destroyed by bombs.
I love old houses – I want to know about everyone who lived there. Those walls must have such stories to tell. A very belated visit from #AllAboutFrance
Thank you. Our house in Blois is over 400 years old and we already get a kick out of knowing the people who lived here for the last 80 years!
Lovely post about the oldest Parisian houses. Over the years I have taken pictures of all these myself but never wrote down the addresses. Now I know where to find them. Thanks a bunch.
You’re very welcome, Ingrid!
why is it particularly embarrassing that the historian was a woman who got the oldest building wrong?
I didn’t say “embarrassing” but a “rude shock”. In 1979, in France, having a woman prove someone wrong was a shock! Fortunately, times have changed (or I hope they have!).
Any wanting to see the rather stunning two houses in the 4th & 5th pics should note the street is rue Francois Miron, not Morin. Might be easier to find. Well worth a look.
Thank you very much for pointing that out – I’ve now corrected it.