Wednesday 20 Nov, 2013

Belleville: The Cultural Melting Pot of Paris

To the first-time visitor, much of Paris appears chic in its architectural style with grand buildings and landmarks, linked by tree lined avenues – themselves populated by elegant shops and sidewalk cafes. The City of Light truly is a beautiful cultural experience but there are a number of fascinating neighborhoods which offer different perspectives on Paris. One such area is Belleville, a historical zone that clearly represents modern Paris and can be easily reached via metro lines 2 or 11.Belleville Paris

Following the revolutions in 1789, 1830 and 1848 it was decided, by Louis Napoleon, to redesign central Paris. The small, crowded locales were cleared away under the urban planning of Baron Haussmann and replaced with the Grands Boulevards. By 1860 the northern suburb of Belleville, previously known for farming and wine production, had been incorporated into the city center. Although Belleville geographically became part of Paris, culturally it was quite different.

Belleville was central to events in the 1871 revolution (Following the defeat in the Franco-Prussian war) where revolutionary forces were based and fought in hand-to-hand combat against government soldiers. As a destination of refuge it has long been a place for new migrants to settle. In the 20th century many German Jews fleeing Nazi Germany settled in Belleville. Thirty years later, those escaping persecution in Algeria and Tunisia also chose to settle in Belleville. However, more recently there has been a heavy influx of Africans moving from former French colonies such as Senegal, Chad and the Ivory Coast. Added to Belleville’s cultural melting pot is of course, the bobos – young bourgeois-bohemian Parisians (in their 20s and 30s) who settled here and work in the city.

When visiting Belleville make sure to enjoy the terrific city views from rue Piat and rue des Envierges which, in turn, lead to the charming Parc de Belleville. If you arrive by metro then head up to the street level and you can see a classic Haussmann era building in front, but you will also see more modern, box shaped apartment buildings. The allure of this historical neighborhood is not so clear in this buzzing area, but if you take a walk along the principal avenue and then swing a right on to rue Donoyez, you’ll come to a narrow street completely adorned in graffiti created by local street artists. The road is one of the few legalized areas for graffiti in the city, thereby facilitating a constantly changing scene on the walls. Belleville has become a creative center for many collaborative artists and a number of community relationships have developed through local street art. There is also an outdoor market every Tuesday and Friday and here you’ll find a range of restaurants offering much more than a Croque Monsieur and a very expensive soda.

If you want to sample the neighborhood beforehand, then watch the Bourne Identity where one of the chase scenes was filmed in Belleville. As Jason Bourne takes a sharp right from rue du Transvaal into the scarily narrow Passage Plantin. His car veers down the steps into rue des Couronnes. Ask a local taxi driver to recreate the journey for you. They’ll be sure to say ‘non’ but it still might be fun to ask.