Paris is a city of superlatives. After all these years of living here, I feel like Paris’ main goal is to outdo other cities and make them feel inferior.
“This is the bread we have to eat? In Paris, we have the crunchiest baguettes”¦” (my Parisian friend whispered to me conspiratorially during an expat party in Qatar)
“Paris has the most efficient metro system in the world!” (and a few classy-looking trains too, I might add)
“We have the most delicious macarons!” (absolutely true)
“We wear skinny jeans like they were invented just for us.” (not a superlative, but believe me, Parisians feel and look that way).
To continue in this train of thought, here are some places and spaces that declare “I am the one and only!” in Paris:
THE SHORTEST STREET
rue des Degrés, 75002 (Map)
Metro : Bonne Nouvelle
It wouldn’t be a chore to go from rue Beauregard to rue de Clery in the 2nd arrondissement courtesy of the shortest street in Paris that connects them: rue des Degrés. Located a few meters from the Notre-Dame de Bonne Nouvelle Church’s rear, the street is a stairway of 14 steps and a mere 5,75 meters long. No need to look sideways for oncoming traffic.
THE LONGEST STREET
rue de Vaurigard (Map)
Metro : Porte de Versailles, Convention, Vaugirard, Volontaires, Pasteur, Falguière
Stretching out at 4.360 meters, the longest street in Paris goes through two arrondissements (6th and 15th) and has 5 metro stations scattered in its entire length. Rue de Vaugirard starts at boulevard Saint-Michel and ends at boulevard Victor and boulevard Lefebvre. As you can imagine, setting up a rendez-vous along this street poses many potential problems; make sure that you have the correct address, and that you get off at the street number’s corresponding metro station. It’s a long walk from one end to the other.
THE NARROWEST STREET
rue du Chat-qui-Peche, 75005 (Map)
Metro : Saint-Michel
Translated as “The Street of the Fishing Cat”, this street dating back to 1540 is considered the narrowest in Paris with a width of 1.80 meters. It starts at 9 quay Saint-Michel and ends at 12 rue de la Huchette.
The historical plaque on the street recounts the legend of the street’s name: In the 14th century, there was an alchemy-practicing canon named Dom Perlet and his black cat, who was known to be able to catch fish with a swipe of his paw. Convinced that the alchemist and the cat were the same person – the Devil in disguise – three local students killed the cat and threw it into the river. The alchemist mysteriously disappeared as well, but eventually turned up again – he had actually been traveling. As for the black cat, he was once again back at the edge of the water, fishing as usual.
THE SMALLEST HOUSE
39 rue du Château d’Eau, 75010 (Map)
Metro : Republique
It’s easy to miss the tiny two-storey building in the 10th arrondissement that holds the title for Paris’ smallest house. Standing 5 meters high and 1.20 meters wide, this used to be a passageway linking the streets Rue du Château-d’Eau and rue du Faubourg Saint-Martin. It is said that a family dispute led the owner to build a house where the passage used to be, to solve the problem between the heirs of the land once and for all.
THE OLDEST HOUSE
51 rue de Montmorency, 75003 (Map)
For the longest time it was thought to be 3 rue Volta in the third arrondissement, which turned out to be built in 1644. Since 1979, the title of the oldest house in Paris goes to the one that stands at 51 rue de Montmorency in the same arrondisement, built in 1407.
It was owned by Nicolas Flamel, a scribe at the University of Paris, whose charitable heart led him to offer free lodgings to fruit growers and agricultural workers in the upper floors of his house. This he financed by the rent collected from the stores occupying the ground floor. The only thing expected of the free lodgers was their daily prayers for the dearly departed, as indicated by the engraving along the front wall : “We men and women, living under the roof of this house in the year fourteen hundred and seven, are honourably bound to recite one Paternoster and one Hail Mary everyday, and to ask God, in His grace, to forgive the sins of the poorly departed. Amen.”
The gable wall of the house is now gone. What remains of the original decorations are found in the facade of the first two floors: the inscription in gothic engraving mentioned above, the angel bas-relief sculptures (restored in 1929), and its pillars, which bear the founder’s initials N and F on the second and fifth pillars respectively. Today, it is possible to eat in the oldest house in Paris – it is now a restaurant.
M. Aubert, La maison dite de “Nicolas Flamel”, Bulletin monumental, t. LXXVI, 1912
”¨Marie de Paris