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  • Writer's pictureKate Woodman

Un charmant passage : la Cité du Figuier - a charming passage: the city of the fig tree

 



Récemment, en lisant un blog qui parle des choses parisiennes, j’ai vu un photo d’une devanture turquoise le long de laquelle court une frise peuplée d’éléphants.  Ça m’a intéressé, et quand j’ai lu que la devanture était situé dans le quartier d’Oberkampf, j’ai décidé d’y aller.

 

Even though I’ve lived in Paris for almost 7 years, I continue to discover new (to me) and interesting parts of the city.  I am particularly drawn to the numerous “passages” one finds hidden behind unassuming doors or gates on ordinary streets.  A passage is a narrow, usually cobblestoned, street frequently lined with artist studios or small shops, somewhat akin to an alley in the US.  Some span from one street to the next.  But the more interesting ones are dead ends and hence, only traveled by those who live there or by people like me, curious flaneurs. 

 

Recently, while reading a Paris blog, I saw a photo of a turquoise storefront which featured a frieze of carved elephants.  I was struck by this rather Asian adornment, unusual for a Parisian building, and when I saw that it was located in Oberkampf, a neighborhood not far from me, I decided to go see it for myself.

 

The elephant frieze that piqued my interest


Le quartier d’Oberkampf est situé dans les anciens quartiers industriels.  Aujourd'hui le quartier est connu pour son ambiance festive, jeune et cosmopolite. Il regorge de cafés, de restaurants, de salles de concert et de boites de nuit.   La rue Oberkampf est également jalonnée de passages insolites comme la Cité du Figuier, la Cité Griset, la Cité de l'Industrie et la Cité Durmar.  Il y existe des petits coins de paradis bucoliques, là où le calme règne et la nature reprend ses droits. C’est le cas de la Cité du Figuier.

 

Oberkampf in the 11th arrondissement, is historically an industrial neighborhood, untouched by the Haussmann grand buildings and boulevards that transformed much of Paris in the 19th century.  Industry has moved on and today Oberhampf is a lively neighborhood known for its festive, young and cosmopolitan ambiance.   The rue Oberkampf is lined with trendy shops (vintage clothing in particular), cafés, restaurants and night clubs.  However, the street is also dotted with numerous small passages hidden behind unassuming doors, where calm reigns and nature has been reclaimed.  As I discovered, such is la Cité du Figuier. 



La Cité du Figuier


Most residents have small outdoor spaces in front of their abodes


Former carpentry workshop


Figuier se cache au 104-106 rue Oberkampf. Dans cette ruelle pavée, les anciens ateliers cohabitent avec la verdure dans une harmonie remarquable. Dans les années 70, les ouvriers en métallurgie (notamment le cuivre) quittent progressivement le passage, qui peine alors à trouver une nouvelle identité. Menacée, la ruelle trouve finalement la salvation grâce à une nouvelle population composée d’artistes, de familles et de travailleurs en agence.

 

Aujourd’hui, les anciens ateliers ont été repeints avec des couleurs vives (notamment plusieurs tons de bleu), les parterres bordés de plantes et fleurs. En résulte une grande allée peuplée de petites maisons et de végétation, donnant au tout des allures de petit village au beau milieu du tumulte parisien.


Figuier is found at 104-106 rue Oberkampf, behind a small locked blue door.  Although there is a “porte” button that should open the door, it didn’t work for me, so the two times I visited I had to wait for someone leaving to let me in.  Fortunately I didn’t have to wait long to enter this hidden enclave of calm, where the old metalwork studios, now artist ateliers and private homes (many painted various shades of blue), with potted plants, palms and a gorgeous wisteria vine, line the narrow street of cobblestone.  I felt I had stepped back in time to a small village in the south of France.

 

Apparently, when the metal industry moved from the area in the 1970’s so too did the small metallurgists (particularly copper) whose workshops lined this street.  It wasn’t until the 1980’s that artists and families bought and restored the buildings and brought Figuier (so named because of a large fig tree that grew there) back to life.


South of France???


Oranges

Sculptor's studio

This is the only evidence of a fig tree.....obviously it's seen better days


Wisteria!


L’une des constructions les plus remarquables est une maison turquoise singulière dont les arcades proviennent de pavillons de l’Exposition Universelle de 1900.  Il s’agit d’une frise représentant des éléphants gravés par les nouveaux propriétaires dans l’idée de renforcer l’impression orientaliste du bâti. Les volets chamarrés évoquent la nostalgie des maisons de bord de mer et les teintes du sud.  Pour moi, le quartier français de La Nouvelle-Orléans est évoqué.

 

One of the most remarkable structures and the one that brought me to la Figuier, is a turquoise house with an elephant frieze. I learned that the middle arcade of the house came from a pavilion built for the World Fair of 1900. The elephant frieze was apparently carved by the new owners to give the house an oriental look. To me, the colorful shutters and palm trees evoke the French Quarter of New Orleans.



Detail

Like many of the buildings, the elephant house was undergoing construction


I love windows and doors and couldn't resist capturing a few here:










La Cité du Figuier.....an oasis in Oberkampf!






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1 Comment


Ann Smeltzer
Ann Smeltzer
May 31

The Cité du Figuier, what delicate lushness and beauty! It has this gay chaotic abandon (but definitely not abandoned). Wisteria so lush it threatens to reach down and take hold of anyone who dares pass underneath it! These photos speak to the richness of the history of the area, rippled glass, rotting wood, an enormous palm tree. While the fresh Caribbean colors defy its age. Your observation of detail and talent for great composition brings a feel of graphic art without the restrictions in form and texture. So free. So exciting to reveal yet another Parisian secret. Thank you for sharing this!

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