Although it's one of the one of the largest Paris arrondissements, most visitors would be hard pressed to name highlights of the 14th Arrondissement, located up against the southern boundary of the city. Parisians, though, would have no trouble, since nearly 140,000 of them live here and make full use of the shopping streets, the markets, the schools, and the parks.
There's quite a bit for travelers to explore in the 14th Arrondissement, from the Observatory of Paris to the Catacombs. So, if you want to get away from the central Paris crowds come along on a virtual walk to a dozen highlights of the district so many Parisians call home. (By the way, this district was also where one of the best favorite Paris movies was shot — Agnes Varda's Cléo de 5 à 7.)
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Montmartre Cemetery from Tour Montparnasse, photo by Mark Craft
Cimetiere Montparnasse was established in the early 19th century after burials in the center of Paris were banned and existing cemeteries were cleaned out (resulting in the creation of the Paris catacombs). This was one of four new cemeteries created in areas that were then beyond the city boundaries.
Montmartre Cemetery, located in the shadow of Tour Montparnasse, is a pleasant, light, and open space that is a wonderful setting for an afternoon stroll. The main attractions, though, are the graves of the well-known and infamous buried here — Jean-Paul Sartre (1980) and Simone de Beauvoir (1986), director Éric Rohmer (2010), Alfred Dreyfus (1935), Susan Sontag (2004), 19th-century food writer Pierre Larousse (1875), composer Camille Saint-Saëns (1921), actress Jean Seberg (1979), and Serge Gainsbourg (1991) among many others.
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This pleasant, tree-lined boulevard that borders Montparnasse Cemetery is the location of a couple of equally pleasant street markets. Twice during the week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays, there is a really good food market set up in the stalls located on the green median between the roadways.
On Sunday mornings, artisans and craftspeople install themselves in the stalls to offer up their creations and discoveries. The boulevard itself seems to head directly into nearby Tour Montparnasse, whose looming presence dominates the skyline.
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The Paris Observatory, on the avenue of the same name.
Established in 1667, the Observatoire de Paris is the oldest observatory in the world and today is the largest French research center in astronomy. The Paris observatory has two other campuses in France and a good one-third of all astronomers in France continue with research here. In the past you were been able to book a two-hour tour that would take you to the 19th-century dome and the telescope, but during some renovation work and the Covid crisis, in-person visits have been suspended.
If you've already seen the major art museums in Paris, you might want to take a look at this off-the-beaten-path space. Fondation Cartier, as it's called by Parisians, is a modern art museum founded by the luxury watch brand to boost young artists' chances to reach a larger audience.
The museum and exhibition space, by famed museum designer Jean Nouvel, also features a large modern garden. If you get the chance, attend one of the foundation's Nomadic Nights that present the work of little-known contemporary artists.
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Vintage view of Place Denfert-Rochereau & its lion
After you've seen Fondation Cartier, head south along Raspail to reach Place Denfert-Rochereau. This has to be one of the more confusing traffic intersections in Paris — it includes three other squares (including entrance to the Paris Catacombs as well as the Musée de la Liberation de Paris) and it's where six or seven major streets meet up. (We just counted them to find out there are eight streets coming into place.)
For all that, though, it's a pleasant enough place to visit and it's here, in the middle of Denfert-Rochereau, that you find the large statue, Lion de Belfort, a copper-plated sculpture by Auguste Bartholdi. You may remember that Bartholdi also sculpted the State of Liberty. In fact, the Lion has been placed to that it looks towards that other, distant, statue.
What's the story behind the Lion de Belfort? In 1870, during the unnecessary and fairly ridiculous Franco-Prussian War (that ended the reign of Napoleon III), the city of Belfort was the only place in Alsace to resist the Prussian army and to remain part of France. To commemorate this Bartholdi created a stone sculpture of a lion at the foot of the Belfort citadel. The Place Denfert-Rochereau statue is a one-third-size replica of the first, completed in about 1880. (In case you're in Quebec, there's a later replica in Montreal.)
While you're at Place Denfert-Rochereau is the perfect time to visit the Paris Catacombs, whose entrance is located here. In the 17th century, as the cemeteries of Paris filled up and spilled into the basements of neighboring houses, the city decided something had to be done. That's when the cemeteries were cleaned up (many of them even eliminated) and the bones of the dead moved to abandoned limestone quarries beneath the streets of the 14th Arrondissement.
Although a trip to the Paris Catacombs is not everyone's cup of tea, it will be a visit you never forget! A walk through the tunnels of the underground catacombs is an eerie reminder of the sometimes bizarre history of Paris. The tour is very likely to sell out, so be sure to book as soon as you can.
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Kiosk above Regard 25
If you leave Place Denfert-Rochereau and walk a little ways along Avenue René Coty (one of the eight street spoking off the place) you might notice a bit of vacant land on your right-hand side with what looks like a shed in the middle. This small structure is actually a fairly important piece of Paris history, for it's a part of the Medici Aqueduct, built in 1613 to supply water to the city from the springs at Rungis.
The construction of a new aqueduct was the brainwave of Marie de Médicis, widow of Henry IV and mother of then-current king Louis XIII. (Marie was at the time Queen of France and the regent, ruling until her son would come of age. In this period she also began the work on Jardin de Luxembourg.)
Within Paris the Aqueduc de Médicis runs a few metres underground.The regards dotted along its length seem to be a means of aerating the water and letting impurities drop out. Access to the regards is through the type of stone shed (kiosk) you see next to Avenue René Coty, which is numbered Regard 25. There is no public access to the regard or aqueduct, but a few years ago it was open for public viewing during the 400th anniversary celebration. The aqueduct is still in use today.
Parc Montsouris in the 14th
Think the best parks are reserved for the central Paris arrondissements? If so, this 37-acre park will change your mind. From Regard XXV, continue along Avenue René Coty for another eleven or twelve minutes and you'll discover a piece of country in the city. Paths wander through beautiful foliage, there are statues and even a pond with geese. It borders on Paris City University. By the way, this is where Cléo meets Antoine in Cléo de 5 à 7.
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Iron-knit interior of the workers' church, Paroisse Notre-Dame-du-Travail
Tucked in behind the massive complex of Gare/Tour Montparnasse, and within sight of the train tracks, is this iron and wood church, built in the heyday of the iron work of Gustave Eiffel and architect Victor Balard. (Think Eiffel Tower and the iron-and-glass buildings of Les Halles.)
Once a rural area outside the city limits, the construction of Gare Montparnasse brought growth, and workers, to the former village. By 1850 there were 2,000 inhabitants, mostly workers at the new factories and train stations. So, when a new church was needed, it made sense to design it so workers would feel at home. A building of iron and wood was constructed — using materials they worked with every day. The church, started in 1896, was completed in time for the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900.
The church is a fascinating addition to the older Gothic churches of Paris. Among the iron and wood construction you can see four paintings from the 1920s that represent four saints of the world of work — Saint Luc, Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Eloi, and Saint Fiacre.
Artists' enclave Villa Seurat, photo by VVVCFFrance
When Art Nouveau met reinforced concrete in the 1920s their lovechild was modernist architecture. This was the period when Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, and Le Corbusier were working. In Paris in 1926 a "city of artists" was created on a cul de sac in the 14th Arrondissement, where modernist architects designed studio-homes for contemporary artists. (We suppose this group would today be called "creatives".)
Villa Seurat, as the project was dubbed, was named for painter Georges Seurat (1859-1891). Here, over a two-year period, about twenty artist's residences were designed by a handful of architects, but mostly by 30-year-old André Lurçat (1894-1970). (Lurçat later was largely responsible for rebuilding French cities after World War II.)
Artists and writers of the day lived and worked in the studios. Although not many of them are household names today — like writer Frank Townshend, sculptor Robert Couturier, composer Maurice Thiriet — Henry Miller did live at #34, where he was joined for a period by writer Anaïs Nin.
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Boulevard Montparnasse as seen from Le Dome in 1926
Between the World Wars it seemed like Boulevard Montparnasse was Lost Generation Central, with hundreds of new expatriates making their way to this part Paris every week. It became the place to be after creatives abandoned the Montmartre of Renoir and Picasso. You might be most familiar with the Americans who filled the cafe and salons in the 1920s, but artists from many countries landed here, as did peasants arriving at the Montparnasse train station from western France.
Here are just a few of the names that could be found in the cafes along Boulevard Montparnasse at various times during this era — Ford Madox Ford, Modigliani, Picasso, Diego Rivera, Hemingway, Jean Cocteau, Erik Satie, Peggy Guggenheim, William Faulkner, and Dorothy Parker. As many as 30,000 Americans lived in Paris in the mid 1920s.
Many of the cafes and restaurants from those earlier years are still in operation today. Even if they are past their glory days, you can still feel the vibe of the Lost Generation at Le Dôme, La Closerie des Lilas, La Rotonde, Le Select, La Coupole. Most of these can be found grouped around the intersection of Boulevard Raspail, although for us the best experience is on the terrace at La Closerie des Lilas (photo) a little farther down, at Rue Notre Dame des Champs.
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Town hall of the 14th Arrondissement, photo by Guilhem Vellut
The mairie, or town hall, of the 14th Arrondissement is located among pleasant urban parks Square Ferninand-Brunot, Square de l'Aspirant Dunand and Place Gilbert Perroy. In fact, it's probably the most nicely situated of all the mairies of Paris. The building's tower can be spotted among the trees that surround the parks and line the streets.
It was designed by Claude Naissant (1801-1879) and completed in 1858 as the mairie of the city of Montrouge. When towns and villages around Paris were annexed two years later in 1860, the building became the city hall of the newly-created 14th Arrondissement.
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Staying in the 14th is cheaper than choosing a hotel located closer to the center of Paris (in the 1st through 8th Arrondissements). If the hotel is close to a Metro station, getting to the famous sights is easy. Here are the top ten or so hotels in the 14th Arrondissement, including Hotel Aiglon on Boulevard Raspail, which we rate as "Superb".
One of the many shopping streets in the 14th, photo by Myrabella
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