PARIS — Gobelins

The 13th arrondissement of Paris was once an industrial riverside district with 1960-style tower blocks. Since the 1990s when it underwent a transformation it has been encouraging visitors to discover the many historic buildings found here as well as some lovely little hidden streets that still retain a village atmosphere. Chinatown is also found here.

The sights found here are:
Gare d’Austerlitz
Manufacture des Gobelins
Square Réne-le Gall
Butte aux Cailles
Place d’Italie
Chinatown
Bibliothèque Nationale de France

Gare d’Austerlitz
The Gare d’Austerlitz was built in 1840 and is named after the Czech town where Napoléon 1 was victorious in the Battle of Austerlitz. The station has been expanded over time and is one of the six main Paris stations. Less people use this line than some of the other main lines but it services some of the long distance southwestern lines.

Manufacture des Gobelins
The original factory found here was a dye works in the 15th century factory of Jean Gobelin. This was bought by Louis X1V in 1662 and the new factory was created in 1664 by Colbert to weave tapestries and make furniture. From 1697 the factory specialised in tapestries. The factory area consists of 17th century buildings used as the tapestry workshops and the tapestries produced here today are for the French government. You can only visit on a guided tour which also includes a visit to watch weavers at their work. It is best to phone ahead if you need an English speaking guide.
For information about the Gobelins Factory visit the website at:
http://manufacturedesgobelins.fr/manufacture_des_gobelins.001000.us.html

Square Réne-le Gall

Square Réne-le Gall
This garden was established in 1938 on the site of former outbuildings used as taverns and even a brewery for the workers of the Gobelins factory. The garden has been rebuilt and extended over time and now includes a landscaped garden and stream as well as several children’s playgrounds.

Butte aux Cailles

Butte aux Cailles
This is one of Paris’ less well known neighbourhoods and is found between Chinatown and Place d’Italie. It has a village-like atmosphere though it is still very much within the city centre and until recently it was a working class area. Here you will find narrow cobblestone streets, lovely little cafes and boutiques. There are several interesting places to visit in this neighbourhood including Place Paul Verlaine which is a square that has a decorative 19th century well which still produces spring water. Another is the Alsacian Villa on Rue Daviel which was built to resemble traditional worker’s cottages in the Alsace area of France and Russia. Their courtyards are open to the public. There are several Art-Nouveau houses in this area as well on Rue Daviel such as Villa Daviel and the surrounding streets.

Place d’Italie

Place d’Italie
This square is close to the Avenue of Italy and is the starting point of the road to Italy, hence its name. Today it is a very busy place for traffic, métro lines and buses as well as being a separation point between the city of Paris and the suburbs. Around the square you will find restaurants and cinemas as well as Italie 2 which is a large shopping centre.

Chinatown

Chinatown
This is the largest of the Chinatown areas in Paris. It became popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s with the arrival of the ‘boat people’ from Vietnam. This area wasn&rsquo't popular with Parisians but the Chinese people who came from Vietnam favoured this area because of the cheap rents and there was plenty of space to build their own city. In 1982, the first Chinese store opened its doors and now there are over 150 restaurants here. Today Chinatown is bordered by the Place d’Italie, Avenue d’Ivry, Avenue de Choisy and Boulevard Masséna. Chinatown is open every day except Monday when most of it is closed. There are two supermarkets located here where you can buy Asian products and these are Tang Frères and Paristore which are found near each other.

Bibliothèque Nationale de France
This is one of the largest research libraries in the world and contains all the books published in France. Its origins can be traced to the royal library that was found at the Louvre under the reign of Charles V in 1368 and was expanded by Louis X1V and opened to the public in 1692. This collection expanded to over 300,000 volumes after the French Revolution due to the acquisition of the private libraries of those arrested. It was renamed the Bibliothèque Nationale in 1792 and was made the property of the French people. In 1868 it became the Imperial National Library and moved to Rue de Richelieu but by the 1980s this was becoming too small and there were plans to build a new one. The present day library which is found along the Seine opened to the public in 1996 and is now one of the largest and most modern libraries in the world with around 10 million volumes. Sometimes there are exhibitions displayed in the library and information about what is on can be found on the library website. The reading rooms which contain a large amount of foreign newspapers are open to the public Tuesday to Saturday 10am until 8pm and Sunday 12pm until 7pm but you will have to pay around €3 for a day pass. You can take an individual or guided tour of the building but you must make an appointment. The library building has four glass and steel towers that face each other to give the impression of open books and in the centre is a sunken garden with around 140 trees.
For information about the library visit the website at: http://www.bnf.fr/en/tools/lsp.site_map.html

Traveller's Tip

You can visit the library via a boat service which stops right outside. For information about this service see the following website: http://www.vogueo.fr/
  • If you are in Paris around the third weekend in September which is ‘Heritage Day’ then a special treat to see at this library are the terrestrial and celestial globes that were made for Louis X1V. These globes are only on display to the public on this special weekend.