One of our favourite TV programs, Dix Pour Cent/Call My Agent,* opens with the following image, taken either from the roof of the Louvre or from a drone. It is never on screen for more than a few seconds, and I took a screen shot so I could examine it more closely.
In the foreground is the rue de Rivoli, with its recognizable arcades – they also appear in many scenes at street level. On the left is the rue de Marengo. The church on the right is the Oratoire du Louvre. I found another image of this exuberant if rather hemmed-in church in our postcard collection.
I wanted to take a closer look at the image of the commercial building, because the series maintains the fiction that it has a rooftop terrace – several important conversations and a big party take place up there. The still image does not show anything of the sort, but to be doubly sure, I checked on Google Satellite. And there I found something interesting.
First, it shows that what appears to be a simple rectangular block is actually wedge-shaped. And second, what on earth is that coffin-shaped structure between the commercial block and the church?
It took me a while, but eventually I learned that the answer lies in the building’s history. The block that surrounds the coffin, which bears the street address of 149 rue St-Honoré, was once part of the Grands Magasins du Louvre, a massive department store that faced the rue de Rivoli, founded in 1855 and expanded several times after that. This part, to the east of the rue de Marengo, was an annex to the main building, and the coffin-shaped space was the Hall des Tapis – an opulent display area for rugs and carpets.
As I hunted for images on the Internet, I discovered that the Hall des Tapis had recently been renovated to form the headquarters for the fashion company Maje.
A new floor has been created at the level of the balustrades over which the rugs are hanging in the postcard image, and the chandeliers have gone, but the rest of the space has been left with its columns and glazed roof. You can see a series of photographs on the website of the architectural firm that carried out the restoration (DTACC).
I also found out that this part of the Grands Magasins du Louvre once served as a military hospital in the First World War, associated with the Val de Grâce.
These interesting discoveries kept me absorbed for some time, but they didn’t answer my original question about the rooftop in the television series. So I went back and took a still from one of the scenes in which it is featured.
Other than a stellar view of Norman’s beloved chimneypots, it didn’t offer a huge amount to go on, but it was enough. I cruised over the rooftops of Paris with Google satellite view in 3D and eventually identified the distinctive roofs in the distance on the far left as the tops of the buildings on the north side of the Place de la République and the building sticking up on the right near the crane as a hotel called the Renaissance Paris République.
This information allowed me to do a bit of triangulation, and eventually I found that the rooftop scenes had been filmed on top of Le Bon Coin, an Internet sales company with offices on the rue du Faubourg St-Martin and a rooftop venue with extraordinary views over the city. Here is the view facing in a different direction.
By now, I was rather enjoying my vol d’oiseau above the city, peering down into courtyards and tilting the view to admire the skyline. It was a rainy afternoon, and I had time to spare. So I took a little promenade from the original building along the rue St-Honoré. And once again, I encountered a surprise.
Not far from the intersection with the rue de Castiglione, I spotted an oddly curved wall inside a courtyard.
I tried 3D, angled it a bit and came at it from the west.
I went in as close as I could (the image started to break up). But I could see little windows in the upper part of the wall.
Could this be part of one of the old walls of the city? I needed to compare it with some old maps. (If you love old Paris maps, and you have some time on a rainy afternoon, I recommend this link.)
After several false starts, I found a 1700 map by Alexis-Hubert Jaillot that showed what is now the Place Vendôme, formerly the Place Louis le Grand. Since the rue de Castiglione runs north into this square, it helped me zero in on what is now the intersection with the rue St-Honoré. There I found the Couvent des Feuillants (a Cistercian monastery, built in the early 17th century). So not part of a wall, then. I noticed a church with a rounded apse. Bingo.
Now I knew what I was looking at, and looking for, I was able to place it in an earlier map, one by Matthaüs Merian, dated 1615. In this bird’s-eye view from the west of the city, the rounded apse on the east side is not visible. Just above the red circle showing the Couvent, you can see the nearby city gate (the Porte St-Honoré) in the wall of Charles V, with a bridge over a narrow moat. The convent is between that gate and a second moat that circled the whole of the right bank. The inner moat joined the outer moat at the Porte St-Denis. So the Couvent was effectively on an island formed by the two moats and the Seine.
Between the convent and the Seine are a manège for equestrian exercise and sports (you can see little horses in the picture) and the gardens of the Tuileries, laid out by Le Nôtre.
Finally, to confirm what I now knew, I found a photograph on French Wikipedia showing the remaining wall of the Feuillants church.
During the early years of the French Revolution, the monks were evicted, the contents of the church were removed, and the site became the meeting place for a group (Club des Feuillants) that supported a constitutional monarchy. The location was handy for the Assemblée Nationale, which had taken over a building that had been part of the manège (it had been built in the early 18th century and so is not visible on Merian’s map).
As you can imagine, it didn’t end well for members of the Club when a more radical element (the Jacobins) came to power.
The rest of the church (except, oddly, this curved wall) was demolished in the early 19th century. A painting by Etienne Bouhot shows the ruins in 1808.
My little journey to find a particular rooftop from a 21st-century television series had taken me over central Paris and back several centuries. I have mentioned here only the highlights of my rainy afternoon skimming the rooftops of Paris (I went down a few additional rabbit holes, as one does). For now, this will have to be the next best thing to being there.
Text by Philippa Campsie; photographs from Google Satellite View, Wikimedia, and stills from the France 2 production of Dix Pour Cent.
* Dix Pour Cent / Call My Agent is a series about an agency that represents French actors and film-makers. Each episode features at least one famous French actor (Natalie Baye! Isabelle Adjani! Juliette Binoche!), and the series as a whole follows the ups and downs of the agency, its four principals, and four assistants – financial woes, shifting alliances, love affairs, breakups, betrayals, and reconciliations. It’s a France 2 production, available on Netflix in French with English subtitles. Three seasons of six episodes each are available and a fourth season is in production.
This is utterly fascinating. Thank you so much for your hours of research and finding these gems. You should by now get the French Honorary Citizenship. 😉
Consider me a “virtual” citizen!
oh you are! but such a worthy one 😉
I loved your sleuthing. It’s the kind of thing I like to do, go off on a tangent and follow the leads. Interesting finds. Thanks for the heads-up about Dix Pour Cent / Call My Agent.
I think you will really enjoy the series. There are some hilarious moments that still make me smile when I think about them.
I am sure now : in a previous life, you have been a detective !
I have sometimes thought that if I lived earlier in the 20th century, one job I would have enjoyed would have been that of an analyst of aerial photography. I’ve read about this work in the Second World War and thought it would be fascinating!
The arcades in front of the Temple Protestant de l’Oratoire du Louvre are lovely and can be enjoyed from the street. The rooftops are fascinating too, but difficult to see while walking.
We were once invited to a concert at the Oratoire, but for some reason, we were not able to make it. When we next make it to Paris, we will definitely go in.
Your dogged research is fascinating! This made a riveting read in the wee hours when I couldn’t sleep. I’ve often wondered where the Manège was located. Thanks for doing the leg(?)work.
Fingerwork, perhaps (let your fingers do the walking…that dates me!).
Merci Philippa! I LOVE Dix pour cent. The episode with Juliette Binoche is especially brilliant. Great research. I am looking forward to what else you found. I was intrigued by the apse though: one cannot see space for a stained glass in it, indicating the east and the light. Could it be a re-use of another building? À bientôt j’espère!
Did all apses have windows? (Something for the research department.) Maybe if there was a window, it was filled in when the contents of the church were removed. Anyway, hope you and your family are all well and safe and surviving these strange times.
Once again, you have created a magnificent post. Thank you so much! I love that TV show, too!
I wonder if the pandemic interfered with the filming of the fourth series. I do hope not.
Thank you Philippa, so interesting as always, worthy of M.Clouseau himself.
Clouseau!! Wasn’t he a bit of a bumbler?
It was a compliment 🙂
You, with your amazing detective work, and the antiquities of Paris are a perfect match. This one was a tour de force!
So glad you enjoyed it. Thanks so much for your posts, which keep us informed and entertained as well!
I have a very nice postcard collection, Les cartes postales, and thus appreciate seeing those in your blog.
As always, you exceed in entertaining and informing the reader, moi!
Thanks so much.
Susan Scott, California Lady and world traveller(when safe again!)
Postcards are fascinating and wonderful to collect. Here’s to future voyages when things calm down again!
What a charming entry! What finds! That coffin shaped rooftop was so odd but ultimately benign.
Thank you for sharing your curiosity!
I must say, I sort of jumped when I saw that strange shape in the aerial view! Glad you enjoyed the post. Hope to see you again soon.
Hi Philippa — If I was in a research competition or running a war I’d do anything to have you on my team! I salute your speedy success using photo clues and maps to gather all that information on a “rainy afternoon.” How in the world you keep your eye on the ball and refuse the temptation to linger lazily in the most fascinating rabbit holes is admirable — and to me, a mystery. Thanks for yet another lovely escape into your Parisian world.
hello Phillipa. What a fascinating chase you had thanks to the internet. I have been fascinated by the location of Le Grand Mogol which was the premises of Rose Bertin couturier to Marie Antoinette. I am pretty sure is was very near this church wall that you have written about today . She was such an interesting person and really significant in the development of the French fashion industry .she survived the revolution and think died in Epernay sur Seine in The early 1800s. I wonder if you have ever have come across her orr could tell me where her shop was or if it still exists. Mem in Melbourne
Let me see what I can find out.
I thought this might be a rabbit hole you might enjoy 😉. I love your investigations and unearthing the fascinating things which on the surface appear ordinary but are really interesting
I may be on to something, but I am waiting for a library book that may hold the answer. Stay tuned.
Dear Mem, You are right about the Grand Mogol. It was indeed near that church. In “Dictionnaire Historique des Rue de Paris” by Jacques Hillairet, volume 2, page 425, he puts Le Grand Mogol at…(drumroll)…149 rue St-Honore. In other words, right where the building pictured at the top of the blog is now! A very satisfying discovery. Best, Philippa
Wow what a find. so Do you think that the building where the arches are is that same building ??? How amazing . Did you know that her home still exists outside of Paris ? I wonder what it is now . Wouldn’t it be great if it was a museum of 18th century costume !!
No, I think it was purpose-built for the Grands Magasins du Louvre in the 19th century, replacing some smaller buildings that were there before. Where is Rose Bertin’s home?
Epernay Sur Seine . I have just seen pics on the internet but I have no idea what it’s now used for
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Hi Philippa. What an intriguing blog – discovered in an internet trawl to locate the church, too. We are new fans of Call My Agent!/Dix pourcent. I’m so glad I persisted through dull cineaste blogs!
This might set you off on your researches: I am a singer, and lived briefly during 1982 in the Palais Royale district, Rue Moliere, not far from “148 Rue St Honore”, ASK’s fictional HQ. I had an old 1950 guide book with me – ‘The People’s France – Paris’ by AH Brodrick – and this told me that near the other large department store of the area, La Samaritaine, in Rue des Pretres St Germain l’Auxerrois, was the original Cafe Momus, celebrated by Murger in La Vie de Boheme, and the setting for Act Two of Puccini’s opera La Boheme. In 1982 it was still a cafe (but no longer Momus) and served the delivery van drivers for La Samaritaine, whose depot adjoined. I told the patron this tale, but it drew a complete blank; he had not heard of the opera, let alone his establishment’s celebrated history. In past times above the cafe, Mr Brodrick also informs me, was the “queer dingy little offices of the ‘Journal des Debats’ which in its day occupied a unique position in European journalism.” There. I wonder if this will set you off on a hunt – or will you tell me to do my own researches?
I can feel my nose twitching already. I shall certainly see what I can find out about the Cafe Momus. Like you, I have some old guidebooks, and I shall start there. I lived in Paris when La Samaritaine was still a department store, and have a vague recollection of the depot. As for the Journal des Debats, I encountered it when I was researching the history of stenography for a different project. Lots of interesting connections. Stay tuned.
Ah – you rose to the bait, and quickly! Thank you Philippa, and all power to your elbow. I confess I posted to my opera chums on Facebook “Cafe Momus – the hunt is on!…”, ending “Here’s hoping (she rises to the bait), as she both writes and researches superbly. Meanwhile any takers, fb friends?” So you never know, that may turn something up as well.
Martin in London (UK)
Gosh. No pressure, eh? This should be fun.
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Fantastic research – so much fun to read.
So glad you enjoyed it. The research for our next blog (September 12) may also be of interest.