Named for the long-destroyed citadel of the Knights Templar, this ancient part of Paris crosses from the financial heart of Beaubourg in the west to the Jewish quarter of the Marais in the east. It also contains the greatest concentration of museums in all of Paris.
1. We begin at the Chemin Vert Métro station. Assuming you can get across busy Boulevard Beaumarchais and the other streets running parallel to it (or under them; watch the exit signs in the Métro station, as they frequently have a dozen exits scattered throughout the neighborhood to allow you to emerge wherever you like), take Rue Saint-Gilles west, where it becomes Rue du Parc Royal. On your left, you'll find Square Louis Achille and Square Georges-Cain.
At the southern end of the parks is the sprawling Grand Carnavalet, the museum dedicated to the history of Paris. The museum spreads over two adjacent mansions: the Hôtel Carnavalet, built as a town house in 1548, and the neighboring 17th-century Hôtel Le Peletier, with its modern-day ceilings.
In between are some magnificent gardens, and across the street is the Hôtel de Lamoignon, which houses the historical library of the city of Paris (including a tremendous collection of documents and prints from the time of the Revolution). The Magasin des Musées, at No. 29 bis Rue des Francs Bourgeois to the south, carries replicas from many French museums.
A right on Rue Elzévir, one block to the west, will take you back to Rue du Parc Royal past the Musée Cognacz-Jay, named for the husband-and-wife founders of La Samaritaine. Now housed in the Hôtel Donon, an elegant building dating from 1575 with an 18th-century extension and façade, the museum houses their small but fine collection of 18th-century art and furniture; unlike most museums here, it's free!
2. Place Thorigny, where Rue Elzévir meets Rue du Parc Royal, is the site of two very different museums. On the northwest side is the Musée Picasso, which houses an astonishing collection of his work in a remarkable mansion, the Hôtel Salé, which dates back to 1656 and still "preserves" (no pun intended) the character of this ancient home of a Parisian salt-tax collector (the name means "salty"). Having lived most of his life in France, Picasso died in 1973, leaving most of his works to the state in lieu of an inheritance tax. Across Place Thorigny from the Musée Picasso is the tiny but curious Musée de la Serrurerie, dedicated to keys and locksmithing. Not having a second key to the exterior of our building, I begged Propes to let me walk in and ask 'em to make me a duplicate. No dice.
If you're looking for something unusual, the Apparemment Café, across from the Musée Picasso at No. 18 Rue des Coutures Saint-Gervais, is arranged to look like a living room in a home, with couches and comfy chairs; it’s a popular Sunday brunch spot.
3. Next, take Rue Perie, which lies between the two museums, westward until it becomes Rue des Quatre Fils (we're not quite sure which "four sons" it refers to). Tucked away, around at the corner of Rue Charlot and Rue du Perche, is the tiny Église Sainte-Croix de Paris des Armeniens Catholiques, an (obviously) Armenian church. As you stroll along Rue des Quatre Fils, you'll pass a large complex of buildings. In the courtyard of the Hôtel de Rohan, you'll find the main site of the National Archives, another Propes mainstay (she worked there today, in fact); connected to it (although you'll have to circle the block to come in by the southern entrance) is the Hôtel de Soubise, which houses the Musée d'Histoire de France (also free!).
4. If book learnin' ain't your thing, you might be better pleased by heading just north of the National Archives complex to the Hôtel de Guénégaud, the superb 17th-century mansion which houses the Musée de la Chasse et la Nature (the museum of huntin', y'all; yeehaw!).
The front of the Archives complex faces Rue des Francs Bourgeois, which the 3e arrondissement shares with the 4e. This boutique-filled shopping street brims with appealing wares—from historical to hip, fancy to funky. Archétype, at No. 17, carries elegant prints, maps, and architectural drawings. At Rue de Sévigné, check out the old “Boulangerie” (bakery) sign on the corner and the modern shoe shop beneath. Many shops have retained their original signage, making for a delightfully incongruous mix of new and old, stretching all the way back to the Grand Carnavalet. At the corner of Rue Vieille-du-Temple and Rue des Francs-Bourgeois, the Maison de Jean Hérouët features one of the original turrets from a house built in 1510. Also nearby is the covered walkway Allée des Arbalétriers ("Alley of the Rafters"), where in 1407 assassins hired by our old "fearless" friend Jean-Sans-Peur leaped out of the shadows and ambushed an unsuspecting Louis d’Orléans, the brother of Charles VI. The murder was the crime of the century (the 15th century, that is), and set the stage for a generation of conflict between the Orléanists and Jean's Burgundians.
5. Continue west along Rue Rambuteau to Rue du Temple; just to the north is the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaïsme, housed in the elegant Marais mansion, the Hôtel de Saint-Aignan. The museum unites collections formerly scattered round the Marais and the rest of the city, and commemorates the culture of French Jews from medieval times to the present, a sizable community that has been with the city since Roman times. Besides obvious topics like the Holocaust, the museum also houses a number of artifacts ranging from elaborate silverware to historical documents and photographs to ancient Torah covers and paintings. Propes was pleased to find a temporary exhibition on the life and travails of Alfred Dreyfus, her very-big-deal historical figure from the troubled French military past. Quelle coincidence.
6. If you're weary of staid traditional museums by now, you're in luck, for the next few stops feature whimsy to delight young and old. Take a right on Cité Noël ("Christmas City"? Huh?), a short alley leading to Jardin Saint-Aignan. Its other entrance offers a shortcut to Impasse Berthaud, where tucked away down this dead-end street is the Musée de la Poupée, a tiny museum devoted entirely to dolls, puppets, and the like.
7. Back on Rue Rambuteau, continue west until you pass alongside the northern end of the Centre Georges Pompidou; down the cul-de-sac of Passage de l'Horloge à Automates is the hidden treasure of Le Défenseur de Temps, "The Defender of Time." An impressive brass-and-steel mechanical sculpture, this public clock stands 13 feet high and weighs one ton. The "defender" battles against the elements: air, earth, and water. In the shape of savage beasts, they attack him at the approach of each hour, to the accompanying sound of earthquakes, hurricanes, and rough seas. At 2:00 and 6:00, he overcomes all three, as watching children cheer.
Of course, none of these things are currently true; yes, the clock is broken. Nuts.
One is reminded of Dr. Zoidberg solving a murder mystery on Futurama:
"The first clue came at 4:15, when the clock broke. Another clue came two hours later, at 4:15, when...."
8. Oh, well. Let us depart, down the charming little Passage Molière to the west, until its exits onto tiny Rue Quincampoix, at eight centuries old one of the city’s oldest streets. Along the way, you’ll pass several, uh, interesting stops. Le Comptoir de l’Écriture, just to the south at No. 35, specializes in writing implements and carries real plumes, all kinds of ink, nibs, and paper. (Some of it was used many years ago on forms that almost destroyed France; John Law's stock-speculation disaster, one of the earliest pyramid schemes, nearly bankrupted the country from his offices at No. 54.) The Galerie Fait et Cause, at No. 58, specializes in photography, and several other galleries are clustered in that area. You may want to stop at Le Quincampe at No. 78, an informal and reasonably priced café.
None of the shops, though, are nearly as interesting as some of the signage in the area; an ad in this bar window reminds us of just what absinthe drinkers were hoping to experience.
Perhaps worse than that is the sight waiting for you just around the corner, especially if you've had a little nip of the ol' wormwood. Yes, it's the twin girls from The Shining, painted on the wall. Creepy.
9. From the northern end of Rue Quincampoix, a quick right-left-right combination via Rue Saint-Martin will lead us to No. 51 Rue de Montmorency, which is the oldest house in Paris, the "maison" of Nicolas Flamel built in 1407; these days, it's a restaurant.
10. Continue north along Rue Saint-Martin. On your right is Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs, where the rear courtyard, Square du Gal Morin, features a curious array of sculptures. The whole area is a haven for design; nearby Rue Réaumur is dotted with entries from an architecture contest once upon a time.
Ahead is the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers, a curious sort of museum dedicated to traditional techniques of craftsmanship (this is France, you'll recall), and covering everything from textiles to mechanical clocks; note the 13th-century turret as you go by.
If you'd like to rest a bit, Square Emile Chautemps is right across the street.
Feel free to rest a spell or just play in the sandbox with the kiddies.
11. Head east down Rue du Vertbois to where it crosses Rue de Turbigo and Rue du Temple; in a cozy nook off to the side is my favorite tiny church, for reasons that must surely be obvious.
Then turn south and head down Rue du Temple; ahead, you'll see all that remains of the ancient Templars' citadel. A state within a state, this area contained a palace, a church, and shops, all contained behind high walls and a drawbridge, making it a haven for those who were seeking to escape from royal jurisdiction. Of course, the Templars themselves were soon to meet their colossal downfall (welcome to the summer of The Da Vinci Code, which has sightseers fanning out all over Paris), and in an ironic twist, Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette themselves would be held here briefly after their arrest in 1792.
Today, sadly, all that remains is this modern park, the Square du Temple. Behind it are the 3e mayor's office and a marketplace, the Marché du Temple.
12. To wind up the tour, you have two options. To the north, up Rue du Temple, is the large intersection of streets and people known as the Place de la République, seen in all its glory during the recent immigration-focused riots. If you wish, you can stroll around the park (which technically bridges the gap between the 3e, 10e, and 11e arrondissements) and exit via its Métro station.
Alternatively, you can take Rue de Bretagne, the neighborhood’s main commercial thoroughfare, east from the Square du Temple, where at No. 39 can be found the pretty covered market, the Marché des Enfants Rouges. Then take a right onto Rue Vieille du Temple, which is lined with boutiques. Several galleries are clustered around the northern end of the street and the nearby Rue de Poitou, a sign that you are beginning to drift into the hipper areas of the 3e arrondissement. Take a left on Rue Debellyme, which leads to Saint-Denis du Saint-Sacrament. From here, head back north along Rue de Turenne to Rue des Filles du Calvaire. This area features three model-train stores within yards of each other (as in several other places, they tend to congregate together). Feel free to browse the shops before heading out via Rue des Filles du Calvaire, which will end in the Métro station of the same name.
The Other Paris