Paris connoisseur and guidebook writer Marsha Moore shares five of the most weird and wonderful secrets of the French capital. We say forget the Mona Lisa and pay your respects to Barry the rescue dog instead…
In a city as beautiful as Paris, it’s tempting to stick to the beaten paths leading straight to the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and the Champs Elysée. But Paris is so much more than a collection of clichés; if you lift the lid, it’s full of strange sights from human cadavers to art in the fridge.
Relieve your bladder and get up close and personal with a piece of Parisian history at the same time. Located on Boulevard Arago in front of the La Santé Prison, the city’s last remaining vespasienne – otherwise known as pissoir – is the sole survivor of the 1,200 public urinals that once dotted the streets. Nowadays, Parisians prefer the modern pod-like sanisettes, where toilet activities are out of sight to passers-by. But if privacy’s no issue or if nature’s call is too strong to resist then drop your trousers and engage with the past.
Last Pissoir: Boulevard Arago (in front of La Santé Prison), 75014. Metro: Saint-Jacques.
Napoléon and his hat parted ways at Café Procope, Paris’ first café. The young officer couldn’t pay for his meal and his beloved hat was left as collateral. It’s still there today, displayed proudly behind glass. Founded in 1686, Procope attracted everyone from Voltaire to Robespierre, all there for the drink of the hour: coffee. Just make sure you can pay the bill or you might lose your hat, too!
Café Procope: 13 Rue de l’Ancienne Comédie, 75006, +33 1 40 46 79 00. Metro: Odéon. Open daily 10:30 am to 1 am.
A Dog’s Death
Dogs live a gilded life in Paris, with their own grooming salons, designer fashions and even their own plates in restaurants. So it makes sense that in death, too, they have their own dedicated burial ground. If you want to pay homage to some French fidos, take a trip to the Dog Cemetery. Thought to be the oldest pet cemetery in the world, it’s home to canine heroes like Barry, a St Bernard mountain rescue dog who saved over forty people. Hollywood stars like Rin Tin Tin are also resting in peace, alongside a menagerie of other worthy animals including horses and fish.
Cimetière des Chiens: 4 pont de Clichy, Île des Ravageurs, Asnières-sur- Seine, 92600. Metro: Gabriel Péri, then a 15-minute walk. Open: daily (except Mon) 10 am to 6 pm (until 4:30 pm in winter). Price: adults €3; children age 6 to 11 €1; under 6s free.
A former refrigerated warehouse built in 1940, the concrete box of Les Frigos has been home to artists since the 1960s (the building is pictured in our featured photo). Initially squatters, the artists were almost evicted in the 1990s despite their obvious building improvements (adding windows, building workshops and hooking up electricity). They won the right to remain, though, and today the building houses exhibitions, meetings and performances as well as many working artists. Drop in to see what’s on – the door is usually open – and experience the creative process up close.
Les Frigos: 91 Rue des Frigos, 75013. Metro: Bibliothèque François Mitterrand. Open: hours vary; check website for exhibition details or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re in the mood for something truly extraordinary, aim straight for Musée Fragonard. Located within the National Veterinarian School, the museum – dedicated to anatomical oddities – is one of the oldest and strangest in France. Featuring three dancing human foetuses, a human head with coloured blood vessels and Siamese lambs, you can’t help staring at the strange creatures on show. But most horrifying of all is the collection of flayed cadavers prepared by the school’s first professor of anatomy, Honoré Fragonard. Fragonard was fired by the school after they deemed him insane, but his grotesque legacy still lingers through the 21 remaining specimens.
Musée Fragonard: École Nationale Vétérinaire d’Alfort, 7 Avenue du Général de Gaulle, 94700, Maisons-Alfort, +33 1 43 96 71 72. Metro: École Vétérinaire de Maisons-Alfort. Open: Wed and Thurs 2 pm to 6 pm; Sat and Sun 1 pm to 6 pm. Price: adults €7; free for under 26s.
This article on some of Paris’ more bizarre attractions was compiled from tantalizing excerpts of Marsha’s forthcoming book: 24 hours in Paris, available from Prospera Publishing. Thanks to Marsha for sharing these with us!
And if you’re on your way to the City of Light be sure to check out our weekend guide, which has tips on everything from hotels and restaurants to books and films about the the capital.