At the start of the 19th century when the land stretching between Notre-Dame de Lorette and Pigalle had not yet been built, the tax collector Lapeyrière and the architect Constantin worked together on building, villas, and town houses in the Italian and Greek style.
The newly built district attracted a large number of artists who wanted to live there. Among these writers, actors, musicians, and painters were Ary Scheffer, Eugène Delacroix, Gustave Moreau, George Sand, Victor Hugo, Claude Monet … and many other illustrious names. These formed the elite of the Romantic movement in Paris and made no secret of their taste for the surrounding Hellenism even though Greece was fighting against the Ottoman Empire. New Athens was born!
Today referred to as ‘SoPi’ (for South Pigalle), this is a hip district of Paris. Set off to discover the birthplace of Parisian Romanticism at the heart of the 9th arrondissement from Pigalle to Notre-Dame de Lorette.
1 / Place Jean-Baptiste Pigalle
The walk begins at Place Jean-Baptiste Pigalle. Number 9 used to be the Café de la Nouvelle Athènes (today Bio c’ Bon) where around 1870 famous painters like Toulouse-Lautrec, Manet, Renoir, Pissarro, and writers such as Guy de Maupassant, Emile Zola, Stéphane Mallarmé would gather. It was in this cafe that Edgar Degas painted his famous work ‘Dans un café’ also known as ‘L’absinthe’ in which he had two friends of his pose to illustrate the ravages of alcoholism.
Did you know? The first floor of this mythical place has been the venue for many cabarets and the rock club the New Moon. Manu Chao and his first group La Mano Negra played here at the end of the 80s. ‘Dans un café’ also known as ‘L’absinthe’ in which he had two friends of his pose to illustrate the ravages of alcoholism.
Café de la Nouvelles Athènes – 9 place Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, Paris 18e
On the pavement opposite, in the place where the Crédit Lyonnais stands today, was a cafe called Le Rat Mort, frequented by the writer Jules Vallès and the politician Léon Gambetta; it was also here that Arthur Rimbaud wounded his friend Paul Verlaine.
Around the fountain on Place Pigalle, there was a model market on Mondays, where women would offer themselves as models to artists.
Place Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, Paris 9e
Turn into Rue Frochot where former hostess bars have become trendy cocktail bars.
2 / Place Gustave Kaspereit
In Place Gustave Kaspereit, don’t miss the Art deco glass facade inspired by the prints of the Japanese painter Hokusai. The building was a private mansion built in 1837 then turned into a cabaret named Shangaï in 1920. At the time, cultural subtleties were not taken into account and the place mixed Japanese and Chinese styles.
Place Gustave Kaspereit, Paris 9e
Just next door is the entrance gate to the magnificent Avenue Frochot. Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo, Toulouse-Lautrec, Edgar Degas, the jazz manouche guitarist Django Reinhardt and the film director Jean Renoir, son of the painter Auguste Renoir, lived in this exclusive avenue not accessible to the public.
Avenue Frochot, Paris 9e
3 / Rue Victor Massé
Turn into Rue Victor Massé and admire the superb facades of the buildings situated at 23, 25 and 27, decorated in the Neo-Renaissance style which was much in vogue during the reign of Louis Philippe (1830-1848).
Theo Van Gogh was living at number 25 when his brother Vincent re-joined him. As the apartment was then too small, they moved to 54 Rue Lepic on the other side of Place Pigalle.
It was also here that Berthe Weill opened the first Parisian art gallery to be managed by a woman. Thanks to this formidable talent scout, we owe the avant-garde presentation of Cubist paintings and the first sales of works by Pablo Picasso with whom she formed a lifelong friendship and the only exhibition of the painter Modigliani during his lifetime.
On the ground floor of the building was the Cotton Club, the sibling of the legendary Harlem jazz club run by the mafia. Piaf and Simone de Beauvoir came here to party and hang out!
Rue Victor Massé is THE street in Paris in which to find a musical instrument: drums, guitar, bass, synthesizer, everything is there!
Rue Victor Massé, Paris 9e
4 / Rue Jean-Baptiste Pigalle
Continue your walk along Rue Jean-Baptiste Pigalle. The 18th century French sculptor Jean-Baptiste Pigalle had his studio at number 4. The street was named after him after his death.
At number 67, a statue of a horse can be seen from the street in the hallway of the building. This is because an annex of the ‘Poste à Chevaux de Paris’ (Paris Horse Post Office) was stationed here. The original statue is the one you can see; a replica has been placed in the courtyard where the drinking trough used to be.
The nightclubChez Moune, at number 54, has retained its sign ‘Cabaret Féminin’. Once the most famous lesbian club in the capital, it was run by an extraordinary person, Monique Carton, who called herself Moune. Today it is a trendy club.
Rue Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, Paris 9e
Turn off into Rue de la Rochefoucauld. At number 66 stands the splendid mansion Hôtel Rousseau, built in 1780. Victor Hugo lived there after the death of his wife and found solace in the arms of Sarah Bernhardt, who lived next door in Rue La Bruyère. Then retrace your steps to continue down Rue Chaptal.
5 / Musée de la Vie romantique
At number 16 Rue Chaptal, the delightful Musée de la Vie Romantique is in itself the perfect example of a private mansion in the Nouvelle Athènes district. Formerly the home of Dutch painter Ary Scheffer, who used to host the most important art salons in the neighbourhood. Franz Liszt, Eugène Delacroix, George Sand and Frédéric Chopin would all congregate here.
The ground floor of the museum is now dedicated to George Sand, while the first floor is devoted to the works of the Dutch artist.
Did you know? The Rue Chaptal holds many other surprises! At the beginning of the street was a cabaret in which the actor Louis de Funès performed, sometimes all night long, when he was still a jazz pianist. And at 11 bis, a plaque attests to the presence on the premises of the singer songwriter Serge Gainsbourg in his youth.
Musée de la Vie romantique – Hôtel Scheffer-Renan - 16 rue Chaptal, Paris 9e
More info about the Musée de la Vie romantique
Retrace your steps to re-join Rue Notre-Dame de Lorette and admire the facade at number 49 and the door to the entrance decorated with the faces of Heloise and Abelard. The same faces can be seen on the gates of the building at number 54.
6 / Musée Gustave Moreau
Go down Rue de la Rochefoucauld to discover the Musée Gustave Moreau. A leading figure of the Symbolist movement, the painter bequeathed his family home to the State to be turned into a museum. It houses an extremely rich collection (1,300 paintings, watercolours, sketches and 5,000 drawings). The museum is also worth a visit for the building itself: the facade, the high-ceilinged rooms and the spiral staircase are truly impressive.
Musée Gustave Moreau – 14 rue de la Rochefoucauld, Paris 9e
More info about the Musée Gustave Moreau
7 / Rue de la Tour-des-Dames
A stone’s throw from the Musée Gustave Moreau the Rue de la Tour-des-Dames merits a visit! The most famous actors of the first half of the 19th century acquired private mansions in this street, all vying with one another in elegant style. Marvel at the Neoclassical facade of the mansion that belonged to Mademoiselle Mars situated at number 1 on the street. People came from all over to admire the one that was considered to be the finest in Nouvelle Athènes. At number 3 is the former mansion house of Mademoiselle Duchesnois which belonged to the troupe of François-Joseph Talma who lived at number 9 in a mansion whose interior decor was painted by Eugène Delacroix.
Rue de la Tour-des-Dames, Paris 9e
8 / Square d’Orléans
This is not a public garden but rather a discrete private residence built around a central fountain, inspired by English-style squares. It is made up of apartments occupied at the beginning of the 19th century by figures such as George Sand, Frédéric Chopin, and Alexandre Dumas who even threw a legendary party for 700 guests in a decorative setting painted by Delacroix.
Square d’Orléans – 80 rue Taitbout, Paris 9e
Head in the direction of Place Saint-Georges via Rue d’Aumale which indicates the presence of Richard Wagner in 1860 at number 3. At the time, he complained about the noise from the saxophone factory of Monsieur Sax, the inventor of the instrument, at number 50 Rue Saint-Georges.
9 / Place Saint-Georges
Arrive at the Place Saint-Georges which is a concentration of what makes up the identity of the Nouvelle Athènes. In the centre of this square, which has remained virtually unchanged, stands the statue of Paul Gavarni, an illustrator with 1,300 alleged conquests who was famous for drawing the Lorettes. This was the term used to describe the elegant young ladies who were maintained by generous lovers.
The square is surrounded by elegant mansion houses. At number 27 the Dosne-Thiers mansion house, the property of the Institut de France, houses the Fondation Dosne Thiers and its library specialising in the First Empire.
Fondation Dosne Thiers – 27 place Saint-Georges, Paris 9e
At number 28 stands the former mansion occupied, for only one year, by the socialite and courtesan Esther Lachman known by the name of the Marquise de Païva. In 1851, she married the Portuguese marquis Araujo Y Paiva, who gave her this mansion, built in 1840 by Edouard Renaud. The Neo-Renaissance facade of the building, which was criticized at the time for its abundance, is nonetheless quite characteristic of the style of the Nouvelle Athènes.
Hôtel de la Païva – 28 place Saint Georges, Paris 9e
Next to the square is the Théâtre Saint-Georges. In addition to its performances, the Art Deco entrance hall is worth a look. It was here that François Truffaut, who grow up here, filmed part of ‘Le Dernier Métro’.
Théâtre Saint-Georges – 51 rue Saint Georges, Paris 9e
10 / Eglise Notre-Dame-de-Lorette
Take Rue Notre-Dame de Lorette and Rue Flechier to get to the entrance of the church Notre-Dame-de-Lorette. Built from 1823 to 1836, and a listed monument, the church is considered as the masterpiece of the Neoclassical architect Hippolyte Lebas. It meets the specifications of the time, particular to the district: a Greek-style facade and Italian interior. It is based on the architecture of Roman basilicas; the vaultless flat ceiling is decorated with coffering.
Eglise Notre-Dame-de-Lorette – 18 bis rue de Châteaudun, Paris 9e
More info about the Eglise Notre-Dame-de-Lorette
11 / Rue des Martyrs
Finish your walk by turning up Rue des Martyrs. This bustling street is full of local shops, fashion boutiques, artisans, bars, cafes, and cabarets.
On the corner of Rue Hippolyte Lebas level with 10 de la Rue des Martyrs, look up to see two large advertisements Ripolin and Bénédictine dating from the early 20th century. Discovered almost intact during work on the building's gable, these advertisements signed Defoly are now listed as historic monuments.
In 1812, the famous Romantic painter Théodore Géricault set up his studio at number 23 while living at number 49 in the same street.
Rue des Martyrs, Paris 9e
More info about the rue des Martyrs