Exploring traditional skills in the 12th arrondissement

Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine, Viaduc des Arts and the Marché d’Aligre showcase Paris’s craft heritage.

The 12th arrondissement has historically been a hub for traditional trades and crafts, not least because all the merchandise purchased by the city authorities transited though the Port de l’Arsenal. Numerous carpentry and joinery workshops began to be established in the courtyards and passageways leading off Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine from the 12th century onwards, transforming it into one of the principal commercial streets in Paris.

The district, which was largely populated by tradesmen and craftsmen because it was exempt from taxation, also witnessed the first wave of popular revolt from April 1789, particularly on the legendary Place de la Bastille. These days, this busy street is lined with cabinet makers and shops of every description. This walk leading from historic courtyards to the venerable Marché d’Aligre and on to the astonishing Viaduc des Arts offers an opportunity to explore an area where Paris’s traditional crafts and way of living have been preserved over the centuries.

The walk begins at the Bastille metro station (Lines 1, 5 and 8), where you take Exit 4.

1/ Cour Damoye

Cour Damoye © Studio TTG

A small lane tucked away between two cafés on the bustling Place de la Bastille emerges into the peaceful Cour Damoye. Built by Pierre Antoine Damoye, an 18th-century ironmonger, this courtyard was inhabited by clothing and scrap metal merchants and sundry craftsmen, who had their workshops on the ground floor of their homes. A freight lift to the right serves as a reminder of the manufacturing past of this former hive of activity.

Walk through the courtyard and into Rue Daval at the other end, then continue along Rue de la Roquette.

Cour Damoye - place de la Bastille, Paris 12th

2/ Passage du Cheval Blanc

Passage du Cheval blanc, Paris

This cobblestone passage has a succession of charming little courtyards lined with three-storey buildings leading off it. Each courtyard is named after a month of the year, from January to June. The buildings with large glass windows in this labyrinth of individual courtyards were once used as timber warehouses supplying the area’s cabinet-makers and carpenters.

Passage du Cheval Blanc, Paris 12th

Go through the Cité Parchappe to return to Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine.

3/ Les Ateliers de Paris

Les Ateliers de Paris

This space devoted to arts and crafts, design and fashion is a business incubator. It helps young Parisian craftspeople to set up in business, provides them with a place to show their creations and organizes events to promote locally-made crafts. The Ateliers de Paris is behind the ‘Fabriqué à Paris’ (Made in Paris) label you will see in some shop windows in the course of this walk, particularly along the Viaduc des Arts. Visitors are welcome to enter this unusual space and browse the works on display.

Les Ateliers de Paris - 30 rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine, Paris 12th

Open from wednesday to friday de 10 - 13  14 à 18

 More info on the Ateliers de Paris

4/ Secrets of Rue du Faubourg Saint Antoine

Cour du Bel-air

This pretty grapevine-swathed cobblestone courtyard was very likely the location of a private mansion in the late 18th century, with other buildings added on later and rented out to local coppersmiths.

56 rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine, Paris 12th

Le passage du chantier

Passage du chantier © Studio TTG

This picturesque lane lined with the glass-fronted shops of cabinetmakers and upholsterers is dotted with colourful street art frescoes and attractive window and patio displays.

1 passage du chantier, Paris 12th

Cour des Bourguignons

Cour des Bourguignons, Paris

This is a typical example of the industrial courtyards with houses incorporating ground-floor workshops that sprang up in the area from the second half of the 19th century. The 32-metre chimney of the steam engine that powered the workshops can still be seen today. The panels at the entrance remind visitors that this was the location where the Maison Krieger, one of the largest producers of furniture in Paris, set up a factory employing 600 workers.

74 rue du faubourg Saint-Antoine, Paris 12th

From here, walk along Rue de Charonne and enter the Passage Lhomme

5/ Passage Lhomme

Passage Lhomme

Tucked away amid the greenery in this passage is a large toy store as well as many former workshops, one of them still occupied by the French polisher Hollard. Don’t hesitate to push open any half-open doors and inspect the many traces of the passage’s artisanal past. Then make your way to Avenue Ledru-Rollin, where another delightful surprise awaits children in the Passage de la Bonne Graine. The eponymous puppet-making workshop puts on shows for children (Atelier de la Bonne Graine, 16 Passage de la Bonne Graine).

Passage Lhomme, Paris 11th

Walk up Avenue Ledru-Rollin, turn right into Rue de Charonne and then right again into Passage de la Main d’Or.

6/ Passage and rue de la Main d’Or

Passage de la Main d'or, Paris

The painter Claude Lagoutte lived for many years in this cobblestone passage steeped in history, at number 4. The passage was home to many craftspeople, as evidenced by the engravings and sculptures adorning walls and porches. Look out for the bas-relief of a cabinetmaker at work at Number 18 and the face of Mercury, the Roman god of trade, at Number 15. The latter now houses the Cité Dupuy, where you will find working studios such as Marcotte (bronze turning) and Maison Schmidt (coppersmiths).

Passage et rue de la Main d’Or, Paris 11th

Cross Rue du Faubourg Saint Antoine and turn into Rue d’Aligre.

7/ Marché d’Aligre

Marché d'Aligre, Paris

The Marché d’Aligre is one of the oldest markets in Paris, and the beating heart of this traditional working-class district. Shops selling second-hand goods, cheesemongers, greengrocers, stalls of every description – and a vegetarian restaurant called La Boucherie Végétarienne serving delicious meat-free recipes – are spread out around Place d’Aligre and the Halle Beauvau covered market.

Make sure you stop at La Graineterie du Marché. This shop – the only one of its kind in Paris – resembles an old-fashioned general store stocked with everything from tempting nibbles to fresh herbs and, of course, the whole grains and seeds from which the shop gets its name.

Marché d’Aligre - place d’Aligre, Paris 12th

 More info on the Marché d’Aligre

Façade et vitrine de La Graineterie, Paris

Graineterie - 8 place d’Aligre, Paris 12th

Open Tuesday to Friday from 9.45am to 1pm and from 4pm to 7pm, Saturday from 9.45am to 1.30pm and from 4pm to 7.30pm and Sunday from 9.45am to 2pm.

Continue the market in the rue d'Aligre, take the rue de Charenton to the right and then the rue de Cotte to the right again.

8/ Rue de Cotte

Lavoir du marché Renoir, Paris

Wander at your leisure along Rue de Cotte – one of the liveliest streets in the area – and take a seat on a café or restaurant terrace.

Keep an eye out for the remnants of the Marché Lenoir wash house at number 3. It is the only surviving vestige of the public washhouses of Paris – there were 300 of them at one point. Initially located at number 9, as indicated on the façade, it was built in 1830.

Rue de Cotte, Paris 12th

Turn into Rue Théophile Roussel.

9/ Around Rue de Prague

La terrasse de Gutenberg

façade et vitrine de  la librairie La Terrasse de Gutenberg, Paris

This has a beautiful exterior – still with the original wooden frames – and attractive window displays. Inside, you will find both new and second-hand books. There is a particularly well-stocked psychoanalysis section.

La terrasse de Gutenberg - 9 Rue Emilio Castelar, Paris 12th

La Maison du Cerf-Volant

Façade et vitrine de la Maison du Cerf-Volant, Paris

This is the only kite-making shop in Paris. They sell all kinds of unusual equipment, from kites and juggling balls to boomerangs and diabolos. These brightly coloured, beautifully designed products are eye-catchingly displayed in the window.

La Maison du cerf-volant - 7 rue de Prague, Paris 12th

10/ The Viaduc des arts

Viaduc des Arts - La Fabrique Nomade, Paris

This disused railway line was transformed into a tree-lined walkway in 2000. The arches below the viaduct are now occupied by the working studios of 50 or so of the finest Parisian designers and craftspeople. Their shops – a favourite haunt of interior designers, entertainers and fashion industry professionals – also attract people who are simply interested in arts and crafts. Cabinetmakers, feather-makers, luthiers and glassblowers and other people plying specialized trades are to be found here, keeping age-old traditions alive and displaying the intricacies of their craft. Wecandoo offers you the opportunity to meet these artisans and craftspeople and take part in a workshop to make a unique object alongside them. Meet at the Arche located at n°5.

In an effort to encourage innovation, the Viaduc des Arts also has an incubator hosting five young designers, and one of the vaults is available for any young designer to rent for a two-year period. Seven emerging businesses have so far won City of Paris awards and the right to use the ‘Made in Paris’ label: the chocolate shop L’Atelier C; the artisan jam-maker La Confiture Parisienne; Maison Fey (upholstery and leather gilding); La Fabrique Nomade, an association publicizing the work of migrant craftsmen; Aisthésis and Hervé Ebéniste, both artisan cabinetmakers; feather maker Julien Vermeulen, and paper sculptor and designer Junior Fritz Jacquet.

Le Viaduc des arts - avenue Daumesnil, Paris 12th

 More info on the Viaduc des Arts

11/The second-hand bookshop La Sirène

Façade et vitrine de la librairie La Sirène, Paris

This amazing bookshop has floor-to-ceiling shelves stuffed with books. It’s a treasure trove for bookworms, selling both new books at heavily discounted prices and second-hand books individually wrapped by the manager. There is a selection of books in English too.

Librairie La Sirène - 53 rue de Lyon, Paris 12th

Open every day from 10am to 8pm except Sunday from 1pm to 8pm.

After visiting the bookshop, walk back up Rue de Lyon to get to the metro station on Place de la Bastille.