Paris Secrets: Top Five Unexpected Sights


Anytime you think you know this city, you should think again. Every alley, park and courtyard hides a ville that is all its own. Just try searching out a few Paris secrets; here are five to get you started. 

The cat by Christian Guémy. Photo: Steve Sampson. 

1. The Cat in the 13th
Paris has plenty of street art but some of the best is by artist Christian Guémy (also known as C215). Guémy’s huge cat was done as a commission for the mairie of the 13th Arrondissement. Now it is becoming something of a landmark and appears on the smartphone app My Street Art, created by the city of Paris.
Find it: At 141, boulevard Vincent Auriol, across from métro Nationale

André Chabot’s camera. Photo: Cynthia Rose. 

2. André Chabot’s Camera
The Père Lachaise graveyard is a whole world, complete with its own landmarks, maps and guided trips. One of its biggest surprises is la Mémoire Nécropolitaine. This just-unveiled chapel, occupied by a giant camera, is as yet empty. But it’s the future resting place of photographer André Chabot, whose profession is photographing “funeral art.” Chabot has numerous books with titles like Mustaches of Stone—all of which you can buy through his online Chabotostore. (PS: The grave has a QR code, so you can learn about it by smartphone.)

Find it: Take the main entrance to Père Lachaise and, once through the gate, walk straight ahead. Turn right when you reach the avenue Casimir Périer. Stay on this, moving up, until you reach the roundabout (rond point) of the same name. There, a spoke will lead you off into Division 20, where Chabot is on your right—between the graves of Géricault and Alain Bashung.

The great Paris flood of 1910. Photo: Mairie de Paris. 

3. The Great Flood Was How High?
If you’re taking the RER C back from Versailles and you alight at Saint-Michel station, halfway up to the exit you’ll see a surprising sign. It marks the level to which the station once filled with water, during the great Paris flood of 1910. Once you start to notice them, you’ll see many such markers in town. In its day, the flood caused massive citywide havoc.
Find it: You need to be leaving the RER C and headed upstairs, either to the métro correspondances or the exits. As you come across to reach the last set of stairs, you’ll see the sign to your right. It’s attached to a giant girder.

Arts et Métiers métro, Line 11. Photo: Steven Butterworth. 

4. A Métro Station out of Jules Verne
Many tripists never see the métro station Arts and Métiers, but those who do discover an underground treasure. For the 1994 bicentennial of le Musée des Arts et Métiers, it was transformed by comics artist François Schuiten. Entirely fitted out in copper, it will take your breath away. The museum itself is also well worth a stop.

Find it: Take métro Line 11 into the station Arts and Métiers  

The bed of Valtesse de la Bigne. Photo: Musée des arts décoratifs. 

5. A Courtesan’s Infamous Bed
From the Second Empire through the belle époque, great French courtesans were more than just a Paris secret. They were famous throughout the world and one of them was Louise de la Bigne. Styling herself Valtesse (“Your Highness”) de la Bigne, Louise became a legend. The bed she commissioned became the talk of Paris. Modeled after those lits de parade (state beds) reserved for royals, it cost the 1875 equivalent of €275,000. You can actually see it at the Musée des arts décoratifs.

Find it: Follow the XIX Century parcours and you’ll discover the bed, which was donated by Louise herself.

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Related Links
Christian Guémy
My Street Art
La Mémoire Necropolitaine
André Chabot
Le Chabotostore
Great Paris flood of 1910
Le Musée des Arts et Métiers
Musée des arts décoratifs