If you should find yourself wandering along Rue de Rivoli past the shoe shops, past the Monoprix minimart and on until you are opposite St Pauls church, you might chance to turn left and encounter a small chateau – the Hotel de Sully. This is quite an impressive Renaissance building built in 1624 for the superintendent of finance M. Gallet. He had a private mansion built with a garden and orangery opening onto Place Royale – later known as Place des Vosges right in the heart of the Marais district in the 4th Arrondissment. It now houses the Centre for national Monuments which is part of the Ministry of Culture and Communication, managing over 100 national monuments. We came upon it during the Heritage weekend, so it was open to the public and we took a peek.
If you walk past the forlorn-looking rose window frame sitting in the garden you will find another building – the service quarters
Which will finally let you out onto the Place des Vosges. It was always an upmarket square and was the model for Bloomsbury Square in London. But here is where it gets interesting.
Before his exile to Guernsey in the Channel Islands, the Place des Vosges was home to Victor Hugo from 1832 to 1848 – he rented a second floor apartment in a 17th century building known as the hotel de Rohan-Guéméneé. These are not hotels as we know them, but rather they are town houses (hence Hotel de Ville means literally ‘Town Hall’).
Once here you proceed to the end of the street and there you will find perhaps a short queue in front of Victor Hugo’s house. There is a small entrance charge which was waived for the heritage weekend, and we were shown upstairs to the apartment.
The stairs are lined with prints from articles about him, and about his publications – for it was here that he began Les Miserables among other major works, including Ruy Blas, Les voix interiores, Les Rayons et Les Ombres.
His taste is extraordinary – from the chinese rooms with fine porcelain and lacquer work furniture to hefty Arts and Crafts furniture set against wallpaper not unlike that designed by William Morris.
Family portraits adorn the walls and the lush furnishings indicate he was well established by the time he rented this apartment.
Soon enough you are heading back down to the street and through an arch into the hustle and bustle of Paris once again.