Le village d’Auteuil, a historic village inside Paris
Life was peaceful in the old commune of Auteuil west of Paris, until Baron Haussmann and his employer Napoleon III decided to overhaul the French capital and turn it into one of Europe’s grandest cities. By 1860, Paris was incorporating Auteuil and several other suburban areas including les Batignolles, Passy or Belleville, and the city doubled in size. Auteuil became the southern part of the 16th arrondissement, and its neighbor Passy got assigned the northern section.
Locals did not see the need for the annexation of their village into Paris: Overlooking the Seine river (merchandise arrived by boat on quai Louis Blériot, a lively area day and night,) Auteuil was conveniently located on the main road to Versailles, with ideal south-southwest exposure. Fields and vineyards sprawled on the Auteuil hill. Life was simple, but good. Auteuil became popular early on with French nobility who invested in local real estate and built elegant country retreats they visited on weekends or during the summer. Members of the bourgeoisie later joined them, and Auteuil became known as a locale of choice for affluent Parisians. Artists loved Auteuil and lived in more modest abodes. Molière, France’s famous playwright, was a resident. He met his friends, poet-critic Boileau, Jean Racine, or Jean de la Fontaine, the famed fabulist, at l’Auberge du Mouton Blanc, 40 rue d’Auteuil (the former inn is still open today,) for lively debates and conversation. Marcel Proust was born in Auteuil. Victor Hugo lived in the neighborhood. In the 18th century, during the Enlightenment, renowned literary salons brought intellectuals to le village d’Auteuil. Members were known as “le Cercle d’Auteuil.” Benjamin Franklin, who lived in nearby Passy for years, was a regular. Art Nouveau master, architect Hector Guimard, was a resident and left his mark on several buildings and Métro entrances. And the list goes on. Today, the former village remains one of the most affluent sections of Paris (and France!) Locals originally resisted the annexation into the city of Paris because they feared they would lose their identity. They were right: A well-known French stereotype mockingly refers to “Neuilly-Auteuil-Passy,” (N.A.P.) three formerly distinct communes, as the epitome of affluent living, with real estate prices to back it up.
Pour vivre heureux, vivons cachés…
To live happily, lead a hidden life. The French love their privacy: Nowhere is it more apparent than in Auteuil. Even as you explore the streets, looking for traces of old village life, your search is constantly thwarted by gates, fences, and digicodes. In the most elegant streets with grandiose architecture, (many are east of avenue Mozart,) magnificent yet overbearing façades look down at you and stand so high it’s impossible to peek inside massive windows and look for signs of life.
Side streets are calm, even on a weekday. At lunch time, while sitting at a local restaurant, one gets a glimpse of smartly dressed residents, men or women d’un certain âge, often eating alone. One gets the feeling ces habitués (regulars) have lived there for a very long time.
In Auteuil, “Villa living” seems to be the way to go for those craving privacy: Villas are paved alleyways, from the more modest to the more elegant (the exclusive Villa Montmorency,) gated communities and quiet enclaves with lush landscaping and coveted private gardens. Residents do not care much for urban explorers (or, presumably, for Instagrammers.)
Le village d’Auteuil surprises
Le village d’Auteuil may play hard to get; it still delivers on Parisian atmosphere and discoveries. A favorite: The peaceful Cimetière d’Auteuil (Auteuil Cemetery,) 57 Rue Claude Lorrain, was erected in 1800 after the community outgrew the original site then located by the church, Notre-Dame d’Auteuil. As Paris’s cemeteries go, this is one of the city’s best kept secrets. Former residents are buried there, including sculptor Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (1827-1875) and French actors, movie makers and artists (their names may elude foreign visitors.) I bumped into the grave of Benjamin Thompson, (1753-1814,) Count Rumford, an American-born British physicist and inventor and wondered what it felt like to be resting so far away from home in a quiet corner of Paris, surrounded by French natives many of whom were not his contemporaries.
There is a lot to discover in the southern section of “le 16ème,” (16th arrondissement.) It only took 15 minutes for me to visit the rental studio that had brought me to the neighborhood. It took more than three hours to explore le village d’Auteuil, and I did not see it all. Here is a pêle-mêle of a few more surprises awaiting me along the way on my urban adventure this week. I followed in Gustave Eiffel’s footsteps. He worked at his Aerodynamics Lab, (67 rue Boileau,) a testing site for aircrafts in the early days of aerospace, until his death. I gawked at beautiful Art Nouveau architecture at every street corner, it seemed. I sampled candy at a confiserie-chocolaterie open since 1913 at 30 rue d’Auteuil. In short, I had another most excellent Parisian adventure. If you would like to do the same, head to the section of the 16th arrondissement located between la Porte de Saint Cloud and Métro Jasmin. and do as this French Girl did: Walk. Peek (discreetly) through gates and fences. And, as always in Paris, don’t forget to look up!
A bientôt !
If you would like to read more about the 16th arrondissement, my story on Passy is here.
I will be sharing more photos of this walk in Auteuil over the next few days with the French Girl in Seattle community on Facebook and Instagram.
Now that I am France-based again, I plan to publish more videos on the French Girl in Seattle YouTube channel, focusing on French life and the French language.
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