Among the books that really gave me a hard time and that I read oh so slowly, the highest step of the podium goes to “Foucault’s Pendulum” by Umberto Eco: I could not concentrate and feel interested in it, and there are pages that I had to re-read several times because at the end of them I could remember nothing. However, a passage from the book prompted me to take my coat, scarf, and gloves and get out …
– Have you ever been to 145 rue Lafayette?
– No, I must confess.
– A little out of the way, between Gare de l’Est and Gare du Nord. A building at first imperceptible. Only if you look closer, you realize that the doors look like wood but are of painted iron, and the windows open onto rooms uninhabited for centuries. Never a light. But people pass by and do not know.
– Do not know what?
– That the house is fake. It is a facade, an enclosure with no roofs, no interior. Empty. It is only the mouth of a fireplace. It serves for the aeration and unloading of the regional underground vapors. And when you understand it, you have the impression of being in front of the mouth of the grave; if only you could penetrate within those walls, you would have access to Paris’s underground world. I spent hours and hours in front of those doors that hide the door of the doors, the departure point for the journey to the center of the earth. Why do you think they did it?
– To give air to the underground, you said.
At that time, I was living in Paris, on Quai de Jemmapes, a few minutes walking from the mentioned address, and I could not resist the temptation to see with my own eyes if Eco had invented or unveiled a detail of my city that I had no idea about!
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Hunting painted buildings in Paris
Well, it’s all true, and there are actually several other fake painted buildings “to air” the underground, scattered along the lines of the RER and around the Forum des Halles, right in the heart of Paris.
When they expanded the subway line in the late ’70s, the RATP had to face the problem of ventilation columns and not to deface the various districts; they decided to create fake buildings that respected the architectural aesthetics of the surrounding ones, and so only inquisitive and careful passers-by can notice the entrance doors without handles or digital codes screens, no steps and above all no relief.
In the following days, I turned around Paris looking for these fantastic painted buildings, and it was actually a new way to fall in love with the city over again.
Another splendid trompe l’oeil close to home is the one at 174 rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis, in a perfect popular style. Very hard to distinguish unless you really walk a few centimeters from the wall.
At number 3 rue de l’Acqueduc, in the 10th arrondissement, there is a partially painted façade. If you pass by, try to find out which floor is the fake one … and not far away, always in the 10th, there is the beautiful trompe l’oeil at number 54 rue des Petites-Écuries.
Moving towards the center of Paris, I then found the painted building at number 44 rue d’Aboukir and, again, across town, the imposing typically Parisian stone facade at number 78 rue La Condamine, heart the 17th arrondissement.
At number 53 of the central Rue des Archives, the electrical transformers of EDF, inspired by the RATP, decided to hide their technical machinery using the same system. Along with the one at number 29 rue Quicampoix, this is one of my favorite trompe l’oeil in Paris!
But there are many other buildings painted to the same purpose and scattered through the streets of Paris, in addition to the beautiful and colorful trompe l’oeil that adorn the sides of XIX century buildings or some boundary walls in the central arrondissements.
My tip then: do stroll around Paris looking upwards 😉
Bon voyage !
P.S. There are fake painted buildings even in London and New York 😉