The Charles V Wall

In the 14th century, King Charles V had a new wall built on the right bank but the Philippe Auguste wall was not demolished for all that, since it was considered so solid and wide that a cart could run on top of it.

Charles V was king of France from 1364 to 1380. His reign marks the end of the first part of the Hundred Years War, as he recovered almost all of the lands lost by his predecessors. He was a learned king who founded the first royal library, predecessor to the French National Library (Bibliothèque Nationale de France).

In 1356, Étienne Marcel, Prêvot des Marchands (a position similar to that of a mayor) had a new wall constructed on the right bank, however, he died before the works were completed. Charles V continued the fortification works following his tactics of terre déserte (“better a crushed land than a lost land”) and reinforced the Philippe Auguste wall on the left bank while creating a whole new wall on the right bank that was 5km long and consisted of a combination of ditches and earth-filled ramparts, the last of which was crowned by a small wall. The fortification extended beyond the Louvre Castle to the west, which made the castle lose its protective function. In the east, however, the residence of the king, the Hôtel Saint Pol, was poorly protected and therefore another small bastion was built: the Bastille. It protected against invasions through the Porte Sainte Antoine gate, and in case of an insurrection within Paris, it covered the road leading to the Château de Vincennes, the king’s residence outside of Paris.

The Château de Vincennes

The Charles V wall was destroyed in the 17th century, and there are few remains today. However, it left its imprint on the map of the city, as many boulevards run along the site of the fortification, such as boulevard Saint Denis, boulevard Saint Martin, boulevard du Temple, boulevard des Filles-du-Calvaire, boulevard Beaumarchais and boulevard Bourdon, to name only a few.

The purple line shows the boulevards named above – running along the Charles V wall (see map below).

In 1672, Louis XIV, the Sun King, had a triumphal arch built on the site of one of the former wall’s gates, the Porte Saint Denis. Two years later, he had another triumphal arch built about 250m away, the Porte Saint Martin. The names are misleading since neither of them was ever meant to be a gate, but to glorify Louis XIV and his military victories.

Charles V wall (orange) and Philippe Auguste wall (brown)
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Nicolas Flamel

You might know Nicolas Flamel from fiction stories or movies, where he is portrayed as an immortal alchemist who discovered the philosopher’s stone. But did you know Nicolas Flamel was a real-life person?
Most facts about him are debated and vary from one source to another, so I’ll stick with the key points.

Nicolas Flamel’s birth year and place are uncertain, but he was probably born around 1340 in the Paris area. He died on March 22, 1418 in Paris.
As a child, he was lucky enough not to die of the plague, which in 1348 killed between a third and half of the European population.

In the days long before the printing press was invented, Nicolas Flamel began his career as a public writer in a small single-story house in the rue des Écrivains, Writers Street. This street disappeared when the central east-west axis rue de Rivoli was created in the 1800s.

Nicolas Flamel married Pernelle, twice widowed, with whom he opened a small shop near the church Saint Jacques de la Boucherie, and a workshop nearby specialized in precious manuscripts. He financed the construction of a doorway of the Saint Jacques de la Boucherie church, the arcade of which showed him with Pernelle. Today, only the Tour Saint Jacques remains of this church, a tower which was built a hundred years later.

The Tour Saint Jacques seen from Rue Nicolas Flamel

It was often speculated how the Flamels acquired their wealth, and Nicolas was rumored to be a successful alchemist. In reality, Pernelle brought money into the marriage from her previous two husbands, and Nicolas had a successful career as a scribe and bookseller. He also owned several houses in Paris and its suburbs, real estate investments that in the economic depression of the Hundred Year War contributed to his wealth.

They contributed financially to churches, and Nicolas continued to do so after Pernelle’s death in 1397. He had several houses built to house the poor. The only one still in existence is located at 51 rue de Montmorency (3rd arrondissement) and is said to be one of the oldest stone houses in Paris.

Nicolas Flamel died in 1418 and was buried in the church Saint Jacques de la Boucherie. His bones, together with Pernelle’s, were later transferred to the Catacombs. His tombstone can be seen in the National Museum of the Middle Ages – Musée Cluny in Paris.

location of Rue Nicolas Flamel and Maison Nicolas Flamel

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