Cities are marked by war in a variety of ways. Buildings are destroyed. Communities are devastated. Businesses are demolished. Memorials are built.
Throughout Paris, there are plaques above doorways and on street corners to let passersby know where acts of bravery, sacrifice and horror took place. But I sometimes feel they are sanitised, produced at a time when hindsight has given the city the clarity of mind to decide who and what to remember and how.
One memorial has taken a different approach, remembering what happened by leaving it untouched.
In the heart of the 4th arrondissement proudly stands one of Paris’ three remaining medieval mansions, the Hotel de Sens. A cursory glance will let you enjoy its gargoyles, towers and vaulted doorways but look for a second longer and you’ll spot something out of place. Above the second-floor window half a sphere protrudes from the brickwork like a grotesque pimple on an otherwise blemishless face. Underneath this spot, an engraving reads ’28 Juillet 1830’.
The building itself was constructed to house the archbishops of the 14th century and survived partial demolition, renovation and conversion to become a rabbit-skinning workshop, a jam factory, an optician’s and a glassmakers. But its most impressive act of survival was made on the 28 July 1830 when, during one of the maddest Revolutionary days in Parisian history, a cannon was fired at the mansion’s eastern façade.
Rather than destroying the building, the ball simply stopped. Lodged in the heavy brickwork. It was never removed and, instead, the date the ball flew was engraved beneath it.
So, if you’re passing through Rue du Figuier and want to see an unusual relic of a turbulent Paris, look up.
Hotel de Sens is located at 1 Rue du Figuier in the 4th arrondissement. The closest metro stations are Saint-Paul and Pont-Marie.