Right behind the Opéra Bastille in the 12th district of Paris there is a hospital called “15-20”. Since this is a national eye hospital, I first thought the name “15-20” might have something to do with visual acuity, as in 20/20 vision, but that turned out to be a totally wrong explanation.
The first number 20 in “20/20 vision” means that you are twenty feet from the eye chart in the doctor’s office, but the French as the inventors of the metric system are disinclined to measure anything in feet (with the exception of Victor Hugo, who in the 1840s outed himself as a fierce opponent of the metric system). Apparently the French expression for normal vision is Dix-Dixième, meaning ten-tenths or ten out of ten, which explains why so many optical shops all over France are called Dix-Dixième.
The name of the hospital has a different explanation entirely. When you see the name written out, as it is above the entrance gate, it turns out there is an –s at the end of the word vingts, so it is plural, and the name “fifteen twenties” means three hundred. This is because when the hospital was originally founded, at it different location, it was a hospice for blind people and had three hundred beds.
Here is the 15-20 sign on Rue de Charenton. At the bottom it says “ophtalmo emergencies 24h/24” (ophtalmo being an abbreviation of ophthalmological), meaning that this is the place to come day or night for emergency eye treatment.
From this historical sign I learned that the original building was not intended as a hospital at all, but was built from 1699 to 1704 on orders of King Louis XIV to serve as a caserne for his second company of musketeers, the “mousquetaires noirs” or black musketeers, who were called that because of the color of the coat of their horses. Originally there were three buildings arranged in the form of a U, and three stables for the horses. Now only the original main gate and the left wing still exist, the rest having been replaced by modern hospital buildings.
On Rue Moreau they have just preserved the façade and the first row of rooms behind it, but replaced the rest.
On my visit to Paris in July 2015 I stayed at a small two-star hotel called the Luxor Bastille Hôtel on Rue Moreau. I chose it because it is in the twelfth district (arrondissement), where I had never stayed before. The hotel’s website claims it is “located in the Marais district of Paris,” but this is perhaps a trifle misleading. The Marais has no official boundaries, but is generally assumed to be in the third and fourth districts, ending at Place de la Bastille and not spilling over into the twelfth. The hotel is actually located in the neighborhood traditionally known as Faubourg Saint-Antoine. For 50 Euros a night I was of course not expecting a view of the Eiffel Tower, but I did have a good view of the hospital Quinze-Vingts.
Location, aerial view and photo of the hospital Quinze-Vingts on monumentum.fr
My photos in this post are from 2015. I revised the text in 2017.
See also: Faubourg Saint-Antoine