If you look at a political map of the Paris districts, after the 2014 elections, you will see that the western side of the city is colored blue, meaning that the 1st, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 15th, 16th and 17th districts (arrondissements) all have conservative mayors. And the eastern side is colored red, showing that the 3rd, 4th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th, 18th, 19th and 20th districts all have socialist mayors.
This is not really surprising, considering that in Paris the rich people have always lived on the west side of town and the poor people on the east.
But wait! In the middle of the map there is a tiny green box representing the 2nd district (2ème arrondissement), the smallest (in area) of the twenty Paris districts and the only one with a Green mayor.
This map will no doubt look quite different after the 2020 elections. For one thing, the French political parties are in a state of flux nationally (collapse of the Socialists, rise of President Macron’s party En Marche, etc.). Also, the Paris city council has decided that for electoral and administrative purposes the first four arrondissements will be merged into one, so together they will only have one mayor and one council instead of four. The reason for this is that population patterns have changed considerably since 1860, when the current arrondissements were created. As of 2018, the first four arrondissements together have not quite 100,000 inhabitants, whereas the 15th alone has nearly 235,000.
The merger of the first four arrondissements will not affect the postal codes, the street signs or the addresses, so for visitors to the city there will not be any noticeable change.
Addresses in the current 2nd arrondissement will still have the postal code 75002, and the street signs will still say “2e Arrt” at the top.
The mayor of the 2nd arrondissement is Jacques Boutault, a member of the small Green-Ecological party.
When he was first elected in 2001 it might have seemed like a fluke resulting from the complicated French electoral system, but he was reelected in 2008 and 2014, so that makes three flukes in a row.
His current term of office runs until 2020.
This “Street of the Columns” in the 2nd arrondissement is unusual in that it was built during the chaos of the French Revolution in the 1790s. Among the problems that delayed construction was that one of the promoters, Jean-Baptiste Saint-Jean, was condemned to death by a revolutionary tribunal in 1794.
The columns were built not only for decoration, but also to support the arcades that protected the paved sidewalk from the weather. Since the streets were not paved in those days, they tended to turn into seas of mud when it rained, so protected sidewalks were very welcome to pedestrians. (Also the columns no doubt served to keep horses off the sidewalk.)
There are no parks in the 2nd arrondissement, and only two public squares that have a bit of grass and a few trees, the small Square Louvois and the even smaller Square Jacques-Bidaut.
The reason is that the 2nd is a densely built-up historical district, and is by far the smallest (in area) of the twenty arrondissements of Paris. How small? In the United States, people often try to visualize areas by expressing them as a number of football fields, on the theory that most Americans can picture roughly how big a football field is. It turns out that an American football field is 47,700 square feet (without the end zones), which is equivalent to 4,431 square meters.
Since the 2nd district of Paris has an area of 0.992 square kilometers or 992000 square meters, that would make it roughly the size of 22 American football fields.
Anyway, the district’s larger public square with a bit of greenery is called Square Louvois, after Louis XIV’s war minister François Michel Le Tellier, Marquis de Louvois (1641–1691). Louvois was the immediate superior of Vauban in the chain of command, so all of Vauban’s many reports and memos were addressed to Louvois. It wasn’t until after the death of Louvois that Vauban was allowed to write directly to the king.
The sign explains that in the 17th century there were two private homes on this site, one of which belonged to Louvois. During the French Revolution, in 1793, these houses were replaced by a theater, which later became the first Paris theater to provide seats for the spectators. In 1820 (during the reign of Louis XVIII) the Duke of Berry was assassinated in front of the theater, which eventually led to its closing and demolition. The statues on the fountain represent four rivers, the Seine, the Loire, the Saône and the Garonne.
In its area of less than one square kilometer, the 2nd arrondissement contains 114 buildings that are listed as National Historic Monuments. This one, the Hôtel Colbert de Torcy at 16 Rue Vivienne, was built in 1640 by the architect Pierre Le Muet (1591-1669). The word Hôtel is used here in the old sense of the word, meaning a large private mansion.
Jean-Baptiste Colbert de Torcy (1665-1746) was a French diplomat. He is usually referred to as “Colbert de Torcy” to avoid confusion with his uncle, Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-1683), the long-time finance minister of Louis XIV.
Location, aerial view and photo of the Hôtel Colbert de Torcy on monumentum.fr.
My photos in this post are from 2014. I revised the text in 2018.