One of the first posts I wrote on this blog back in 2008 was about a mysterious bricked-up passageway in the 9th arrondissement. Thanks to the recent intervention of a reader who happens to live above the arch, I have been motivated to - partially - solve the conundrum.
My original post on this archway at the end of the Cité Fenelon did not even consider what may be on the other side. It was a curious feature of the cityscape, but one that I quickly forgot about - until a reader contacted me with more information.
"I happen to live in an apartment directly over the bricked-up passageway and naturally the blocked doorway made me curious too" he began. This reader though lives not in the Cité Fenelon, but on other side, in the building that fronts on to the Rue Rodier. Strangely, "there is zero evidence of that doorway on the inside walls of the courtyard, yet once you emerge onto rue Rodier, there is a corresponding archway built into the fabric of the facade." His information had reignited my interest in the passage, and I had to investigate. Through a strange coincidence I was finally able to get a very close look at the passageway.
|The street layout today. The archway is at the end of the Cité Fénelon,|
with the passageway leading through n°19 Rue Rodier.
Arriving to take photos just as the person who had contacted me returned home was a chance encounter, but it also gave me the perfect opportunity to see inside the courtyard and attempt to trace the path of the old passageway. As the person had previously informed me though, there was very little to see inside the building.
|The Cité Fénelon archway again, this time with the corresponding archway on the Rue Rodier.|
To find the answer, I would have to step out of the physical world and into the world of maps. It was a quest that was utterly unimportant, but also one that might show in a small way how Paris developed, and how the (hidden) traces of that process can sometimes remain imprinted on the cityscape.
First stop - the Jaillot map of Paris from 1775. This is the first time we see the area included on an official map, but if the area in which the Cité Fénelon and the Rue Rodier are situated today is just fields, the square that surrounds them - made up of the Rue des Martyrs, the Rue de la Tour d'Auvergne, the Rue Rochechouart, and the road on which sits the Notre Dame de Lorette church - is already clearly visible.
Although these agricultural plots seem to be quite clearly defined, this may just be artistic licence on behalf of the mapmaker. It is interesting to think though that the passage may already have existed as some kind of primitive footpath through cabbage patches and orchards.
By 1830, as seen in the Girard map below, a new road has appeared - the Rue Neuve Coquenard. According to one source, the Rue Neuve Coquenard grew from a dead-end called the Impasse Brutus which already existed in 1790. From map to map it becomes clear that the area has always been in constant mutation, with paths leading nowhere eventually reaching out to other paths, before later closing up their fingers once again.
Around 1840 (see the unknown map below) a series of winding passages begin to appear - but nothing still on the site of today's Cité Fénelon. Interestingly, one of these passages is called the Impasse de l'Ecole which naturally enough led to a newly-built school. This address still exists today, but just for a small branch of this road. The original Impasse de l'Ecole was renamed the Rue de l'Agent Bailly, and now opens out onto the Rue Milton (and is also a street that I have already visited on Invisible Paris).
Finally, in the second half of the 19th century, the passage appears - but with a malleable name. In the Andriveau Goujon map of 1868, just below, it is called the Rue Neuve Fénelon. By the Hachette map of 1870, underneath, it has become the Cité Fénelon. Both addresses, albeit with curious forms, clearly branch out onto the Rue Neuve Coquenard.
These addresses though were apparently short-lived (and also occasionally absent from other contemporary maps). By the 1910 city of Paris 'plan parcelaire', the Rue Neuve Coquenard has become the Rue Rodier, and the Cité Fénelon now has its current form - closed off by the rear of the building at number 19.
Another message seems to be that mapmakers cannot be trusted. It is difficult to find two maps that show the area with the same forms - when they appear on the maps at all. Clearly this was not a particularly important part of the city, and this particular passage even less important - but perhaps not to those who lived by.
The final clue to the function it may once have had can be found on the city of Paris's database. Although listed on none of the maps, the path was apparently once known as the 'Cour du Puits' - the well yard. This points not only to an important role it may once have played, but also perhaps to a much longer history. If there was indeed a source of water here, those living in the vicinity would have created the passageways themselves with their own feet.
This though also suggests one further mystery. If there was once a well here, where is it today?