Wednesday 5 January 2011

A la Folie

At the end of the cobbled passageway stands an old stone gateway and a locked wooden door. Forever closed now, it is no longer even sure where it is positioned nor what it once provided access to. The confusion can be read on the walls where two separate street numbers are given. Are we at number 32 here or number 161 bis? It really doesn’t seem to matter anymore.

This proud doorway was in fact picked up and moved here in 1972. On the other side now sit cryptoforests and lonely patches of neutered garden, sterile borders that exist to be seen not touched. An imposing gateway built to inspire respect and apprehension has now been absorbed into the disorderly fabric of a city that crept right up to and under the door’s foundations.

It stands in the territory of the Folie-Regnault, a bridge to a past of country houses and isolated prisons commemorated in the names of streets, passages and a small community garden. Semi-industrialised in the 19th and 20th centuries, the network of passages and courtyards here are still home to brick-faced printshops and iron-framed automobile workshops, but slowly they are being scrubbed and polished into acceptable office space for professionals in the digital world.

Displaced and today without purpose, this doorway once provided access to the Maison Belhomme, a mansion built in 1724 and used as an asylum for the mentally handicapped. Its owner, Jacques Belhomme, would make his fortune during the revolution by providing additional space for the city’s aristocracy who could no longer be accommodated in the overflowing prisons of Paris. Some say they paid him to pretend that they were mad (and therefore incapable of being against the revolution..)

The house remains, hidden today on all four sides by vast 1970s housing blocks, and is still located somewhere behind this gateway. You can find it if you look carefully, but it will serve no purpose to knock on this door!


Victoria said...

What an interesting story you have ferreted out.

cocoa and coconut said...

I agree, this is such an interesting story. Thanks for sharing it. I can't believe that door is forever locked

Genie -- Paris and Beyond said...

Amazing story, Adam and nice photos to go with it.

Bonne Année

ArtSparker said...

Of course, one thinks of a doorway like this open into some other reality, as in a story.

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