Friday 17 June 2011

Challenge 2: A vocabulary test

The vocabulary of the city is rich but often mysterious. Many of the things that surround us often go without names either because we are not sure what tag to attach to them, or because we simply have no need to refer to them in our daily lives. This is what lies behind a question Norman has asked me, which is the following:

"During our visits to Paris I have taken many, many pictures of devices such as this (see photo above). I am fascinated by their astounding variety in terms of design and materials. I know they are designed to protect the entryway from being damaged by carts, wagons and now cars and trucks as they enter. However, I do not know the name for them. Do you?"

Before I received Norman's question I have to admit that I had never actually thought about this particular object. Now that he has mentioned it though, I have started to see them everywhere, and it is a fascinating topic. The 'astounding variety' he mentions can give many clues about the age of a building, but also about the wealth of those who lived there - simple stone blocks for the less wealthy, extravagant iron designs for those with plenty of expendible income!

They are by nature an extension of the Porte Cochère (coach gate) which themselves are a throwback to a time of horses and large carriages. Investigating this widely-discussed feature of Parisian buildings would surely lead me to the name of the small features at the bottom.

A porte cochère in Paris with small conical devices at its base.

One book I generally turn to for this kind of research - Claude Mignot's Grammaire des immeubles parisiens offers no help though. There is no mention of these little city features, and it seems that it is obviously a sector that has not been deemed worthy of research.

Nevertheless, by flicking through another couple of sources, I come across the term. These little devices are called a chasse-roue, although they are also sometimes referred to as a boute-roue or bouteroue. In English, the term is a guard stone.

A final brief note. At the entrance to most of the buildings in which they are situated they serve no purpose at all today, but they are nevertheless destined to remain a feature of the city landscape for a long time to come. Why? Simply because they are so difficult to remove!

Note: Norman has now posted on the 'Chasse-roue' in Paris. See the many examples he has found here.

Challenge me!
Seen something in Paris that has caught your eye but remains a mystery, or ever wondered about obscure people or events in the city's past? Challenge me to find the answers!


Suze said...

'Now that he has mentioned it though, I have started to see them everywhere,'

I love how conversation and interaction with others heals our eyes.

Mary Kay Bosshart said...

I'm going to have to watch for these guard stones as I go about the city. Thanks for the informative post and thanks, Norman, for asking such an interesting question.

Thérèse said...


Anonymous said...

Yes - they are guard stones - but what for?

A little more research shows that they were put there to keep the wheels of the coaches from damaging the walls.

Anonymous said...

I had a professor who suggested that many of these objects were installed in the age of horse-transport, to help the rider dismount.

Owen said...

And here I thought they were there to give the bums who pee in public late at night in shadowed doorways something to aim at... one often sees these things with a puddle around them !

Anonymous said...

I was just in Paris for 10 days and looked for these. They were everywhere. Even the concierge at the hotel and our tour guide didn't know what they were called. I told them that I had learned about them on the Invisible Paris Blog. Everyone was reasonably impressed with this tidbit of knowledge. Thank you for your work!--Susan

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