Belleville cut

The view of Paris from Parc de Belleville

By Sophie Nellis

Next stop on our tour of Paris is the area of Belleville. Straddling the 19th and 20th arrondissements, Belleville is located between Rue de Belleville, Rue des Pyrénées, Rue de Ménilmontant and Boulevard de Belleville. It is situated on and around a hill and if you make it to the Parc de Belleville there are some amazing views of the city’s skyline.

Belleville began its life as a working class suburb and only became part of Paris in 1860. Despite its name (belle meaning ‘beautiful’), it isn’t one of the most picturesque quarters of Paris. Concrete tower blocks are a reminder of the extensive redevelopment that Belleville underwent in the 1960s, and although bits of the old Belleville still exist they are rather shabby and run down. However, what it lacks in beauty it makes up for in ambiance.

A large immigrant population makes it also one of the most ethnically diverse areas of Paris. Kosher shops belonging to Sephardic Jews from Tunisia rub shoulders with Chinese restaurants and supermarkets, and a lively street market is held on Boulevard de Belleville every Tuesday and Friday. The low prices and shabby chic that one can find there make it popular with younger Parisians looking for something a bit off the beaten track.

Belleville’s most significant contribution to Parisian culture was Edith Piaf. France’s greatest popular singer, La Môme (meaning ‘The Little Sparrow’) was born at 72 Rue de Belleville in 1915. She began her career as a street singer and many of her songs describe the people and streets of the neighbourhood where she grew up. She is buried at Cimetière du Père Lachaise, just south of Belleville. Another famous resident was the popular entertainer Maurice Chevalier, and one of the squares off Rue de Ménilmontant has been named after him.

In the past few decades, low rents have attracted many artists and visiting their ateliers gives you a sense of how important a role this area continues to play in Parisian culture. In 2008 it was home to several of the main characters in Cedrik Klapish’s film Paris. The film’s panoramic shots of the city, the friendly market traders and the sight of Juliette Binoche carrying her shopping up the Rue de Belleville, are enough to make anyone, tourists and Parisians alike, want to pay Belleville a visit.

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