With links to the origins of tennis, the creation of the guillotine, and the oldest café in continuous operation in Paris, it’s safe to say that the Cour du Commerce Saint-André has seen its fair share of history over the years…
Boasting the likes of the Saint-Germain-des-Prés Neighbourhood, the Jardin du Luxembourg, and of course, Paris’ oldest church, there are plenty of reasons to visit the 6th arrondissement of the city. Home to a wide array of chic eateries and über luxe shopping experiences, if you scratch beneath the surface, then there’s even more to discover in the form of hidden gems. And one of my favourites is that of Cour du Commerce Saint-André, a hidden passage in the heart of Paris.
Just a short walk away from the Fontaine Saint-Michel, a Baroque masterpiece which is easily one of the most beautiful public fountains in Paris, you’ll soon stumble across Odéon metro station and a handful of cinemas (as well as several well-stocked bookshops and other speciality stores).
Head across the street and it’s not hard to spot the grand archway which leads into a partially covered Paris passage. This is Cour du Commerce Saint-André and its history is almost as interesting as the stores to be discovered there today.
You see, the pedestrian-only walkway lies alongside a fortification constructed under the reign of Philippe Auguste during the 12th-century. At this time, where the passage now lies would have served as a place where people could play Jeu de Paume (a kind of tennis which originated in Versailles)!
One of the most famous establishments on the street is that of Le Procope, one of the oldest restaurants in Paris. The eatery was originally established all the way back in 1686 and is often said to be the oldest café in the city in continuous operation.
Of course, the term café does not necessarily always mean ‘coffee shop’ when it comes to Paris, and instead the bistro instead serves typically French fare set against the backdrop of a gold gilt room with all the trimmings (and incredible service to match), not to mention Napoleon Bonaparte’s hat in the entranceway! To discover more about Le Procope, check out their menu.
In a rather more morbid part of history, it’s also along Cour du Commerce Saint-André where the guillotine was first tested (alleged to have been on a number of sheep). The device came about when Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin proposed that a new “and more humane” method of execution be developed. Soon enough, the device was tested on corpses before eventually being moved to place de Grève (now Place de l’Hôtel de Ville), where it was used for its intended purpose.
Today, the passage is 120 metres in length and links boulevard Saint-Germain with la rue Saint-André-des-arts. There is an extra entrance around midway along the street, which in turn links the passage to rue de l’Ancienne Comédie. The street is unusual in that it’s one of the only streets in Paris to have retained its original cobblestones, meaning that they’re a little larger than most.
Divided into two parts, there’s an area which is en plein air (that is to say ‘exposed to the elements’) as well as a covered section which is reminiscent of the covered passages of Paris which are to be found in the 2nd and 9th districts of the city.
Things to see and do close to Cour du Commerce Saint-André
Admire Fontaine Saint-Michel
Designed by Gabriel Davioud during the reign of Napoleon III, the French feature depicts archangel Michael vanquishing the Devil. Within this, there are themes of good vs. evil and the like. However, what is particularly unique about this fountain (in perhaps all of Paris) is that it occupies an entire façade at the end of a block of Haussmann buildings. Overlooking the Seine, Notre Dame, and some typically Parisian cafés, it’s pretty much impossible to miss the Saint Michael Fountain when strolling the streets of the 6th.
Walk through the Latin Quarter
If you give yourself just a few arrondissements to explore while in the City of Love, be sure to add the Latin Quarter to the list. So called because during the Middle Ages students of the Sorbonne University would converse with one another solely in French, today the area is home to several English Language Bookshops, a handful of stunning museums, and plenty of evidence of Roman Paris (which was known as Lutetia). For a full rundown of the 5th arrondissement, be sure to follow my free and self-guided Latin Quarter Walking Tour.
The oldest still standing bridge in Paris is ironically called Pont Neuf, which is quite literally translated into English as ‘New Bridge’ and dates back to the 16th-century, though wasn’t technically finished (or, indeed, open to the public) until the 17th-century. Today the bridge features scenic views of the River Seine and is the perfect spot from which to capture sunset!