Where do old hospitals go when they die? Do they get demolished? They are prime real estate, after all. I can only begin to imagine what over three hectares of land in central Paris must cost! Well, one new community project thinks that they have found a fresh and innovative (temporary) solution. Cue: les Grands Voisins.
I’ve said it before, and no doubt I’ll say it again before too long: the best thing about Paris is that you never know exactly what you’ll stumble on next! Well, a couple of weeks ago, I stumbled on a repurposed hospital in the heart of Paris. Formerly Hôpital Saint-Vincent-de-Paul, the space is now known as ‘les Grands Voisins’…
Every once in a while, my boyfriend and I take turns in surprising each other with the most interesting/ unique place we can think of. Last time, I took him to see Goussainville (an abandoned village on the outskirts of Paris). The time before, we visited la Petite Ceinture. Well, last weekend, we ended up visiting a repurposed hospital in the very heart of Paris. I had never heard of it before (and I read about Paris a lot). Surprisingly, no one else I had spoken to had heard of les Grands Voisins either!
Who was Saint-Vincent-de-Paul?
Born near the end of the 16th century, Saint-Vincent-de-Paul was a French Roman Catholic priest who dedicated his life to helping those who needed it most. Born to peasant parents in rural France, he eventually went on to study Toulouse before receiving his Canon Law from the university of Paris.
Shockingly, at the beginning of the 1600s, Saint-Vincent-de-Paul was captured off the coast of Marseille, Southern France by pirates. He was sold to the highest bidder and remained in captivity for two years. Throughout all that time his faith never waivered. De Paul eventually found his escape by convincing his second master to convert back to Christianity and escape to France with him. Just under a year later they did so.
By the mid-1610s, de Paul had found his way back to Paris. Whilst there, he founded various charities and bodies to help those who most needed it within society. He was made a saint in 1937 and today, his relics are on display within a wax figure in its own shrine within the Chapel of the Vincentian fathers.
The hospital of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul is situated at number 74 avenue Denfert-Rouchereau not far from the official entrance to the Paris catacombs. Located in the 14e arrondissement of Paris, it was closed by the end of 2011. Originally called Hospice des Enfants-Assistés, it was founded as early as 1638 by Saint Vincent himself. The first mission of the hospital was to look after abandoned and orphaned children. De also founded another establishment on Île de la Cité near Notre Dame. However, this was quickly abandoned during the French revolution.
Controversy surrounding the Hospital
As with most hospitals, medical and ethical controversy shrouded Hôpital Saint-Vincent-de-Paul throughout the ages. One particular incident is particularly tragic. In 2005, the newspapers Le Figaro, Le Parisien and Libération reported a disturbing find: 351 foetuses and other partial human remains (predominantly heads) were found in a laboratory within the hospital. The way they were kept was entirely disrespectful and totally illegal. You can read more on the store in le Figaro.
Les Grands Voisins
Where do old hospitals go when they die? Well, in the case of Hôpital Saint-Vincent-de-Paul, the answer is pretty clear. They become repurposed of course! The old buildings have been adapted and converted to aid the local community. Les Grands Voisins is all inclusive and a hub of activity in the heart of Paris.
In the words of their website, the motto of ‘les Grand Voisins’ is ‘ a demonstration project in the centre of Paris which shows that it is possible to create a space with multiple uses for the common good of everyone‘. The project houses hundreds of people and provides jobs for countless more.
Here, you can find startups, various community projects and much more. There’s even a bar that’s open throughout the day and into the night. There’s also concerts, shows, group yoga sessions and everyone’s allowed to partake.
How long this innovative project will be allowed to carry on by the city of Paris is sadly unclear. What is clear is that this is a fresh chapter on the closure of an old community.