Last Updated on 13th October 2022 by Sophie Nadeau
As a big capital city which sometimes feels more akin to an outdoor museum than urban metropolis, it can be hard to pinpoint exactly which point of the city you’ll want to see next: it’s just all so endearing! But if you’re looking to do a spot of shopping while visiting one of the oldest streets in Paris, then you need to look no further than rue Mouffetard.
As well as being one of the oldest streets in Paris, rue Mouffetard (or la Mouffe as some locals like to call it), rue Mouffetard is located in the 5th arrondissement, which is also sometimes referred to as the Latin Quarter thanks to the fact that students of the Sorbonne University used to converse with one another in Latin during the Middle Ages.
Rue Mouffetard is also on a sloping hill as much of the more famous parts of the Latin Quarter (such as the Paris Pantheon and Eglise Saint Etienne du Mont) are both situated at the top of a hill which one stood around 180 feet above sea level.
A history of rue Mouffetard
There has been a street on the spot of rue Mouffetard for at least 2000 years when the Romans (known as Lutetia during this epoch) referred to the road as mont Cetardus on account of a close by hill. Nearby, vestiges of Roman Paris can still be spied in the former Roman arena and in the former bath complex, which forms part of the Cluny Museum.
The name Mouffetard probably derives from the French word Mouffet, which means skunk. This could well be because during the Middle Ages, the street was inhabited by many animal skinners. The word mofettes means ‘odours of pestilence,’ and just means that the road was really smelly!
Over the ages, the road has been known as many names including Montfétard, Maufetard, Mofetard, and also Rue Saint-Marcel, Mouflard, Moufetard, Moftard, and Mostard.
During the 19th-century, a lot of the Latin Quarter, including rue Mouffetard, escaped the Baron Haussmann overhauls that created the iconic Paris of zinc rooftops and grand boulevards that are so synonymous with the French capital today.
Rue Mouffetard didn’t entirely escape the overhaul, as it was originally much longer and actually cut in half by Haussmannian renovations to create the Avenue des Gobelins of the 13th arrondissement.
Wander along Mouffetard today, and you’ll still be able to feel the ambiance of medieval Paris thanks to its many stores spilling out onto the street and cobbled nature. Indeed, the iconic street was even described by Ernest Hemingway in A Moveable Feast as “that wonderful narrow crowded market street which led into the Place Contrescarpe”.
All around, it’s possible to follow in the footstep of famous figures. After all, a nearby hotel on rue Pot de Fer was where George Orwell called home in the mid 20th-century and rue Mouffetard itself was said to be one of the favourite market streets of Julia Child when she lived and cooked in Paris.
What to see and do on rue Mouffetard
Rue Mouffetard is a market street, which means that produce growers bring their wares directly into Paris from the countryside to sell them. On certain days of the week (between Tuesday and Sunday), sellers from outside the city will head to the street in the mornings to sell offerings such as fruits and vegetables.
The road is also a street market, meaning that many of the shops along the road are permanent stores open most days of the week (though a lot of food stores are closed on Sundays in Paris). A lot of French people enjoy buying each of their groceries from different stores.
What this means is that they’ll head to a cheese monger for their dairy products (such as speciality butter) and cheeses, head to the patisserie shop for pastries, head to the butcher for their meat, and boulangerie/ bakery for their breadstuffs- you get the point!
Place de la Contrescarpe
One of the more delightful squares in the Latin Quarter is the Place de la Contrescarpe. Constrescarpe was a term used in medieval French to denote the outer edge of a moat that surrounded a fortified city (this area of the city would have been just next to the original moat of Paris).
Today, the centre of this circular piazza boasts a fountain, while the outskirts are surrounded by bars and cafés which offer street side terraces in the warmer months of the year. It’s a particularly popular spot among students who want to hang out after university classes in the summer.
There are several buildings of note which make a stroll along rue Mouffetard particularly enjoyable. This includes the red butcher shop at No. 6 which is crowned with a pair of oxen reliefs and the fountain in the middle of the street (La Fontaine du Pot au Fer) which was built at the behest of Marie de Medicis in the first half of the 17th-century.
Church of Saint-Médard
When heading to the base of rue Mouffetard, leading towards Place Monge Metro, you’ll find the church of Saint Medard. This small ecclesiastical building was constructed in the 15th-century in the Gothic Flamboyant style and is free to enter.
La Maison de Verlaine
Though a little on the touristy side when it comes to cafés in Paris, La Maison de Verlaine is an iconic café, and not just because it is named for the French poet Verlaine. The café is actually on rue Descartes, which is on the continuation of rue Mouffetard when heading towards the Seine.
The eponymous poet spent time in the building, as did Ernest Hemingway, who lived in the building from 1921-1925. Today, plaques on the wall commemorate these two men and the restaurant itself serves classic French dishes such as tarte tatin and escargots.
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