What a generous location this church enjoys! Narrowly escaping the bustling traffic surrounding Hotel de Ville and just a few feet away from the Seine, its baroque façade contrasts awkwardly with the rest of its body. The combination shuns harmony in favor of seductiveness. An imposing and tall classical front hides from view a structure of joyful gothic style. The present church, built on the site of the first parish on the right bank of the Seine, was started in 1594 century and concluded late in the XVII century. I specially enjoy its south-east flank magnificently in view as one crosses the Pont Louis Philippe into Le Marais and climbs the medieval cobblestones of the Rue des Barres to step down at the other end on to the rue François Miron.
On Wednesdays afternoon and Saturday mornings, a local market comes to life in the Place Baudoyer located to the west of the church. Fishmongers from Normandy, Vietnamese greengrocers and Moroccan and Italian food stands fill the square breaking the stony monotony of the rectangular space. The market does not have the high reputation of other more established food markets but it has a refreshing unpretentiousness that appeals to me. Further along on the rue François Miron, at number 30, the spicemonger Izrael deploys a full attack on our senses. It is barely possible to move as floors are taken by bags brimming with Tuscan fresh almonds or Turkish pistachios. The shelves collapse under the weight of all corners of the world spices and food ingredients in containers, boxes or bottles. The eye has to zoom in all those detailed objects as the intoxicating aromas of saffron, cinnamon and cardamom fill the air.
Not far from this exotic grotto, the Hotel de Beauvais hides behind his unimposing facade a truly stunning work of XVII century town house design. Luckily restored in 2004 after years of neglect (the vicissitudes of the Parisian hotel particuliers through the ages make for good drama), it now houses the Administrative Appeals Court of Paris. Its sumptuous anatomy and layout and are still the object of study in architectural treaties and a glimpse from the street of its unique oval courtyard is worth an expedition from any corner of Paris. Its wooden doors are part of the original construction and the elaborate carvings in the upper section remind us of the truly elevated craftsmanship of the period.
Yet, the deep-seated flavor surrounding St Gervais is entirely medieval. From the rue de Brosse to the rue de Barres and along the rue François Miron, this section of the city is nothing but a whispering memory of its early history.