The Cour des Miracles

Paris is sleek. Paris is clean. The Paris of major murderers seems relegated to the rococo world of the fantasy troubadour. We dream of the brigands of Notre Dame de Paris, the rascals of Les Misérables, the great crimes of Cartouche. But, as Fréhel once sang, “these are just scenes on a screen”. As if the dark-side of Paris had disappeared. As if the city had nothing left to scare us. However, if we look carefully…

In Strasbourg Saint-Denis, between the kebab shops and the fashionable design boutiques, remind yourself that it’s here we find the Cour des Miracles, strategic centre of Paris’ criminal underworld. Spread throughout the labyrinth of pre-Haussmannian medieval alleyways, the Cour des Miracles, was partly located at the angle of Bonne-Nouvelle/Saint Denis, and in the neighbourhood surrounding place du Caire. If, logically, the first Cour des Miracles stretched from rue de la Truanderie to Les Halles, it meandered into the Marais (rue des Francs Bourgeois) until it settled into the area surrounding rue Saint Denis. ‘Miracle’ is of course antiphrastic, used to mock the infirm of all types who lived in this hub of deprivation. Paris could count a dozen “Cours de Miracles”, occasionally all at once. The most expansive was the “fief d’Alby” at the corner of the passage du Caire and the rue d’Aboukir, at the heart of Sentier.

It was Police Lieutenant General La Reynie who, around 1668, put a stop to this state within a state. Soldiers, police officers, and firemen by the hundreds were necessary to clean-up the area, before the hovels were raised to the ground to become the neighbourhood of Bonne Nouvelle.

Were all the residents of the Cour de Miracles killers and rogues? No, just simply beggars who did whatever they could to survive, whatever the price…

Published by

Hugues de La Morandière

Hugues de La Morandière

I am the co-founder of Agence Varenne, a prestigious real estate agency located on the Left Bank, Place Saint-Sulpice (Paris 6e), rue Barbet de Jouy (Paris 7e); and Right Bank, 14 avenue George V (Paris 8th). Since its creation, Hugues believes in the advance of Paris.