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The 13th district is located in the south of Paris. It's a 7.15 km2 quadrilateral (the 3rd largest district, excluding Bois de Boulogne and Bois de Vincennes) on the left bank of the Seine. Population was 171,533 in 1999 (5th most populated district). It looks like this:


                      5th        Austerlitz\  \
                                            \  \
                                   Pitié     \  \
                    Gobelins                  \  \
                                               \  \  Bercy
    14th                                  ######\  \
                      Pl.                  ##    \ S\     12th
                     d'Italie               ## BNF\ e\   
                                             ##    \ i\  (right bank)
                                              ######\ n\
                Butte-Aux          Chinatown   ######\ e\
                Cailles                         ######\  \
                                                 ######\  \
                                                  ######\  \
                      Pt. d'Italie                 ######\  \
                                                          \  \
        Gentilly                        Ivry-sur-Seine     \  \

In the map, everything in italics is outside the district. 5th, 12th, 14th are other Paris districts. Gentilly and Ivry-sur-Seine are suburban towns.

From the Latin Quarter to Place d'Italie:

If you go south from the Panthéon in the middle of the 5th district, you get down to the former valley of the Bièvre, and enter the 13th district through the Avenue des Gobelins. There you can see on the western side of the avenue the Manufacture des Gobelins, which was founded in 1664 by Colbert, minister of Louis XIV. That factory still makes some of the most famous French tapestries. You may turn round the Manufacture for a very pleasant sunset walk on rue Berbier du Mets, where you can find a couple of medieval houses in courtyards.

Then you get to Place d'Italie, an imitation of the Place de l'Etoile: this large circle is the heart of a star formed by nine streets and avenues. The most important ones are: Avenue des Gobelins, Boulevard Blanqui (which belongs to the 2nd boulevard ring and goes westward), Avenue d'Italie (which goes southward), Avenue de Clichy (the beginning of the Chinese quarter), Boulevard Vincent-Auriol (another part of the 2nd boulevard ring that goes eastward towards Bercy) and Boulevard de l'Hôpital (which goes to Gare d'Austerlitz).

Place d'Italie and Avenue d'Italie are the starting point of the National Road n.7, which goes straight to Italy, hence their name.

Along the Seine

If you take Boulevard de l'Hôpital, you'll walk along the gigantic hospital of la Pitié-Salpêtrière, just before arriving at Gare d'Austerlitz, one of the least remarkable train stations in Paris, named after Napoleon's 1806 victory.

From the Gare d'Austerlitz to the boundary of Paris, along the Seine, the Seine-Rive-Gauche area (the ##### area on the map) is one of the largest building sites in France. The most remarkable building so far is the Bibliothèque Nationale de France François-Mitterrand (BNF on the map), also known as TGB (Très Grande Bibliothèque, or Very Large Library). The bulding consists of four distant towers which look like open books and a weird garden with tall pines in the middle. The Seine-Rive-Gauche project aims at covering the entire area with new avenues, apartment and office buildings and a university. It's really fascinating to see a new Paris quarter rising month after month.

Art in the 13th district

The 13th district is one of the most living spots on the Parisian art scene. In the Seine-Rive-Gauche building area, check out the Entrepôts Frigorifiques, also known as "les Frigos" (the Refrigerators), an unused cold store where artists decided to settle with no authorization a few years ago. Since that time, other groups of artists invaded half a dozen of non-used buildings all over Paris. A few blocks away, the rue Louise-Weiss hosts avant-garde art galleries.

The Southern quarters

The Butte-aux-Cailles is the highest spot in the district. Small buildings and cafés have established a very living and friendly atmosphere, particularly in the evening. It's also one of the few areas with very few tourists in Paris, at least until I wrote this writeup. The first flying men, Pilâtre de Rosier and the marquis of Arlandes, landed on Butte-aux-Cailles in a montgolfier on November 21, 1783, between mills that only exist in street names nowadays. They had taken off at the Bois de Boulogne, in a 10-km leap for mankind over Paris.

South of the Butte-aux-Cailles, the curious visitor may have a look at the strange little houses around the Place de l'Abbé Georges Hennocque, which colors do not match the usual Parisian taste, or to the Cité Florale, a small quarter where the flowers almost hide the houses.

The Paris Chinatown is located between rue de Tolbiac, avenue d'Ivry and the Olympiades, a large streetless concrete area built with tall apartment buildings in the 60s or early 70s. Avenue d'Ivry and avenue de Choisy are filled with Chinese, Vietnamese or Thai restaurants which stay open very late. Asian immigrants concentrated in the 30-floor buildings of the Olympiades during the 70s and made it the Paris Chinatown. I recently discovered that the concrete podium did not replace the streets that existed before the 60s. These streets still exist under the podium, like the Baglioni quarter under the Rocca Paolina in Perugia, and they're used as car parks. You can even find a buddhist temple in one of these underground streets.

The Bièvre

If you ask a Parisian about the Bièvre, he may tell you that President Mitterrand had an apartment in rue de Bièvre, or that the Bièvre is a river somewhere in the suburbs. Actually, the Bièvre used to join the Seine in the middle of Paris. You can still guess its path if you pay attention to the elevations and undulations of the streets. The Bièvre used to enter Paris in the Southern part of the 13th district, west of Porte d'Italie, then it passed west of Butte-aux-Cailles and Manufacture des Gobelins, where the workers used its water to dye clothes or fabrics. Then the Bièvre cranked between the 13th and 5th district and finally got to the Seine somewhere near rue de Bièvre in the 5th district. The river was so polluted by the end of the 19th century that it was integrated into the sewer system at the beginning of the 20th century.

In short, the 13th district is one of the least interesting districts of Paris for most tourists. But I happen to live in that district.

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