In the beginning, some time in the thirteenth century, Rue de Nevers was a service lane leading to the back gates of a monastery and a religious college, just inside the old city walls. The lane had a gate at either end so it was known as the rue des Deux Portes. Around 1660 a grand private house, Hôtel de Nevers, was built alongside the lane and rue de Nevers acquired its more formal name.
Although it has been a street in its own right for at least five hundred years, Rue de Nevers has never quite lost its back lane character. There are blank walls at street level where the buildings face onto hidden courtyards. Doors are mostly plain and practical, with features reflecting changes through the centuries. Windows are small and shuttered.
(Click on any photo to view the two galleries)
At its narrowest point Rue de Nevers measures just 2m across – there’s a sign to warn drivers of that fact at the end – but at various points the building line steps back. From the eighteenth century onward the city building codes set the minimum width for a street and all new buildings had to follow the proper line. There was no obligation on owners of existing buildings to rebuild, so old streets step in and out along their length. At the north end, where it meets Quai de Conti, the street expands to twentieth century dimensions and passes through an extraordinary, richly decorated archway.
The building at 1-3 Quai de Conti, designed by architect Joseph Marrast and sculptor Calo Sarrabezolles, was constructed in 1932 as part of a city council improvement scheme. Adjoining streets were widened and rue de Nevers gained a grand new entrance but the 20th century didn’t reach far through the archway.
The brick and stone construction of the building was intended to reflect the early 17th century architecture of nearby Place Dauphine but the reinforced concrete archway was a thoroughly modern innovation. The doorways either side are framed by lively, embossed concrete panels of sailing ships, gulls and fish while the roof of the arch is decorated with a poem by 17th century poet Claude le Petit. A curious combination.
As far as I can make out, Claude le Petit wasn’t impressed by the urban improvements of his day. ‘Why build fine bridges when a hundred sewers empty into the river? seems to be the gist of the poem. Perhaps the verse was chosen by the architect as a celebration of twentieth century drains.
This post is linked to Thursday Doors, a collection of ordinary and extraordinary doors around the world.