Butte Aux Cailles — Village within Paris


Paris is made up of a collection of neighborhoods.  They have their unique character  and sometimes it feels as if you have stumbled into a town in the countryside.  We started our journey to visit Butte aux Cailles — Quail Hill named for Pierre Cailles who owned a large vineyard in the area in the 16th century — at the place de Italie metro stop.


Butte aux Cailles is a neighborhood in the 13th arrondissement characterized by low rise buildings, groups of single family homes arranged around courtyards or on private streets, and art nouveau architecture.  Here we are arriving in one of the main squares; this one  holds one of Paris’s many ‘Wallace Fountains’.  These are a ready source of fresh drinking water and were financed in the 19th century by a philanthropist Richard Wallace so that the poor would have access to potable water.  There are 67 of the larger fountains like this one here and there across Paris.  There are another dozen or so of a smaller or wall design.  We fill our water bottles whenever we spot one.  In the large fountains like this, there is a steady stream of potable water falling down the center behind the figures.

This area is quiet in the daytime but the many cafes and bars are bustling at night.
caillesquare2The architecture is quite different from that in the Hausmann built center of Paris.  This little house is tucked in on Rue Michel.

Starkly simple art nouveau architecture can be spotted throughout the district.  Here is a link to a picture of the Art Nouveau swimming pool.

It has traditionally been a working class neighborhood and was not incorporated into Paris until the late 19th Century when its river, the  Bievre, was covered by pavement and its mills closed.  Here some of the local workers are maintaining one of the nouveau buildings.


There are also villas; this is a term used in France for groups of private homes somewhat like planned developments, gated communities or compounds in the US.  Another example of villas occur in the 20th and can be viewed towards the end of this post.  These are a series of homes designed in an Alsatian style.  There is also an area with a Russian theme.

This is a typical villa of small homes that runs into a factory at the end of the street.  It is very rare to see a loose dog in Paris — even rare to see loose cats — but we spotted one in this small sidestreet.

There are not a bunch of tourist destinations in the Butte Aux Cailles.  The pleasure is in just the charm of these narrow streets and distinctive architecture.  Notice the metal rods that separate the street from the sidewalks.  There are barriers all over France to prevent people from driving cars or parking cars on the sidewalk.  It is still common to find a motorcycle driving up behind you when strolling down the sidewalk.

These little road hersheys are another common barrier found on sidewalks.

The Butte has relatively little ugly graffiti but a lot of street art.  caillehillpostscailleaccordianman caillestreetartdormir Caillesgrafcamera
caillevelibsgraf caillesstreetart

Some like the woman at the head of this piece just beg for pedestrian interaction; here is another.caillesgrafed

It is not surprising to see the elaborate street art since like the areas of the 19th and 20th filled with remarkable graffiti, the  Butte has become a popular area for artists and art studios.caillesatelier caillesartcarving

We like to pop into any church we find in Paris.  There is such a range of interesting church design in Paris.  The dome in the distance here is of St. Anne- de- la- Butte- Aux -Cailles.  It was built at the end of the 19th century in place of a wooden chapel on this spot.caillestreetchurch

While much of the church was completed at the turn of the 20th century the mosaics were not completed until the 1930s.  They are considered a major treasure of the art of mosaic.  Charles Mauméjean, of the Mauméjean glass works is the artist who completed them.  They have a sort of socialist realist feel to them in keeping with this staunchly working class area.caillechurchcaillestannesocialistcristo

For lunch we stopped at well known little restaurant/cafe, Le Temp du Cerisecaillesceriseoutside

This is a cosy little bistrot that is a popular spot for local workers and students to grab lunch.  We didn’t see anyone there who appeared to be a tourist except for us.  As is typical, the menu is on blackboards on the wall.caillesrestaurantcerise caillecerisemenu

The prices are low and the food is simple and hearty.caillesausage caillefish

After lunch we came across workers cleaning the narrow streets.  Paris invests a lot in street cleaning and is for the most part a clean city.  Even the scourge of dog doo is much less evident than it was 20 years ago.  I have even seen people pickup after their dogs as they do in the US.

To avoid walking down the street being cleaned we wandered a bit further on and came upon the office of the Amis de la Commune de Paris, a group that seeks to keep the spirit of the Communards alive.

The Communards briefly ruled Paris after the Franco Prussian War and sought to establish a democratic governance.  The national government didn’t want self governance in Paris although it was common in villages because of distrust of the radical workers in the cities.  After a series of battles at barricades around Paris during May of 1871, the Communards were defeated and several hundred lined up against walls and shot — most notoriously in Pere Lachaise the scene of the last major battle.  A number of supporters were swept up including Gustave Courbet the artist who fled to Switzerland and Louise Michel one of the radical leaders who was deported with others to New Caledonia.  The history is complex and interesting; the wikipedia summary can be found here.


We bought a copy of a poster of a recent Communard event at their headquarters and it now hangs in our living room in Chicago.


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3 Responses to Butte Aux Cailles — Village within Paris

  1. Jerry and Stelly Hofelt says:

    So very interesting. You seem to travel like us, just roam neighborhoods and find interesting things. We are in our 70’s and got the” travel to Europe bug” from Rick Steve’s books. We are about to take a trip to Paris (for the month of Sept) and spend another month traveling to the east and south of France. We have traveled to most every state in the USA.

    • Janet says:

      We are doing the same thing this fall except in reverse. We are spending the month of September in the south of france and October in Paris. Happy travels.

  2. raynessly says:

    Your blog caught my eye on a RS discussion of the Paris day trip books (she has a new one, btw, trips within a half-hr of Paris). Enjoyed this post, as we’re staying a month in this neighborhood. Cheers, R.

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