Towards the end of the 12th century, French King Philip Augustus decided to undertake a Crusade. At that time, much of today’s France was ruled by the British Plantagenet monarchy. Fearing an attack during his absence, Philip decided to protect his capital by encircling Paris with an impressive defensive wall. Some of its vestiges – little-known today even to most Parisians – you can still discover.
A few particularly striking examples:
At 27 rue Mazarine (near l’Odéon) step down the pedestrian ramp into a two-level underground parking lot. Before you is a length of the Philip Augustus wall and the base of one of its towers. There were such towers every 60 meters along the wall: archers atop each one could shoot accurately up to 30 meters.
At 4 Passage du Commerce St-André (just by l’Odéon) look through the restaurant windows to discover the base of a recently cleaned tower.
Walk southwards along rue Monsieur le Prince until it reaches Blvd. St-Michel, a point at which there are two street levels. The lower one is the wall’s moat. For the same reason a similar difference is found nearby at the corner of rue St-Jacques and the rue des Fossés (“trenches”) St-Jacques.
Further to the east, at the start of rue Clovis, is an impressive head-on cross-section view of the wall.
Around the corner, in the courtyard of a fire station at 50 rue du Cardinal Lemoine: the wall is it begins to dip down towards the Seine.
The most spectacular extant length of Philip Augustus’s wall is just across the Seine, some 60 meters being visible along the rue des Jardins St-Paul.
Ever-mocking Rabelais, who lived nearby, exclaimed: “By my beard, a cow with a single fart would knock down ten meters of it!”
The historical kicker: accompanying King Philip on that Crusade was the British Plantagenet king whose possible attack of Paris led him to build the wall, Richard the Lionheart!