Before it harboured stalwarts of Paris’s nightlife, Point Ephémère and Chez Prune, the Canal St-Martin served an entirely different purpose: Built under Napoleon between 1805 and 1825, it brought drinking water and merchandise to the Imperial capital; then from the late 19th-century onwards it housed factories and industrial warehouses.
Nowadays, many of the factories have become lofts for Paris’s ever-growing Bobo (Bohemian-Bourgeois) population, and dozens of bars, restaurants and shops line its quaysides, making its iron footbridges and locks coveted spots for weekend strolls and picnics – especially on Sundays and public holidays when the roads are reserved for walkers and cyclists.
On the east edge of the canal, the Hôpital St-Louis was commissioned in 1607 by Henri IV to house plague victims, built in the same pink brick-and-stone style as Place des Vosges, far enough from the town to prevent infection. Behind the hospital (still working today), rue de la Granges-aux-Belles housed the Montfaucon gibbet in 1233, where victims were hanged and left to rot in the wind. Now that’s food for thought while you’re downing a quick bière on the water’s edge!