From the Bastille to the Bagnolet Gate
Starting point: M° Bastille (3 miles, 11th & 20th districts)
Take rue de la Roquette and immediately turn right, into the passage du Cheval Blanc, a quiet procession of paved courtyards (cour de Mai, cour Sainte-Marguerite...) that house offices, workshops and a few private dwellings.
Walk back to rue de la Roquette: at no. 18, the Loubinoux company, specialized in café furnishings, has been working here for over a century. This neighbourhood used to be called "little Auvergne". Most immigrants from the Central Massif settled around place de la Bastille, managing all the area's "bistrots".
You might make a detour, on the right, to rue de Lappe, full of restaurants, clubs and art galleries and particularly lively at night. Back on rue de la Roquette, a plaque at no. 17 recalls that Verlaine lived here between December 1882 and September 1883. A nice courtyard is at no. 56. The walls still bear traces of arcades, probably the building's former stables. At the end of cité de la Roquette (no. 58), you will find a small, odd-looking neo-Gothic house. At no. 41, an alley leads to rue Sedaine. From the (closed) gate, you can catch a glimpse of various studios.
Right after the intersection with rue du Commandant-Lamy, stands the brand new Notre-Dame-d'Espérance, in a somewhat disconcerting "fortress" style. On the opposite side, at no. 70, there is a fountain, erected under Louis-Philippe, that shows a lovely decoration of foliage, animal heads and sea-shells.
At no. 76, the "Bastille Theatre" has taken the place of the Cyrano-Roquette Cinema, vanished like many other small Parisian cinemas. At nos. 84-86, there is a Spanish rite synagogue.
At the corner with passage Charles-Dallery, you might like to take a break in the pleasant Square (public garden) Francis-Lemarque.
At no. 71, a gable door and two pillars holding a balcony are all that is left of an elegant 17th century country house, pulled down in 1977.
At no. 93, push the door to have a look at what is left of the "Voltaire Public Baths": floor and front of the ground floor are covered with mosaics; two wrought iron candelabra stand by the simple staircase that gave access to the baths.
Cross avenue Ledru-Rollin and rue Godefroy-Cavaignac. At nos. 130-134 rue de la Roquette, a group of buildings erected in 1861 clearly shows the strong impression that place des Vosges must have made on the architect. However, he "freed" himself from the severity of the Henry IV style, overcharging the façades with wreaths, lion heads, putti...
Cross boulevard Voltaire and continue along rue de la Roquette towards the Père-Lachaise Cemetery. At no. 147, there is a public garden where the "Petite Roquette Women's Jail" could be found until 1974, when it was demolished. Just its porch remains. A plaque indicates that around 4,000 female partisans were imprisoned here between June 1940 and August 1944.
Rue de la Croix-Faubin begins in front of the garden. Looking most carefully at the pavement, you will notice five rectangular slabs, which mark the spot where the guillotine of the "Grande Roquette Prison" was set up. Until the late 1800s, those sentenced to death or to hard labour were held at the "Grande Roquette".
Hubertine Auclert, feminist pioneer and leader of French suffragettes, lived at no. 151.
Cross boulevard de Ménilmontant and enter the Père-Lachaise Cemetery, undoubtedly the most important and best known in Paris.
Leave the grave-yard through the rue des Rondeaux exit. Turn right and take rue Charles-Renouvier. Immediately after the bridge, turn right again into passage Stendhal to the street bearing the same name. Turn right onto rue Stendhal, where you will notice the elegant, homogeneous-looking buildings of villa (private alley) Stendhal. These were the first middle-class houses to have been built in the village of Charonne.
Turn left onto chemin du Parc de Charonne and enter the small Saint-Germain-de-Charonne Cemetery. It is one of the city's two remaining "parish grave-yards" (the other one is the Saint-Pierre-de-Montmartre Cemetery, in the 18th district). It has retained the quiet atmosphere of a village grave-yard. André Malraux's sons, killed in a car crash, and Robert Brasillach, the collaborationist writer executed when Paris was liberated, are buried here. Bègue, a.k.a. "Magloire", who gave himself out to be "Robespierre's secretary", rests here, too.
Go down the steps to rue de Bagnolet and take rue Saint-Blaise in front of you. This used to be the high street of Charonne. The neighbourhood has retained a certain charm. In the 17th and 18th centuries, wealthy Parisians had their country homes built here. Some of them were sumptuous villas. They are all gone now, alas.
Turn around and enjoy the enchanting view, bucolic rather than urban, over the bell-tower of Saint-Germain-de-Charonne.
Turn left onto rue Riblette and left again onto cité Leclaire, graced by the lovely square (public garden) des Grès. On the nearby place des Grès, you can find a couple of nice bistrots. Take rue Vitruve and turn left onto rue des Balkans.
Beyond the gates of the public garden by the Debrousse nursing home, you will notice an elegant building of white stone, with a slate roof. It is the "pavillon de l'Ermitage", tinyurl.com/65zxc5c (in French), erected in 1734. It is the only remnant of Bagnolet castle, whose estate covered at least 200 acres between Charonne and Bagnolet. Approximately twice the surface of the Père-Lachaise! The "pavillon de l'Ermitage" used to be the counter-revolutionaries' headquarters. They unsuccessfully tried to help Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette flee after they had been sentenced to death. The "Charonne conspirators" were arrested and guillotined, too.
Turn right onto rue de Bagnolet, then left rue Pelleport. Cross rue Belgrand and take rue du Capitaine-Ferber, until you get to place Octave-Chanute. Take, on the right, rue Paul-Strauss. You are now in "La Campagne à Paris" (the countryside in Paris), charming cottages built in 1908 for lower-middle-class families. It is an oasis of peace, just a few steps away from noisy boulevard Mortier.
Before going back (Porte-de-Bagnolet Métro station), you can take another pleasant break inside square (public garden) Séverine, on the opposite side of boulevard Mortier.
More info (in French) on place de la Bastille and rue de la Roquette at
A few pictures: