Thursday, September 20, 2012

Time Travel to Versailles: September 1912

The Versailles Chronicle - September 1912

"Autumnal pleasures - Grape harvesting time - Paris and its grapevines

The harvesting time will soon begin pretty much in every single corner of France. Considering this, we found it curious and interesting to remind our readers that, before being what it is, Paris was an enormous vineyard and that it was on these various lands that our capital was built afterwards.

From the oldest times, Parisis wine, especially the one harvested in the location currently occupied by the capital, had been favorably regarded. A Roman knight, Catillus Severus, who leaved us the account of a visit he made to Lutetia, the 2nd before the May Ides in 305, tells the following story: "Ursus invited me to an innkeeper by the roadside, to take a jug full of an excellent wine. This is the richness of the country. Parisians curse the memory of the wicked Domitian, who forced them pull off all their vines and bless the good Probus who allowed its replanting these days"

At the time there was a Bacchus temple right about where the Panthéon is now located and the emperor Julian, who died in 363, highly prized the wine of Paris. Merovingian and Carolingian kings accorded such a solicitude to Parisian vines, that it proves that they kept it in high esteem. Charlemagne's capitularies show that they had vineyards attached to their palaces, together with a wine press. Louvre courtyard housed grapevines: in those times of simplicity, the kings, like every common landowner, drank the wine they could harvest.

The vines persisted in the Middle Age on the Montmartre hill, on the Parnasse Mount, and, generally, on all the bumps rising up in Paris. We could count, at the time, a whole bunch of fields, acquired or received as a gift by the bishops, convents or lords. On the plateau and mountain Sainte Geneviève alone we could see more than twenty. All those fields were planted with vines. Dom Michel Félibien said, in his "History of the city of Paris", about the Laas hill, which was one of the biggest: "It wath a large area full of vines, which descendeth along the Seine, from the Huchette street until the Nesles gate and encloseth the Serpente street, the Poupée street, those of Saint André and Saint-André cemetery, with a few others from up here down to the river, including the Augustins convent and the former oratory of Saint-Andéol, built long ago in the middle of a vineyard"

Nowadays, catastrophe! The "Parisian wine" gets scarcer and scarcer. Few years ago Paris didn't have left but two real vine fields. We could find one at the corner of Damrémont street to Lamarck street, and had a few rows of sappy, flourishing vines. The other one was located not far from Bastille Panorama, at the gate lock of Saint-Martin canal, and the lock keeper lovingly cared for it. Many little gardens of the Hill enclosed climbing vines turned purple in the fall with the heavy wine grapes. In the small tortuous alleys climbing around Sacré-Coeur, and especially in the Norvins street, one can see in front of Liliputan houses hooded with mossy tiles, vigorous vines extending their branches above the windows of the ground floor.

A few small gardens of Belleville are still producing grapes. Let's cite, by antithesis, the vines of Luxembourg which provide an excellent white chasselas wine intended to the presidential table. But Plaisance is the neighborhood in Paris where the harvest is currently the most abundant. The gardens of the working-class neighborhoods and the ones of small renters located near Maine and Orléans avenues are almost all of them embellished with climbing vines, and we can find sometimes in there two or three rows of stakes.

This is the current state of Parisian vineyards."

The Versailles Chronicle - September 1912

P.S. This is the 2012 state of Parisian region vineyards (in French only, sorry!)

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