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Despite its rather bad reputation in Paris, the 19th district hosts several of the most pleasant parks in Paris, and is one of the most lively districts. Here is the map (read the hard-links to understand the abbreviations):


         Aubervilliers               
     ____________________________
    |                            /       Pantin    
18th|                      Parc/ /\          
   |                       de la   |        
   |                       Villette|              
   |                     / /       |           
   |                rcq/ /          |           
  |     Orgues     Ou/ /            |         
  |              l'/ /              |         
  |              / /                |        
  |          de/ /                  |        
  |          / /                    |       
  |      al/ /                       |      
 |     an/ /                         |    
 |    c/ /                           |    
 |   / /                              |  
|Pl.Stal.               ""       Pl   |    Le Pré Saint-Gervais
   `                 ""P.""     Rh-D  |
   |              """B-Ch"""           \
   |             """"""""""""           \
   |             """"""                   \
   ,        Berg """                        \
    \              "           Pl.            \
     \                         Fêtes            \
      \                                          \
 10th  \ Belleville                               \
        \                           _________-----` 
         \_____________------------- 
                             20th

Everything in italics is outside the district. The 19th district is the 4th most populated district in Paris with 172,730 inhabitants in 1990. It's also the 4th largest district (6.73 km2).

From Belleville to the 19th district

In 1860, Haussman, the man who made Paris what it is now, annexed several villages and towns and created the outside districts of Paris out of them (see the 20 districts of Paris). Among them were La Villette and Belleville. Belleville was not a small village: it was the 13th town in France. Because Haussman did not trust these people, he decided to break Belleville into two districts in order to make them lose their sense of unity and independence : the northern half became a part of the 19th district, while the southern half joined the 20th district. That was charasteristic of Haussman's state of mind: when he drew large boulevards everywhere in Paris, his intent was to facilitate the traffic, but also to provide large ways for the army in case of a uprising.

People of Belleville

Nowadays, Belleville is the most cosmopolitan area in Paris. And therefore it's one of the most interesting: only here you can find dozens of Chinese restaurants as well as dozens of Arab groceries open late at night. Most shops are open on Sundays, while the "European" areas in Paris are close on the same day. And the streets are very lively. A few days ago, a group of Falun Gong were meditating in the streets to protest against the Chinese government. Twenty meters away, a group of Christian preachers, one of them African and the others Chinese, were telling the people that God loved them, before letting a group of young girls perform a Chinese dance. I was struck with amazement; in my culture, religion is usually a very serious matter, and no European Christian would associate it with beauty and youth.

However, being cosmopolitan does not mean that every culture is mixed. Quite the contrary. Some streets are Chinese, others are Arab, and the limits are neat.

Rue de Belleville, which marks the limit between the 19th and the 20th district, goes up a hill towards Place des Fêtes, probably the ugliest square in Paris. It has no recognizable shape: buildings are planted here and there at random.

Much more pleasant is the old-fashioned Place de Rhin et Danube and its neighborhood, surrounded with very short streets and their tiny houses. Near Place de Rhin et Danube, inside a large curve of the Paris ring road, have a look at the park of Butte du Chapeau Rouge. It looks bigger than it is really, owing to an intelligent organization of space and bits of architecture in the same 1920 style as the buildings that surround the garden.

Buttes-Chaumont

Coming back inside Paris, the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is a must-see place in Paris. The parks and gardens are one of the most interesting features of Paris, because they are so rare. This one is the most surprising of all: its valleys and waterfalls, and the giddy height of a mountain in the middle of a lake would make you think you are somewhere lost in the Alps if you couldn't see the buildings that surround the park and, beyong them, the Eiffel Tower and the Sacré-Coeur: indeed, you are in one of the highest spots in Paris. The park is definitely worth a long walk on a Saturday afternoon or, even better, at nightfall. And no, the mountain in the middle of the lake is not natural: it was built in the 19th century.

South-west of the park, high buildings hide a hard-to-find hill: Butte Bergeyre. Apart from the stairs, only one street leads to it, and it winds steeply up to the summit. From there, you have a large view on Paris, including a small vineyard at your feet. The houses have one of the best situated locations in Paris, and probably the calmest. Nobody will bother you up there.

La Villette

Going north, you will leave Belleville for La Villette. Canal de l'Ourcq crosses the district. It starts from Place de Stalingrad, which has a very bad reputation as far as safety is concerned. However, the banks of the canal make a pleasant walk. Their name: "Quai de Seine" and "Quai de la Loire" should not confuse you: you are not on the Seine, but on a tributary of it. Notice the cinema on the "Quai de Seine".

The canal goes north-east till the Parc de la Villette. The place was famous for its slaughterhouses once. Now, a popular park offers many attractions to children. You may also be interested in Cité des Sciences and its exhibitions related with science, or Cité de la Musique, dedicated to music.

Finally, you may have a look at rue des Flandres for its modern buildings, some of which are the highest apartment towers in Paris. See in particular, between rue Riquet and rue Mathis, a group of buildings which received the nickname of "Les Orgues" (Organs) because of their shape.

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