SHARE
COPY LINK

PARIS

Bouquiniste: How to apply to join the 500-year-old Paris booksellers

The booksellers who line Paris' River Seine - and their iconic green boxes - are an integral part of the French capital, and now a rare opportunity has arisen to join the ranks of the bouquinistes.

Bouquiniste boxes line the banks of the Seine, forced to close because of the pandemic.
Lockdowns forced many Paris bouquinistes to close down meaning that a number of vacancies are now available. (Photo by BERTRAND GUAY / AFP)

The selling of books along the Seine is a tradition stretching back as far as the 16th century. But it was not until 1891 that the book stalls along the banks of the river were officially recognised – and not until 1900 that the signature ‘wagon green’ colour became mandatory. 

Bouquinistes now line a 3km stretch through the centre of Paris, operating 900 wooden stalls from which they sell their wares – some 300,000 books, stamps, cards and posters in total. 

The Seine has been described as the only river in the world that runs between two bookshelves – although the literary set-up has inspired similar projects in places such as Ottawa and Tokyo. 

READ ALSO Paris’ riverside booksellers battle for survival as Unesco race heats up

While they do not have to pay tax or rent, the sellers, each of whom can run a maximum of four stalls in total, have been badly hit by the pandemic. Social distancing, lockdowns and a lack of tourists has had a drastic impact on their revenue. 

In an online petition Jérôme Callais, President of the Cultural Association of Bouquinistes pleaded: “Book lovers, from Paris and elsewhere, please stroll! Stroll as soon as health conditions allow it!

“Walk along the banks of the Seine and stop of a moment to look at these green boxes – veritable displays of civilisation. Let yourself be seduced by the warm call of the thousands of books that they contain.”

As beautiful as this call to action was, it was not enough to save certain bouquinistes, even as Covid-19 restrictions were relaxed. The good news is that the City of Paris is now accepting applications to fill these vacancies, so this is your chance to join a centuries old trade.

People walk past the open stands of the booksellers, also called bouquinistes, by Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, on May 15, 2020, as France eases the lockdown measures taken to curb the spread of the COVID-19, (the novel coronavirus). (Photo by JOEL SAGET / AFP)

What you need to do 

An application pack must be sent by email or by post to the addresses listed on the City of Paris website, where you will also find more detailed guidance on the kind of documentation you need. 

You will need to send: a CV and covering letter; ID photos; proof of address; proof of social security registration; copies of an ID document or birth certificate; and proof of a clean criminal record. 

Although successful candidates must be official residents of France and registered in the health and social security system there is no requirements to be a French citizen, although obviously speaking French is pretty necessary.

Applications must be received before March 2022 when the selection committee will meet to decide on the winners. Those who bid successfully will then be allocated five-year plots by the City. 

What if you succeed? 

If you win the bid, there are fairly tight regulations that you will have to follow – the licences can be easily revoked for breaching the rules. 

There are strict restrictions on the size of the plot, sellers must be present at least four days per week, and are required to register their company and take out insurance. Bouquinistes must also register the name of any employees or friends/family that will help out with the running of the stalls. 

Selling second-hand books along the river will not lead you to riches. But the bouquinistes are in it for the lifestyle. In an interview with Le Parisien, Callais once said: “Liberty is our main salary”. 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

CULTURE

Skulls, beer and a ‘cathedral’: Discover the secrets of underground Paris

You've certainly heard of the Metro, maybe the catacombs and perhaps even the Phantom of the Opera's underground lake - but there are some things lurking beneath Paris that might surprise you.

Skulls, beer and a 'cathedral': Discover the secrets of underground Paris

One of Europe’s most densely populated cities, Paris has over two million people living within its boundaries. As those inhabitants walk along the Champs-Elysées or Rue de Rivoli, they might be entirely unaware of the extensive underground world that exists below their feet. 

These are some of the hidden gems beneath the famous monuments in the City of Light:

Skulls, beer and police

The final resting place for over six million Parisians – the catacombs are the most well-known part of underground Paris, but did you know that the 1,700 metres of catacombs that are open to the public represent less than one percent of the whole of the catacombs in Paris? In fact, the underground network is thought to be around 300 km in size.

The catacombs are also known as the Ossuaire Municipal, and they are located at the site of former limestone quarries. The Ossuaire as we know it was created during the 18th century, because the city’s cemeteries could not withstand its population growth and public health concerns began to be raised. Gradually the remains of millions of Parisians were moved underground.

The bones of Parisians only comprise a small section of Paris’ ‘carrières‘ (or quarries), which can be seen in the above map.

These subterranean passages have fascinated cataphiles for many years – with stories of secret parties, illicit tunnel exploration and much more. During the Covid lockdowns, the catacombs infamously served as a location for clandestine parties. At one point, over 35 people were ticketed for participating in underground raves

The network even has its own police service, the Intervention and Protection Group, known colloquially as the cataflics, who are a specialised police brigade in charge of monitoring the old quarries in Paris.

Though these quarries might be a location to secretly throw back a few pints, they are also connected to beer for another reason, as they are the ideal environment to both store and make beer – with consistently cool temperatures and nearby access to underground water sources.

In 1880, the Dumesnil brewery, located in the 14th arrondissement, invested in the quarries underneath its premises, using them to store the thousands of barrels of beer that it produced each year. Over the years, the brewery simply turned its basement into a real underground factory. 

If you really want to visit the ancient underground quarries specifically, you don’t have to just go to the catacombs. You can also do so by visiting the “Carrières des Capucins.” Found just below the Cochin hospital, located in the 14th arrondissement, access to these tunnels is allowed to the public (with reservation) in small groups.

As for entering the rest of the old quarry system, that has been illegal to enter the old quarries since 1955, which has not stopped several curious visitors and explorers from trying to discover what secrets might be underground. 

Sewer Museum

Recently renovated, this museum might not be at the top of a tourist’s list in the same way the Louvre or Musée d’Orsay might, but the museum of sewers actually has a lot of fascinating history to share. It took almost a century to build Paris’ sewage system, and it is largely to thank for the city’s growth, protecting the public health of inhabitants by helping prevent disease outbreaks. 

Visiting the sewers is not a new activity either – according to the museum’s website, “as early as 1867, the year of the World’s Fair, visits were met with immense public success, the reason being that this underground space had always been hidden from the curious eyes of all those who dwell on the surface of Paris.”

Ghost stations

A total of 16 Metro stations go unused underground in Paris – some were built and never put into use, others were decommissioned after World War II.

The most famous is Porte des Lilas – a working Metro station that has an unused ‘ghost’ section which these days is used for filming scenes in movies and TV.

If you’ve ever watched a scene set in the Metro, chances are it was filmed at Porte des Lilas, which has a section of track that Metro cars can move along if needed for action sequences. 

The extra section was taken out of commission in 1939 due to under-use, and in the 1950s it served as a place to test new metro cars.

Beware if you find yourself in Haxo station – it does not have its own entrance or exit and is only accessible by following the Metro tunnels. It is one of the six that never opened, similar to Porte Molitor, Orly-Sud, La Défense-Michelet, or Élysée-La Défense.

Other stations were closed for being too close to other stations, such as the Saint-Martin station, which was closed after World War II as it was too close to Strasbourg-Saint Denis. 

These phantom stations are usually off-limits to the public, but sometimes access is allowed for special guided tours or events.

Reminders of World War II 

Paris’ underground played an important role during the Second World War.

First, there is the French resistance command bunker, which is now part of the Musée de la Libération at Place Denfert Rochereau.

It was from here that Resistance leaders co-ordinated the battle for the liberation of Paris in 1944.

There is also the anti-bombardment bunker near Gare de l’Est. Normally this is closed during the year, but it is opened on Heritage Day in September. (Journées de patrimoine). 

The bunker was originally commissioned in 1939 to keep trains running, even in the event of a gas attack, and it was completed by the Germans in November 1941. It is located between Metro tracks 3 and 4. The bunker itself – which can fit up to 50 people – has basically been frozen in time, featuring a control room and telephone. 

Another river

You’ve heard of the Seine, but what about the underground river that flows through the city of Paris? Prior to the 20th century, the Bièvre river flowed through the city as well, running through Paris’ 13th and 5th arrondisements. Once upon a time, tanners and dyers set up shop next to the Bievre, shown in the image below. 

The river eventually became quite polluted and concerns arose that it might be a health hazard, so in 1875, as part of his transformation of the city, Georges-Eugène Haussmann decided that the Bièvre had to go. It was mostly covered up, and now what remains of the river flows beneath the city, with some parts of it joining Paris’ sewage system.

The Phantom’s lake

If you are a fan of Phantom of the Opera, you would know that the Phantom’s lair is below the Palais Garnier (the Opera house), and that Christine and the Phantom must cross a subterranean lake to get there.

This body of water is not a figment the imagination of Gaston Leroux – though not an actual lake, a large water tank can be found below the grounds. It is even used to train firefighters to swim in the dark.

The Phantom’s not real, though (probably).

‘Cathedral’

The Montsouris reservoir is one of Paris’ primary drinking water sources, along with L’Haÿ-les-Roses, Saint-Cloud, Ménilmontant and Les Lilas.

But while it’s undoubtedly very useful, it’s most famous for its looks.

The structure resembles a kind of underground water cathedral and is home to over 1,800 pillars, which support its numerous vaults and arches. It’s closed to the public, but its rare beauty means that it’s often photographed by urban explorers.

Mushroom farms

And last but not least – the ‘mushroom houses.’ Les champignons de Paris have been grown below the capital’s soil for centuries.

READ MORE: Inside Paris’ underground mushroom farms

“Paris mushrooms” have been grown since the 17th century. The rosé des près (meadow pink) mushrooms were a favourite of Louis XIV and were originally grown overground – their colour comes from the limestone that Paris is build on.

By the 19th century they went underground, which provided more space and allowed the fungi to be cultivated year-round, but eventually the construction of the Paris Metro pushed many growers out of the capital.

Today, there are just five traditional producers in operation – Shoua-moua Vang runs the largest underground mushroom cave in the Paris region, spread across one and a half hectares of tunnels in a hill overlooking the Seine river. 

SHOW COMMENTS