Saint-Quentin Covered Food Market (Le Marche Couvert Saint Quentin)
On the corner of Blvd Magenta and rue de Chabrol (10th arrondissement), Metro Gare de l’Est
Open daily, except Monday; Sunday 8:30am-1:30pm
One of our favorite activities when we travel is to seek out the local markets, both open-air and covered, as this is a great way to learn something about a country/city/culture. We’ve been to many in Paris and France.
Some of the Paris covered markets feel a bit cramped and dreary, but Saint-Quentin stands out because of its stunning architecture. Located in a busy neighborhood near the Gare de l’Est and Gare du Nord, this is the largest remaining of the covered markets. Its 19th century façade combines brick, wood, glass, steel and ironwork and looks really attractive and interesting from the street.
Designed by the architect Rabourdin, the structure attracts architecture buffs as it’s an outstanding example of the Baltard style and one of the few covered markets in this style that still exists.
The inside is just as amazing as the exterior. As you step inside, look upward. The maze of markets stands doesn’t give you a clear view of the whole structure, but you’ll catch glimpses of the soaring ceiling. Iron roof trusses are set on cast-iron capitals with a Corinthian motif. Outside light pours in through glass walls that are set into grand steel arches.
Even if you don’t need to buy anything, it’s worth stopping here to see this architectural gem if you’re in the vicinity. We were there a few weeks ago for the first time and wandered around happily for a while. It’s not a very large market, but has all the usual market foods and beverages: cut flowers and growing plants; wonderfully fresh fruits and vegetables, always so beautifully set out; olive oils; fresh meat and fish; cheeses; wines; a coffee shop; and even a beer shop (Terres de Bieres). We also saw a shoe repair and key shop, a hardware store, a sewing store and various ethnic take-out dishes. Vendors are friendly and seem to have developed a loyal clientele, judging from some snippets of overheard conversations.
Several men changed Paris a lot in the 19th century, the most famous being Eugene Haussmann, the planner of the grands boulevards, parks and squares that define the modern city. Another was Haussmann’s close friend and associate, Victor Baltard.
Baltard distinguished himself very young when he submitted the winning design for the tomb of Napoleon 1. However, he was refused the commission because, at 36, he was considered too young and inexperienced. He entered the government architectural service and rose quickly to chief architect of the city of Paris. At that time he designed the City Hall that was destroyed by fire in 1871.
Baltard’s best-known work was Les Halles (the food market that moved to Rungis, and which has now been torn down and is currently being replaced). After some initial design glitches, the first 10 buildings were completed in 1853. His greatest innovation was a glass and iron umbrella-shaped roof that maximized natural light and ventilation. The same style was used in other covered neighborhood markets, such as Saint-Quentin, and we can clearly see the light and feel the ventilation today.
He also designed the church of Saint-Augustin, on boulevard Malesherbes. It was the first time that an iron frame was used inside a French church for decorative as well as structural purposes.
He also became professor of architecture at Ecole des Beaux Arts, and an Officer of the Legion of Honor, and was elected to the Institut de France. Quite an achievement!