Speculation and African squatters

14th arrondissement - rue de la Tombe Issoire

On the street side stands a run-down apartment building, inhabited exclusively by African squatters. They live among piles of rubble and dirt, broken window-panes, rotting doors, a leaking roof. But behind this nondescript street building is a large, unkempt courtyard, on two sides of which stand the last farm buildings left on the Left Bank, called the "ferme de Montsouris." The farmhouse - which belonged to a charitable foundation and supplied milk to the district up until 1963 - was absorbed by the encroaching city in the mid-19th century. The farmhouse barn conceals beneath it a huge, arched crypt going back to the 13th-14th century (see below) and access to an old limestone quarry (see 18th arrondissement), called the "carrière de Port-Mahon". Also on the site are the remains of what is thought to be a Gallo-Roman aqueduct.

26-30 rue de la Tombe Issoire has been mired in controversy since 1988, when the place was sold by the Paris Archbishopric to a property company set up by a local priest that wanted to build two apartment blocks and religious buildings on two levels underground. But historical and environmental associations (as well as the local authorities) have consistently refused to sanction the company's building plans. At the same time, as long as the local authorities refuse to budge, the property company has no incentive to carry out repairs. Result, classic Parisian squats of the kind more often seen in the poorer eastern side of the agglomeration. In the meantime, the quarry beneath the site has been listed as a historic monument, meaning that builders can't touch it. The property company has recently tried to reach a compromise by promising to restore the farm buildings and crypt. But that is not enough for some of the opposing associations, which want the whole site to be acquired by the City of Paris, restored and transformed into artist workshops.

The rue de la Tombe Issoire in itself is interesting, for it constitutes part of the ancient road to Orléans, one of the traditional routes out of Paris that eventually leads to Compostela. Pilgrims in the Middle-Ages would have passed before Notre-Dame, climbed the rue Saint-Jacques, travelled down the rue de la Tombe Issoire, then continued through Montrouge, Etampes (where there is another rue Saint-Jacques), Orléans and then on to Tours.


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