Medusa doors

Friday, May 13th, 2016

  • Walking along the historic streets of Paris whiling away the hours is a most enjoyable way to pass the time, but it comes with a small risk that you could be unwittingly turned to stone!

    On Rue Vieille du Temple in Le Marais, the old aristocratic district of historic Paris, the casual wanderer might come face to face with none other than Medusa. The ancient mythical character with serpents for hair and a habit for turning anyone who looks at her to stone adorns both doors of the Hôtel Amelot de Bissell that was built back in 1660.

    There seems to be no reason for Medusa’s image to be on the doors or at least none that I could find, but the carvings are among the most interesting such door decorations I have seen in Paris.

    Many ancient doors in the city are elaborately decorated, and as I look at them I often wonder if history has forgotten some of the tales behind the carvings that have faced these streets and laneways that are so thoroughly steeped in stories.

    A bonus historical fact about the hotel is that between 1776 and 1787 the French polymath Pierre-Augustin Caron Beaumarchais lived there and it’s where he wrote The Marriage of Figaro. However, what isn’t so well known is that from here he founded a company that secretly supplied weapons and ammunition to insurgents in America who were busy fighting the British.

    I suppose these days we might call such a thing “aiding terrorists” but that word didn’t exist back then and besides, the lens of history has a funny way of changing the way we look at things. Who knows, maybe Medusa was just grumpy a lady with unfortunate hair?

    See these doors using Google street view. (Before the doors were painted red.)