Passage d’Enfer is a lovely little L-shaped (gated, but not locked) passage between Bd Raspail and rue Campagne-Première. It is also one of the cleanest streets in Paris, no littler and no crotte de chien. With it’s cobblestones and pastel shutters it looks a bit like a movie director’s idea of a Parisian rue. But since it’s a real Paris street there is just enough graffiti and aggressively ugly architecture to balance the movie set sweet.
Ironically, Passage D’Enfer means Hell’s passage. And speaking of Hell, Arthur Rimbaud once lived here. He wasn’t in residence when writing Une Saison en Enfer (A Season in Hell) but one can still imagine at least a passing connection.
According to Wikipedia, Passage d’Enfer was built in 1855 by architect Felix Pigeory and takes its name from the former name of the boulevard Raspail, Boulevard d’Enfer. Boulevard d’Enfer getting it’s name from the bois d’Enfer (Hell’s Wood/Forest) which it traversed.
In his masterpiece, Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris, Graham Robb* describes a hell of sorts. In 1774, a quarter mile of the Rue d’Enfer gave way. The short version is the quarries below Hell Street collapsed, sucking in buildings and animals and everything else along the quarter-mile chasm. The Inspector of Quarries, Charles-Axel Guillaumot, came by to survey the damage and needing a place to put a couple centuries of remains realized he could kill two birds with one stone. And thus the Catacombs where born. Hell indeed.
On the north side of Passage d’Enfer is a confection in brown, beige, and gold tile. This is the backside of 31 and 31Bis** rue Campagne-Première built (between 1911 and 1912) by Architect André Arfvidson and tiled by ceramicist Alexandre Bigot. The backside, 24-27, Passage d’Enfer looks like four separate houses and is subtle compared to the front. The tile is what makes the building but the huge windows in the artist’ studi0s in the front are pretty impressive as well. In 1922 Man Ray had his atelier in 31Bis.
And since we’ve sort of moved on to rue Campagne-Première we might as well take a little side trip. Yves Klein had his atelier at #9 and lived at #14 rue Campagne-Première. Eugène Atget lived at #17 and l’Hôtel Istria is still at #29. Acording to a plaque out front, Hôtel Istria was quite the happening place. Among others, the hotel hosted, Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Rilke, Erik Satie, and the lovely Kiki de Montparnasse.
You could do worse than spend a few minutes wandering around here.
*Robb also wrote a biography of Rimbaud, I haven’t read but intend to.
**”Bis” means “twice” in French. In this case, it’s the equivalent of 31 and 31A in English.