Belleville in Paris

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Belleville is a neighbourhood of Paris, France, parts of which lie in four different arrondissements. The major portion of Belleville straddles the borderline between the 20th arrondissement and the 19th along its main street, the Rue de Belleville. The remainder lies in the 10th and 11th arrondissements.

It was once the independent commune (municipality) of Belleville which was annexed by the City of Paris in 1860 and divided between two arrondissements Geographically, the neighborhood is situated on and around a hill which vies with Montmartre as the highest in Paris. The name Belleville literally means "beautiful town".


Historically, Belleville was a working class neighborhood. People living in the independent village of Belleville played a large part in establishing the Second French Republic through their actions during the Revolution of 1848. In 1871, residents of the incorporated neighborhood of Belleville were some of the strongest supporters of the Paris Commune. When the Versailles Army came to reconquer Paris in May of that year, it faced some of the toughest resistance in Belleville and in neighboring Ménilmontant. The bloody street fighting persisted in the two eastern districts, and the last of the barricades is said to have been in the Rue Ramponeau in Belleville.

During the first half of the 20th century, many immigrants settled there: Ottoman Armenians fleeing systematic massacres (1915–1917), Ottoman Greeks fleeing persecution in Anatolia around 1920, German Jews fleeing systematic Nazi persecutions during the 1930s, and Spaniards fleeing civil war in 1936. Many Algerians and Tunisian Jews arrived in the early 1960s.

Belleville is home to one of the largest congregations of the Reformed Church of France. The Église Réformée de Belleville has been in the area since shortly before World War I.[1]


Today, Belleville is a colorful, multi-ethnic neighborhood and also home to one of the city's two Chinatowns, the other located in the 13th arrondissement near the Place d'Italie. Since the 1980s, an important Chinese community has been established there. There are many restaurants and associations as well as stores offering Chinese products. A fairly large and popular outdoor market is held there every Tuesday and Friday along the Boulevard de Belleville, where many local Île-de-France farmers sell their produce.[2]

During the 1980s Parisian artists and musicians, attracted by the cheaper rents, the numerous vacant large spaces, as well as the old Paris charm of its smaller streets (Belleville was ignored, perhaps spared, during much of the architectural modernization efforts and reparations of the 1960s and 1970s, the greatest exception being the area around the Place des Fêtes), started moving there. Many artists now live and work in Belleville and studios are scattered throughout the quartier. Some abandoned factories have been transformed into art squats, where several alternative artists and musicians, such as the band Les Rita Mitsouko began their careers.

The demographics of the neighborhood have undergone many changes throughout the decades. While Armenians, Greeks, and Ashkenazi Jews were once the predominant ethnic groups, North Africans, and more recently, sub-Saharan Africans have been displacing these others.

Within the neighborhood there is a cemetery and park, the Parc de Belleville, which ascends the western slope of the hill and offers, in addition to a panoramic view of the Paris skyline, a strikingly modern contrast to the classical gardens of the city center and the eccentric nineteenth century romanticism of the nearby Parc des Buttes Chaumont. A School of Architecture is also located in Belleville.[3]

The iconic French singer Édith Piaf grew up there and, according to legend, was born under a lamppost on the steps of the Rue de Belleville. A commemorative plaque can be found at number 72. A true Bellevilloise, Piaf sang and spoke the French language in a way that epitomized the accent de Belleville, which has been compared to the Cockney accent of London, England, although the Parisian dialect is nowadays rarely heard. Belleville is prominently featured in the 2007 biographical film of her life, La Vie En Rose.

Other famous Bellevillois include film director Maurice Tourneur, legendary French can-can dancer Jane Avril and popular singer and actor Eddy Mitchell.

In popular culture

Belleville has featured in several films including director Jacques Becker's 1951 Casque d'or, starring Simone Signoret and Serge Reggiani. Albert Lamorisse set and filmed the 1956 Oscar-winning short film Le Ballon Rouge (also known as The Red Balloon[4]) in Belleville and featured many parts of the region that the Parisian government demolished in the 1960s as a slum-clearance effort and partially replaced with housing projects. Depictions of Belleville featured prominently in Sylvain Chomet's 2003 animated feature The Triplets of Belleville.[5]

The Malaussène Saga, a series of crime novels written by contemporary author Daniel Pennac, is set in Belleville. Belleville is the subject of several French songs, including Eddy Mitchell's "Belleville ou Nashville?" and Claude Nougaro's "Le Barbier de Belleville."

Belleville has undergone much gentrification over the years, similar to that of Brooklyn, New York. The similarities were so strong that it took on Belleville's name. Belleville Bistro [6] in Park Slope, Brooklyn was 'named after the raffish hilltop Paris neighborhood.'[7]

In The Sopranos episode 76 ("Cold Stones"), Rosalie Aprile briefly dates a much younger, motorcycle-riding Frenchman named Michel, who hails from Belleville, Paris. Ro expresses a particular sense of kinship with Michel given his connection to a town with the same name as the New Jersey town where members of her inner circle live (e.g., Corrado Soprano) and do business (e.g., the Irvine-Cozzarelli Memorial Home).

In Puccini's opera "Il Tabarro" (first part of the triple bill "Il Trittico") the lovers sing of their shared longing for the place where they both grew up, "Belleville è il nostro suolo e il nostro mondo! Noi non possiamo vivere sull'acqua!" (Belleville is our own soil and all our world! We cannot live forever on the water!) in comparison to the dreary nomadic life of working on a river barge.


Traditionally, Belleville is leftist and votes accordingly for either the Parti Socialiste (the French Socialist Party), the Parti Communiste Français (the French Communist Party) or the Lutte Ouvrière (Workers' Struggle). Communist Party headquarters is just outside Colonel Fabien station, between Belleville and its northern neighbor La Villette.


Belleville is served by the Metro stations Belleville, Pyrénées and Jourdain.

Films shot in Belleville

  • Monsieur Ibrahim et les fleurs du Coran directed by François Dupeyron
  • La Vie Devant Soi directed by Moshe Mizrahi
  • Le Ballon Rouge (The Red Balloon), 1956, directed by Albert Lamorisse

External links