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I had no idea what a pas de mule looked like. I was told that there might be only one left in all of Paris and I was determined to find it at the Cour de Rohan.

There is a gated entrance to this series of three courtyards, accessed from Rue du Jardinet. The gate is almost always locked on Sundays, and possibly the most likely time to find it open is weekday mornings. The courtyards date back to the 1300s when the Bishops of Rouen made this their Paris residence.

Alas, I have found the pas de mule! It is a delicate wrought-iron step, elegantly perched at the corner of one of the houses in the Cour de Rohan, once used for the purpose of mounting mules or horses, of course.

But the history of this spot goes even deeper. Enter the Cour du Commerce Saint-Andre from the Cour de Rohan, and peek into the window at #4. You can see the remains of an original tower, one of 34 which punctuated the wall of Philippe-Auguste, built in the 1200s for fortification. Marat published his newspaper, "L’ami du Peuple" at #8...

...and Dr. Guillotin experimented with the infamous instrument for “humane” decapitation in the basement of #9. Guillotin was against capital punishment, especially since up until that time executions were either carried out by hanging, burning, hacking with relatively dull-bladed instruments or by being “drawn and quartered”. This last instrument of death was particularly gruesome. He petitioned for the swift and less torturous method, the guiottine, which became the symbol of the “Reign of Terror” during the French Revolution.

The deeper one peers into the recesses of the past, the more fascinating the revelations. How is it possible that within the confines of these little courtyards and passageways, so much has transpired?

That’s what I love about Paris. You can simply be searching for a pas de mule, and then suddenly, thwack! The history book falls open. Stories spill out. Clerics and revolutionaries of years gone by begin to occupy the corners of your mind, the tiny spaces left mercifully vacant despite the constant bombardment of Present Day Life.

Yes, that’s what I love about Paris.

4, rue du Jardinet
6th Arrondisement
Metro: Odeon

For some amateurs de Paris (lovers of Paris), these spots may not be secret at all. Maybe you frequent them, drawn like the bee to the flower. Maybe you have never heard them mentioned. These places do not find their way onto the broad first-time visitor to Paris itinerary. But as an adjunct to “doing the Louvre”, and as a way to become more intimate with the nuances of this complex city, I highly recommend them. Who doesn’t like to be led off the beaten path?

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