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The Marais, which means swamp or marsh in English, is one of Paris's oldest neighborhoods. The Marais encompasses both the 3rd and 4th arrondissements and is located in East Paris. This old neighborhood is the unofficial home of the chinese, jewish and gay communities of Paris, and after revitalization in recent years, has become one of Paris' trendier areas for shopping and unusual eateries.
The marshes that made up the Marais area were cleared to make way for homes around the 12th century. This area quickly became a posh and lavish place for Parisian aristocracy to built their estates. This luxurious time for the Marais ended when the palace moved to Versailles, and the aristocrats followed suit. The neighborhood then became prominently Jewish, specializing in the manufacturing of clothing and textiles. World War II changed the landscape of this neighborhood as many Jews left Paris, but Marais has once again become a popular destination for the Jews of Paris. Marais is also known for its large immigrant population, particularly from Asia. Finally Marais has become a popular neighborhood within the gay community and it is home to many gay clubs and bars. The Marais neighborhood is now a protected area in order to preserve the old buildings and architecture that remain.
The Musee Carnavalet is a museum in Marais devoted to the history of Paris itself. This museum showcases furniture from throughout Paris's history. The museum is located in a historic set of town homes and has been open since 1880. This is a great place to engage in Paris's history in a very concrete way. For the art lovers in Marais try the Musée Picasso. This museum is housed in a historic building and may be under construction, and may be for a few years, so check in advance to see if the museum is open. The Musee des Arts et Metiers is a museum of technology throughout the ages. This museum is sure to entertain the entire family.
The Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme is a history museum for Jewish people from around the world. This museum, which opened in 1998, is housed in a building that dates back to 1644. The museum offers guided tours for both adult and children. The museum tells the story of Jewish people around the world as well as in France. It helps explain Jewish history to both Jews and non Jews alike. The Agoudas Hakehilos synagogue, which was destroyed in World War II, has been restored and should be visited when in Marais.
The Marais is well known for being the gay neighborhood in Paris. Overall Paris is considered to be a gay friendly city, but most the gay bars and clubs will be found in Marais. There are hundreds of bars and clubs to pick from. You might want to try L'Enchanteur in north Marais for a bar atmosphere or Open Cafe for a more laid back vibe. Many gay establishments fly rainbow flags outside, but are welcome to anyone.
Marais provides all sorts of options for accommodations. There are budget friendly options such as the three hostels operated by MIJE. These hostels offer rooms ranging from one person to four people per room. For a step up from the hostel option, try the two star hotel du 7ème Art. This hotel specializes in the old film and art décor. Austin's Saint-Lazare Hotel offers a three star option in Marais. This hotel has free internet and serves breakfast in the morning. For a four start experience try the Marais Guesthouse. This guest house does not have many rooms, but it is full of luxury for its guests.
Marais immigrant and Jewish population have a great affect on the restaurants available in the neighborhood. You can find kosher restaurants. From falafel to sandwiches, there are many options in Marais. For more traditional French food try Chez Janou or Le Petite Marche.