Area guide: Paris 13th Arrondissement

From a diseased slum given the number 13 because no one would care, to an architecturally iconic destination attracting a cosmopolitan population, the 13th Arrondissement of Paris has seen it all, and so can you.

In 1860 under Napoleon III Paris grew from 12 Arrondissements to 20. Of course the immediate question was how should they be renumbered and who would get lucky number 13.

The first plan was to number the districts from right to left, but this would have meant that the now 16th arrondissement would take on number 13. The rich families and residents of this area quickly voiced their displeasure at such a notion and after lots of discussions (as you would expect of the French of this era) eventually it was decided that the 13th should be given to an area in the south east of the city, which was at that point largely a disease-riddled slum, with no one to make a fuss.

Hugging a bank of the Seine, with low property costs and an immediate population willing to work, the area was eventually taken over by industry. Textiles and manufacturing were the main sectors and by the 1960s high-rise monoliths were popping up and the district’s exotic Chinatown area had become firmly bedded in.

Over the past 15 years the arrondissement has undergone a huge change. The National Library is an iconic building in the area, with buildings shaped like open books. The area is now a thriving commercial and social hub, one where world famous architects are creating the architectural masterpieces that dot the skyline. Restaurants and cafes abound, as do pop up foodie stations during the daytime, feeding the designed-focused workers and students of the area.

Stray off the main avenue of modern buildings that run parallel with the river and you’ll quickly find pockets of history, in both the architecture and people, with lively after dark areas lik Rue des Cinq-Diamants and Rue de la Butte aux Cailles.