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Interior oasis courtyard at le Grande Mosquee de Paris exterior
Picture this: there’s a metro strike where your line is closed completely and the single bike left at the only Vélib stand you can find has two flat tires, so you have to hoof it home wearing the most uncomfortable work shoes you own and you start off by stepping in a package left by a very big and apparently very sick dog.
There are some days when you rock the city and others when Paris rocks you. For the latter days, there’s a haven you can escape to and leave your cares behind.
The Grande Mosquée de Paris appears as daunting to some; inaccessible behind high walls, shrouded in mystery beneath its clay tiled roof, but the visitors who step through the keyhole-shaped door unlock another world. Once inside, the high walls provide solace from the hustle outside and the red tiled roof shields guests from the encroaching bustle.
Inaugurated in 1926 as a way to honor the 100,000 Muslims who fought for France in the First World War, the tea room, restaurant, hammam (Turkish bath) and even the Grande Mosquée de Paris itself are open to anyone looking for a little quiet and peace. The Mosquée has a history of offering succor to those in need. During the Second World War the property provided sanctuary for between 500 and 1600 Jewish people waiting for the papers that would permit them to flee to freedom in Free France or abroad. Thankfully, current times are less trying but, even still, the hospitality remains unchanged.
Le Grande Mosquée de Paris
Entering the complex through the portal at the corner of the rue Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire and rue Daubenton (in the Paris 5th district), you’ll find two courtyards linked by a circular hall. Sit down at any table and let yourself be taken away by the magical carpet of calm as you wait for a server to pass with a tray of mint tea you’ll swear came freshly made from the North African desert. The only thing that could make the nectar sweeter would be one of the Middle Eastern treats sold in the vestibule that connects the two courtyards.
Courtyard terrace photo by ©7_70
Behind a glass counter, you’ll admire an impressive selection of delicacies including baklava and lokum (Turkish Delight). The confections are served on a small tray you can take back with you to your table, but the cakes are also available to take away. What makes them even harder to resist is the price: everything, including the tea, is priced at 2€. After a few sips of honeyed tea and a couple nibbles of the tasty treats, you’ll find yourself transported far from the stress of the city that lurks a few meters past the walls.
If the stress you’ve brought in with you refuses to be appeased by a simple delectation, no sweat: the Turkish baths are guaranteed to cleanse you of any tenacious tension. Inside, you will first enter the “warm room”, heated by a continuous flow of hot, dry air (distinguishing it from a sauna). Then you’ll enter the “hot room”, which is even hotter, where you can splash yourself with cool water, receive a massage of 10, 20 or 30 minutes (at 10, 20 or 30€) and have your skin exfoliated. You’ll get much needed relaxation, but be sure to check the Mosquée’s website for prices as well as days and times as the Turkish baths are not mixed.
What to do if, after all your cares have gone up in smoke, you’re still not ready to return to the rut? Easy, take a tour of the mosquée and its gardens.
The entrance to the mosquée is at the opposite side of the lieu, where the rue Georges Deplas and the rue de Quatrefages intersects with the place de Puits de l’Ermite. Open for visits every day except Fridays, from 9am–6pm (though closed between the hours of 12pm and 2pm), you can pay the 3€ entrance fee (2€ for students) at the far right of the entrance hall. There are two main courtyards inside, both offering a retreat from the fast-paced rat race you’ve escaped. The first area, off of the mosque itself, contains stunning mosaic work that fills the walls, whereas the second area is so lush a garden you’ll swear you’ve stumbled into a mirage. While you won’t be permitted to enter the prayer rooms, the courtyards you’ll wander through are stunning. You should dress appropriately (the same style of clothes you’d wear to visit a church); women are welcome and are not required to cover their hair.
The Grande Mosquée de Paris provides a genuine getaway, an exotic vacation only a metro trip away where you can spend an entire day in an authentic Middle Eastern setting. Pay a visit to the Grand Mosque, one of the few places left in Paris where you can truly get away from it all.
2, place du puits de l’Ermite, Paris 5th
Tél for mosque: 01 4535 9733
Tél for restaurant, hammam, souk (gift shop), salon de thé: 01 4331 3820
Métro: #7 Censier-Daubenton or Place Monge, #7 or #10 Jussieu
Bus: 47, 89
Vélib: 5031- 2, rue Lacepede; 5028-6, rue Censier; 5024-4 rue Dolomieu
2011 entry: 3€ adult, 2€ student
PHOTO CREDITS: Flickr photos published per Creative Commons 3.0 license with photographer credit in captions. Publicity photos, Intro photo and large photo of courtyard ©7_70; desserts ©Paul Prescott
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