I love offbeat attractions. Always have, always will. In every trip I take, I try to seek out a “non-tourist” attraction that you won’t find on a map. Or on a billboard. Or even advertised. Such was the case when I discovered the incredible artists haven of 59 Rivoli right in the heart of Paris.
Roughly a 10-minute walk from The Louvre, you will absolutely not find this attraction unless you are looking for it. 59 Rivoli is simply named after the street name you can find it on. Walking past it, you can only see the sign above. Inside is seven floors of incredible art from floor to ceiling. Far more immersive than any theme park attraction you can find.
The story behind 59 Rivoli is just as fascinating as what you’ll find inside. On November 1, 1999, the KGB (Kalex, Gaspard, Bruno), managed to open up the cemented-over door of 59 rue de Rivoli. A dozen artists arrived to clean up the abandoned space to find dead pigeons, syringes and lots of rubble and garbage.
The purpose was to revive an old space and promote culture and diversity through alternative forms of art. This is clearly far different than the centuries old paintings you’ll find at The Louvre down the road.
The group that was formed was called “Chez Robert, Electron Libre.” They organized show openings, performances, concerts and opened the building to the public daily from 1:30 to 7:30 p.m. The French state made a complaint against the artists and they were scheduled to be evicted on February 4, 2000.
Thanks to a crafty lawyer, the artists got a six-month extension before they were to be evicted. This was just enough time for the media to pick up on the story. Soon, the term “squarter” was coined: a mix of the words squatter and artist. That media attention pressured the French government to look the other way for several years, but the artists still remained in limbo.
Finally, the mayor of Paris promised the artists at 59 Rivoli that they would be allowed to keep the space and use it as an artist haven. Today you can visit these artists six days a week from 1 to 10 p.m. and admission is free.
What is so great about this attraction is the majority of the artists are only there temporarily. This isn’t a museum where you go to look at the paintings. This art is being created in front of you. 59 Rivoli is their workshop, their art gallery and, in some cases, a place where they sleep.
As you roam the twisting corridors of this incredible building that is dripping with history, graffiti, art, and culture, you’ll find artists camped out all over the place. Some are painting, some playing a guitar and some will even create a custom piece of art for you right on the spot!
I got a chance to do dozens of amazing touristy things in Paris, from the Eiffel Tower to the Moulin Rouge. 59 Rivoli tops them all. Why? It’s real. It’s tangible. It isn’t designed for mass consumption. It’s personal and intimate, whimsical and charming.
The next time you find yourself in Paris, carve out around two hours to visit 59 Rivoli. A true hidden gem in the heart of Paris. You will not regret it.
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