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ONLY IN PARIS: The story of Paris told through an original and eclectic mix of unusual historic locations

ONLY IN PARIS: The story of Paris told through an original and eclectic mix of unusual historic locations

A new edition of a ground-breaking guidebook to Paris has just been published. “Only in Paris” by writer and explorer Duncan JD Smith tells the story of the city through an original and eclectic mix of unusual locations.

Eccentric museums, covered passageways, secret gardens, idiosyncratic shops and unexpected places of worship. Everything that is unique, hidden and unusual in Paris.

Duncan sent us a copy. We read it, loved it and thought it’d be fun to share a few of the many interesting stories featured in this guide.


Across 98 chapters, the author's offbeat explorations reveal a multitude of unusual sights in the 'City of Light.' Discover the Pagoda Cinema, the Museum of Magic, Foucault's Pendulum, and the Angel of Nagasaki. Enjoy a drink at an original ‘zinc bar’, visit a Hindu temple, see where Edith Piaf lived, and look for a lost river.

The author sheds new light on old favourites as well, including the Arc de Triomphe and La Tour Eiffel. Did you know that if the tower was melted it would only stand 6cm high? Or that it is painted in different shades of the same colour so as to appear the same colour when viewed from a distance?

There are answers to longstanding questions, too. Who exactly was the real Hunchback of Notre Dame? Is there really a lake hidden beneath the Opera? Where did the Hashish Club meet? And where was the Statue of Liberty made?

“Only in Paris” is the ideal city guide for those who want to escape the crowds and set out on their own urban expedition. With this book you can go beyond the well-known paths, be a real city explorer, and return with some great memories.

As a taster, here is an extract from the book about the fascinating Musée de la Contrefaçon (Museum of Fakery) at 16 rue de la Faisanderie in the 16th arrondissement:


Parfum Dior vrai et faux; image courtesy of  Musée de la Contrefaçon

One of the most compelling of the many specialist museums in Paris is the Musée de la Contrefaçon. Housed inside a private mansion this museum of counterfeiting may at first glance appear novel but the message it conveys is a serious one. Fakery has been a profitable business for almost 2,000 years, and in the digital age it looks set to become even more widespread.

The museum was established in 1951 by the Union des Fabricants (Unifab), the first body in France to commence the fight against counterfeit goods. At the time counterfeiting was relatively small-scale, unlike today when almost every international brand is copied and then passed off at a price cheaper than the original. The extent of modern counterfeiting is shocking, from clothes, sunglasses, car parts and electrical goods to fountain pens, cigarettes, wristwatches, and banknotes.

The fun part of this museum is trying to ascertain what is real and what is not.

Legitimate Levi’s jeans, Bic razors, Tabasco sauce, Hermès scarves, and Barbie dolls are displayed alongside pirated ones – and it’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference between them. In other cases there are tell-tale signs, including Lacoste crocodile logos that are just that little bit too big! Fake French goods are particularly in evidence and include all the usual suspects: Dior wallets, Louis Vuitton handbags, Givenchy perfume, and bottles of Cointreau.

The world of counterfeit drinks is particularly amusing with Dom Perignon faked as Dom Popignon, Suze as Buze, Pernod as Perrenod, and Byrrh as Pire.

Other similar-sounding fake brands include Minolux for Moulinex, Babie instead of Barbie, and Game Child in imitation of Game Boy. The ingenuity of the counterfeiter seems to be inexhaustible!

Most surprising are the examples of counterfeiting from the ancient world. Inside a small cabinet near the entrance to the museum are some wine amphorae plugs made by the Gauls in third century France in imitation of those used by their Roman overlords. It is a 2,000 year old take on the current craze for pirating DVDs and computer games.


Musée de la Contrefaçon exhibition hall (Facebook)

On a serious note the museum looks at the way counterfeit goods are today disseminated and sold, and the resultant impact on national and international economies. The importance of intellectual property is covered, too, as are the various sanctions and punishments that can be imposed if required. The story of the Union des Fabricants itself is also told, which was created in the late 19th century by several French pharmaceutical manufacturers, after they became aware that their products were being counterfeited in Germany.

Over time they began working towards the international protection of industrial property, and helped draft various ground-breaking industrial protection and trademark conventions. Bilateral treaties followed with the aim of protecting property between France and its industrial partners around the world. In 1901 they recommended the creation of the first register of trademarks, out of which grew today’s Institut National de la Propriété Industrielle.”


The Panthéon, in the 5th arrondissement of Paris (wikipedia)

And here’s what the book has to say about some extraordinary events at the Panthéon:

In 1744 the Bourbon King Louis XV (1715-1774) recovered from a grave illness while commanding his armies in the War of the Austrian Succession. Grateful to be alive he commissioned a church in honour of Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris, whose intercession had saved him. The resulting neo-Classical structure on the Montagne Sainte-Geneviève – now Place du Panthéon (5th) – features a cupola inspired by Louis XIV’s Dôme at Les Invalides and Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London.

When the church was completed in 1789 the French Revolution was underway.

As a result it was converted into a secular mausoleum where the tombs of suitable French notables could be placed. Renamed the Panthéon it was returned to the Church in 1806 by Napoleon (1804-1815), only to be secularised and then de-secularised again before becoming a civic building in 1885.

Today its atmospheric crypt still contains the remains of Voltaire, Rousseau, Dumas, Hugo, Zola, Braille, and both Curies.

During its checkered history the Panthéon has played host to two extraordinary events. The first occurred in 1851 when the French physicist Léon Foucault (1819-1868) demonstrated to the French public that the Earth spins on its own axis. Following a successful experiment at the Observatoire de Paris Foucault suspended a heavy metal ball from the dome of the Panthéon by means of a long wire. Once set in motion the ball continued to swing in the same plane, while the ground rotated several degrees each hour beneath it, the motion being recorded on a circular track on the floor. Known as Foucault’s Pendulum the demonstration provided the first dynamic proof of the Earth’s rotation.

By comparison the second extraordinary event was a secretive one. In September 2005 an underground cultural guerrilla group calling itself Untergunther UX took up residence in the Panthéon without anyone knowing it. As part of their brief to restore France’s unloved cultural heritage they set about repairing a 19th century wall clock that had not worked since the 1960s.

Not only did they establish a clandestine workshop behind the clock face but they also tapped into the local electricity grid, and even installed easy chairs to relax in! With several new parts made from scratch the group eventually spent a total of 4,000 Euros and untold hours on the project.

The Urban eXperiment (or UX) Pantheon’s Clock project (Vimeo)

In October 2006, with restoration of the clock complete, the group revealed itself to the Panthéon’s curator. They did this less for the publicity value and more because they relied on the staff of the Panthéon to keep the newly-restored clock wound in the future. Not surprisingly the Centre des Monuments Nationaux, the French heritage agency whose perceived inadequacies motivated the group’s actions in the first place, were embarrassed by the ease with which the group were able to remain in the Panthéon after hours. Legal action was sought against the group but when the case came to court in 2007 all charges were dismissed. The clock has remained unwound ever since.

Untergunther UX was formed in the 1980s, when as students in the Quartier Latin they held secret parties in tunnels under the city; since then they claim to have conducted more than a dozen covert restorations. Whatever one thinks of them it should be remembered that their activities continue a freethinking tradition stretching all the way back to the 12th century, when the theologian and philosopher Peter Abelard led a student exodus from Notre-Dame to the Église Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre on the Left Bank.”

Duncan himself talking about the book in his Youtube video.

The 2nd edition of “Only in Paris” is published by The Urban Explorer (ISBN: 978-3-9503662-9-7) and is available in paperback (240 pages, 200 colour photos, and two fold-out maps) at most bookshops and online at

Please visit for more details.



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Last modified onSaturday, 18 February 2017 17:10
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