Oise Stone

Detail of the Peninsula Hotel

I’m a nerd when it comes to certain things. For one thing I actively love to learn. I want to know everything about everything. I gleefully watch anything on astrophysics because I genuinely wish it made sense to me. I take Harvard Business School courses in finance because I want to understand even though it bores me to death. I want to soak up every bit of information that I can. The harder it is for me to understand, the more I push myself. We are lucky to be at a point in human history where everything is at our fingertips. I fully take advantage of that. 

One thing I especially love, and actively pursue, is architecture. Like anyone I have my likes and dislikes, but in Paris I am mostly surrounded by beautiful displays of it. This probably makes me sound like a traditionalist but I sometimes wish the city would bulldoze anything after the 19th century and go back to it’s old ways so the entire city fulfilled Louis III and Haussmann’s wish of uniformity. If you think it can’t be done, one only need walk down Université to see an example of a new building built in the style of it’s 18th century counterparts. 

I had a boyfriend a few years ago, Vincent, who was an architect. One day he took me to the Arsenal Pavilion because they had an exposition on Haussmann. He knew architecture fascinated me and chose the date well. The Pavilion was concurrently showing another exhibition on the ground floor on the history of architecture in Paris, which his firm helped sponsor, as they were one of the preeminent firms in Paris taking part in a lot of the new green architecture that Paris is so obsessed with. Their designs were on display in the future Paris section. 

It was a great exhibition. I was surprised to learn that the beautiful architecture of Paris basically came from old fashioned catalogs (which they had displayed). For instance when choosing the iron on the balconies, you would go through a book, with different designs and patterns, and choose the one you wanted. I greatly enjoyed the exhibition and wished they had made it permanent. I learned so much. 

Parisian architecture has become a hobby for me. I can’t quite find enough information on it no matter how hard I seek it. Most books seem to be based on the city planning. I have found it impossible to find any books on the actual buildings.  

One particular area of interest for me became the stone. It’s called Lutetian Limestone or sometimes called Paris Stone. It came from beneath the 5th, 6th, 14th and 13th.

Paris sits on a geologically bowl like shape that was once immersed under the sea. This has led it to have geological strata containing many minerals, and is why the stone in Paris is specific to the area. The sedimentation is composed of sand, shellfish, and microscopic organisms. 40-45 million years and voila it turned into the world’s most famous limestone. 

Unfortunately you cannot explore the mines that the stone came from, and will incur a large fine if you try to, but they exist beneath your feet. As the city expanded the quarries were filled in and became the tunnels we know today. Part of which makes up the network of the Catacombs. 

Paris Mines 1908

Because of this expansion, in the 17th century Louis XIV’s chief minister created a commission that decided upon Oise as the stone that would replace these Parisian quarries. 90% of the stone for the Haussmannian era (1860-1927) came from Oise, and is called Oise stone. These days you’ll find it in England* (Trevor House), America (Stanford University), and the UAE. It sells for about 2,000€ a cubic metre. 

It’s probably super nerdy to be so interested in stone, but I wanted to see the process. How it’s mined, how they cut it, and eventually how they use it to create beautiful buildings like the Louvre and Notre Dame. I’m most interested to see how it was done before machinery was invented. I once asked Christian Kinnersley to accompany me on a trip to the quarries, but he thought it was idiotic, and so I never went.

But I hope to change that. The caverns are opened once a month for people to take tours. Of course if you’re a buyer you can get a private tour. I am still looking for the information on it and will update as soon as I find it. When I first wanted to make the trip there was a website that offered the tour information, but perhaps because of Covid they stopped that service because I can no longer find it. 

My next hope is to see a stone mason perform carving work. There is a good article here that talks about the refurbishment of the Peninsula Hotel, and an article here about stone work as a craft. I cannot imagine the time and patience is takes to carve. 

Take the Hôtel de Ville for example, or Notre Dame, with all of their carvings. There is even a building in the 16th I call the Dragon building. I’m not sure why the builder chose dragons (this could be a book btw), but they are carved into the building. There is also a beautiful mosaic of one in the entry way. Unfortunately it is not longer visible. Between 2016-2019 the building put a tint over the glass doors so you can’t look in.

The time and skill it takes... I wonder how many people it took to carve something like Hôtel de Ville. It probably isn’t a sought after craft in this day and age, but the people who execute those designs performed amazing feats. They deserve much respect. It’s only a shame that more isn’t written on it or them. 

*For information's sake Caen stone is the stone used for Canterbury Cathedral, Westminster Abby, and the Tower of London. 

The Dragon Building in the 16th.

The many statues carved into the Hotel de Ville

The sculptures carved into Notre Dame