A Journey into the Fascinating Little World of the Narrowest Street in Paris
Named after people, battles, dates, treaties, cities, nearby monuments, or simply – fishing cats! – some Parisian streets do have a way with astounding us on account of the appellations they carry. But what beats the weirdness of a name sometimes is often the backstory that accounts for it. The Street of the Fishing Cat (La Rue de la Chat qui Pêche) is more than an oddly named Parisian street. It is also the scene of a grim, century-old fairytale. So… Care for an eerie walk?
While rushing through the perpetual traffic in the Latin Quarter during the day, thousands of tourists walk past it without so much as a second glance. What looks like nothing more than a tiny alley between two buildings, is actually the narrowest street and the most curious street name in Parisian history. The Street of the Fishing Cat.
Built in 1540, it was originally an alleyway allowing residents to go as far as the banks of the Seine. At the time no quays were built, so the only access to the river was through a stairway leading down to the water.
Previously named Street of the Ovens, Street of the Fox and Street of the Boutiques, the narrow alley finally settled for The Street of the Fishing Cat – an eccentric title, inspired by the name of a shop signboard nearby. For all that, it needs no further explanation for its honor as the narrowest street: at a width of 1.8 meters and a total length of 29 m. It is perfectly possible to touch the walls on both sides of the street simultaneously if you gave it a try!
The mouth-watering aromas, coming straight from the back doors of restaurants opening directly to the alley, add a few more atmospheric strokes to the street’s already picturesque ambiance.
Especially charming in the dusky light of the evening, the passage remains immersed in a sort of relative, but apposite obscurity despite the rows of street lamps attempting to light it up.
A setting dark enough to provide the perfect “fade-in” to our obscure and enigmatic story…
The legend goes that in the 15th century a certain Dom Perlet, a canon engaged in alchemy, lived on this very street, along with his smart coal black cat. A particularly gifted fisher, who managed to catch fish with one swipe of its mighty paw, the cat went prowling by the river quite often by itself. Convinced that this was a matter of evil, three local students decided to kill the poor mouser and throw it into the Seine. They were quite certain that both the alchemist and the black cat were the impersonation of one and the same creature – the Devil! Curiously, once the cat died, the alchemist disappeared… but only to reappear again a bit later, like a reborn dusty traveller coming back from a long trip. As for the cat, it continued fishing peacefully by the banks of the river …
Unluckily, no one has ever seen the actual fishing cat in flagrante delicto, but you could console yourselves with a visual interpretation, inspired by the subject.
In this contemporary street art remake of the genuine legend (to be observed on a wall on the riverside stretch of the street) our feline friend is equipped with a handy angling kit. Armed with a fishing rod and escorted by a mysterious gentleman dressed in black (probably the infamous alchemist himself?), our four-pawed hero seems perfectly geared for the new fishing season. Looking at this conspicuous duo, still haunting the street to this very day, one can never be sure enough whether the curious story of this notorious pair is just another urban legend or something more indeed…?