Beyond the glitz and glamor of the famed City of Lights lie hidden pearls where history and folklore come together. Take the time to stroll the quieter streets of Paris and you can stumble across many landmarks less frequented by the masses. Among these out-of-the-way treasures, you can find the Maison de Nicolas Flamel, France’s most famous, supposed alchemist.
Although born sometime in the 14th century, Nicolas Flamel has gained notoriety through history as an alleged alchemist. His reputation with the occult thrived for so long, J.K. Rowling included him and the lore surrounding his life as part of the magical world of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone for the British version). It’s believed by many that Flamel found an ancient book that taught him the secrets of alchemy, the process of transforming elements into different forms, specifically, gold.
However, there’s no solid proof that Flamel ever mastered this mythological process. In fact, he spent most of life as a bookseller and donating his fortunes to the building of almshouses for the poor. One such house sits at number 51 Rue de Montmorency. The Maison de Nicolas Flamel is named so for the man who had it built, rather than for who resided within its walls. Built in 1407, it’s the oldest of Flamel’s sponsored almshouses that remains intact, and one of the oldest stone houses of Paris.
Today, you can visit the Flamel House and admire its intricate architecture from the outside. Inscribed above the door in French you find the words:
“We men and women labourers residing in the entryway of this house, which was built in the year 1407, vow to recite each day Our Father who Art in Heaven and Ave Maria, praying to God by whose grace accords pardon to those poor sinners (who) trespass. Amen.”
Combined with mesmerizing etchings of angels in the stone pillars, the Maison de Nicolas Flamel exhibits the deeply religious roots that influenced the building of these almshouses.
On the house’s ground floor stands Auberge de Nicolas Flamel, known as Paris’ oldest inn, today a restaurant. Serving elevated French cuisine, it’s a luxurious culinary experience, complete with delicious fare and an elegant ambience.