When walking along the Seine river in the heart of Paris, you may notice some interesting looking green boxes along the quays of the river. These are the Bouquinistes of Paris.
The bouquinists are lined along the quais of the Seine towards the center of the city, around Notre Dame de Paris cathedral extending out on either side. They make a sort of mini outdoor market on both the Left and Right banks of the river.
If you are looking to buy a few antique books, paintings or postcards, these bouquinistes stalls are wonderful to visit. And not to worry, most of the book stall sellers speak English. So let’s have a closer look at the bouquinistes of Paris, shall we? Allons-y!
Everything is 2nd hand, a tradition dating back to the 16th century. The word bouquiniste comes from the French word bouquin, a slang form of the word livre for “book”. It comes from the Flemish word “boeckin” meaning small book, itself derived from the medieval Middle Dutch “boek”.
At the time, the bridges in Paris were lined with shops and buildings (like the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy). The Pont Neuf, which was built in 1578, was the first bridge in Paris not to be covered over with buildings.
Along with the quays, the new bridges became a favorite place for vendors selling all sorts of wares to set up portable-shops. They would set up during the day and close and take everything with them in the evening.
All sorts of items were sold, including 2nd hand books, letters, trinkets, etc. At the time, illiteracy was high and books belonged usually to the nobility and bourgeoisie. Thus only 2nd hand books were accessible to the vast majority of the public.
In 1859, the city of Paris allowed the bouquinistes to be established at fixed points. Each one is entitled to 10 metres of railing for an annual fee. The openings are from sunrise to sunset. Finally, in 1930 the dimensions of the “green boxes” were fixed.
Number of Stalls
These little stalls are considered a UNESCO World Heritage site, and there are over 230 stalls installed along 3 kilometres of the Seine, with around 900 green boxes lining the quays.
There is everything from old books, historic journals, stamps and trading cards. The Bouquinistes de Paris are usually open every day from morning to sunset.
However, the number of bouquinistes in Paris is decreasing. With online booksellers like Amazon and traffic restrictions in Paris, fewer and fewer Parisians make their way to the shop at the bouquinistes. Much of the foot traffic these days is from visitors to PAris.
Certain covered flea markets on the edge of Paris, have also become popular to find antique books and postcards, which adds to the economic pressure. Nonetheless, the bouquinists remain an integral part of the culture of Paris and France, to enjoy as long as possible.
If you enjoyed that article, you may like to read more about visiting Paris. A bientôt!