Paris – one of the most meticulous cities in the world is acknowledged for its art, fashion, architecture, and culinary experiences. The city houses many architectural relics like The Louvre, The Eiffel Tower, The Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris, etc., but Paris is more than that. Paris is one of the few cities in the world, famous for its architecture, cuisine, and literary tradition, equally. It is said that some of the greatest writers, philosophers, actors, intellectuals, etc., have called this city their home, and have made themselves at home in the cafes and restaurants, too.This city of wonders is also the land of the oldest and first-ever literary coffeehouses in the world called Café Le Procope, and today we are going to know all about it.  

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Café Le Procope, Paris: The oldest café in Paris - Sheet1
Outside the Café Le Procope © flickr.com

Deemed as the first literary coffeehouse of Paris and established in the year 1686 by the Sicilian chef, Procopio Cuto (also known by his Italian name Francesco Procopio Dei Coltelli and his French name François Procope), Café Le Procope lies on the 6th arrondissement of the street rue de l’Ancienne Comédie. Historical parchments claim that Jean de Thevenot originally introduced coffee to Parisians in the year 1657 and the growth of this heavenly beverage was slow until the opening of Café Le Procope. The cafe was the real French adaptation of the Oriental Coffeehouse and the first of its kind. The oldest café of Paris that’s still in operation, it became the hub of artistic and the literary community of Paris in 18th and 19th century because of its proximity to the Ancienne Comedie. 

Café Le Procope, Paris: The oldest café in Paris - Sheet2
Inside the Café Le Procope ©procope.com
Café Le Procope, Paris: The oldest café in Paris - Sheet3
Café Le Procope refurbished in 18th-century style ©procope.com

Procopio Cuto constructed the café directly opposite the newly opened Comedie Francoise. Comedie Francoise, endowed in the 1680s is the oldest active theatre company in the world and opened its doors in a theatre across the café, which became a stroke of fortune for this enterprise. The location of the restaurant served and further helped it become a gathering place of many noted French actors, authors, dramatists, musicians, politicians, revolutionaries, statesmen, scientists, poets, philosophers, literary critics, and other intellectuals. The locality of the café on the 6th Administrative District, at the left bank of River Seine, also makes it as an important tourist destination because the following arrondissement consists of many higher educational institutions, other famous cafes, and publishing houses since the 1950s. The 6th arrondissement also consists some of the most famous monuments of Paris such as Saint-Germain Abbey, St. Sulpice Church, the Pont des Arts, and the Jardin du Luxembourg, making the cafe increasingly known amongst the tourist as well as academic/citizen groups. 

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Café Le Procope, Paris: The oldest café in Paris - Sheet4
A view of the terraces of the café ©procope.com
Café Le Procope, Paris: The oldest café in Paris - Sheet5
Outside seating of the café ©procope.com

During its neoteric years, the café had been termed the Antre de Procope ( Antre meaning a cavern) because of its dark and unpleasantly-lighted interiors, even on a bright sunny day. The insides also included marble tables, over-head lamps, and checkered wallpapers. Historically enriched, this cafe saw the likes of Voltaire, Rousseau (author and philosopher), and other famous writers, musicians, philosophers, etc., which made it a firmly organized place to get a coffee and discussion /debate on. 

The culture that cultivated and developed with such cafés nurtured French artistic and literary movements and set up a futuristic approach for people to get together. It is said that during the turbulent days of 1789, one would always find individuals at the tables, drinking coffee and engaged in a debate about the revolution that was upon their heads. 

Café Le Procope, Paris: The oldest café in Paris - Sheet6
The paintings of the people who graced the cafe with their presence hang in the interiors, showcasing the essentials of history. ©procope.com

Although after the French Revolution, the Café Le Procope lost its prestige, sank to the level of an ordinary restaurant, and closed during the 1870s. The café reopened in its former glory, refurbished in an 18th-century style during the 1900s by its new owner. Now it consists of crystal chandeliers, oval portraits of all the famous people who graced the café with their presence, Pompeian red walls, etc. As you enter the café, you see the carpeted white-marble staircase, white linen tablecloths, and the chairs in upholstered brown leather. The outdoor and terrace seating comes with the classic promise of cobbled seats providing an individual with a complete vintage aura of a Parisian street. 

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With Café Le Procope as an ideal space to harmonize and unite, the French café culture has cultivated for its citizens and tourists with time. Such food/beverage joints have room for quiet book readers, tired tourists, business meets, or just some friends sharing and discussing their views. Such places of ancient and cultural importance are essential to savour because this is where ideas were born at some point in historical times.  

In the case of Café Le Procope, the position of the street and the building itself brings about history that runs so deep that centuries seem to have instilled in them an atmosphere, a character, and a unique-different spirit of their own. The Café Le Procope serves as a paramount historical medium for the people today because it passes on 300 years of knowledge of French antiquities and the growth of its urban fabric to the tourists and citizens, helping maintain the integrity. 

Author

Ansha Kohli is whimsical andenigmatic when it comes to her life. Wanting to pursue a career in architecture journalism after completing her graduation, she is on the road to seek something new and exciting, and subsequently enthusiastic to share as well as understand different philosophies associated with art and architecture.

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