Smack bang in the middle of Paris there is a gigantic, winged and smiling angel attached to a wall and spanning three storeys.
And no one knows it’s there. Yep, it’s a secret.
Don’t believe me? Well if you go on Google and zoom in on the location – which is 57 Rue de Turbigo by the Arts et Metiers Metro station – it even says “The Secret Angel”.
Personally, I lived down the road from this street for two years and had no idea there was a nine-metre angel there, despite passing her countless times.
But when I saw her for the first time this week I was stunned. So peaceful, so beautiful, so… Parisian.
From her hand hangs some kind of tassled bag. Her wings stretch out over the shuttered windows of the balconies on the fifth floor of the building. Imagine walking out onto one of those balconies and standing underneath the wings of an angel…
Unfortunately, you’ll have to imagine too, because if you sneak inside, as I did, you’ll see there’s a big sign saying “no trespassers”.
So, who is she and what’s she doing up there?
The angel was designed by Eugène Demangeat in 1860, based on another man’s design for a lighthouse that was never built.
Some call it the biggest caryatid in Paris, although, considering she is just decoration and not actually a pillar, others would disagree that she is a caryatid at all.
Whatever she is, you can’t deny she is a sight to behold.
The story goes that Demangeat added the angel to the building to add an aesthetically pleasing touch to an otherwise plain corner of the building. If it’s true, he certainly succeeded.
A book called “Angels of Paris: An Architectural Tour Through the History of Paris” suggests that the angel’s neo-Grecian profile and Renaissance-style hairdo reflect the decorative textile trimmings industry that enjoyed a rebirth in the mid-19th century.
It’s perhaps no coincidence, then, that she is just down the road from Sentier, the garment district of Paris.
So why doesn’t anyone notice her?
The main reason, I suppose, is that there are a bunch of trees right in front of the angel. They’re currently quite nicely pruned though, so if you’re on the other side of the street you shouldn’t have a problem.
But if you’re on the same side of the street as the angel, you will probably miss her. After all, how often do you look directly upwards when walking along a street? I mean, it’s a neck ache just to take it all in from underneath. Believe me, I tried.
In any case, ask yourself and your Parisian friends… have they noticed the angel of Turbigo? You might just surprise them.
And next time you’re feeling a little down, why not pass by 57 Rue de Turbigo and check her out. Just remember to look up. Way up.