The booksellers – bouquinistes in French – and their dark green boxesalong the river Seine appeared in the mid 16th century.
They flourished after the French Revolution (1789) when they had access the libraries which were confiscated from rich people (aristocrats) . They received the permission to hang the boxes on the stone walls of both banks of the Seine at the end of the 19th century. Since the Universal Exhibition in 1900, 200 booksellers are listed ( they own a license that is much prized and can take years to come by). The size of the boxes was regulated in the 1950’s. The last important date is 1991: bouquinistes have been on the Unesco World Heritage list since.
So as they have a role in preserving a cultural heritage these bouquinistes are exempted from paying taxes . This activity is strictly regulated and the booksellers have to conform to specific rules: first of all they must be open at least four days a week “qu’il pleuve, qu’il neige, qu’il vente” which means regardless of the weather; secondly each bouquiniste is allowed to have up to four boxes. Three of them must contain books only the last one can offers souvenirs, posters, antique postcards, collector’s stamps…
The bouquinistes are both antiquarian booksellers and second hand booksellers. The stalls stretch along both banks of the Seine and as said before 200 people are offering more than 300,000 books (mostly in French) at reasonable prices in the biggest open-air bookmarket in the world. To meet them you can have a walk on the right bank from Pont Marie to Quai du Louvre on the left bank from Quai de la Tournelle to Quai Voltaire. The bouquinistes open their boxes in the afternoon approximately from 2pm to 6pm.
Being a bouquiniste is hard work. To make it more pleasant and comfortable the town hall is experimenting new boxes which can protect from the rain and are easier to use.
Do you want to learn more about les bouquinistes? Website in French
Video: Booksellers along the Seine
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