It was once the center of the independent commune (municipality) of Belleville which was annexed by the City of Paris in 1860 and divided, importantly, between two arrondissements along its main street, the Rue de Belleville. Geographically, the neighborhood is situated on and around a hill, which is the second highest of the French capital after Montmartre. The name Belleville (literally "beautiful town") is most likely derived from belle vue (beautiful view).
During the first half of the 20th century, many immigrants settled there: Ottoman Armenians fleeing systematic massacres around 1918, Ottoman Greeks fleeing persecution in Anatolia around 1920, German Jews fleeing the systematic persecution around 1938, and Spaniards fleeing civil war in 1939. Many Algerians and Tunisian Jews arrived in the early 1960s.
Belleville is home to one of the largest congregations of the Reformed Church of France in Paris. The Église Réformée de Belleville has been in the area about a century.
During the 1980s Parisian artists and musicians, attracted by the cheaper rents, the numerous vacant large spaces, as well as the old Paris charm of its smaller streets (Belleville was ignored, perhaps spared, during much of the architectural modernization efforts and reparations of the 1960s and 1970s, the greatest exception being the area around the Place des Fêtes), started moving there. Many artists now live and work in Belleville and studios are scattered throughout the quartier. Some abandoned factories have been transformed into art squats, where several alternative artists and musicians, such as the band Les Rita Mitsouko began their careers.
The demographics of the neighborhood have undergone many changes throughout the decades. While Armenians, Greeks, and Ashkenazi Jews were once the predominant ethnic groups, North Africans, and more recently, sub-Saharan Africans have been displacing these others.
Within the neighborhood there is a cemetery and park, the Parc de Belleville, which ascends the western slope of the hill and offers, in addition to a panoramic view of the Paris skyline, a strikingly modern contrast to the classical gardens of the city center and the eccentric nineteenth century romanticism of the nearby Parc des Buttes Chaumont. An School of Architecture is also located in Belleville.
The iconic French singer Édith Piaf grew up there and, according to legend, was born under a lamppost on the steps of the Rue de Belleville. A commemorative plaque can be found at number 72. A true Bellevilloise, Piaf sang and spoke the French language in a way that epitomized the accent de Belleville, which has been compared to the Cockney accent of London, England, although the Parisian dialect is nowadays rarely heard. Belleville is prominently featured in the 2007 biographical film of her life, La Vie En Rose.
In terms of books the Malaussène Saga, a series of crime novels written by contemporary author Daniel Pennac, is set in Belleville. Belleville is the subject of several French songs, including Eddy Mitchell's Belleville ou Nashville? and Claude Nougaro's Le Barbier de Belleville.
Good Things Come in Threes; The Surreal 'Triplets of Belleville' Exudes a Somber Charm [ Corrected: 02/ 10/ 04 ]
Jan 30, 2004; The spirits of James Thurber, Tex Avery and Jacques Tati hover benevolently around "The Triplets of Belleville," Sylvain Chomet's...