Paris Book Stands Seek UNESCO Status

Parisian bouquinistes

The distinctive green stalls of Parisian bouquinistes, or book stalls, have long graced the banks of the Seine River. However, as big book retailers and online sales have cut into vendors' revenues stall owners are exploring the possibility of having UNESCO name the bouquinistes as intangible cultural heritage.

The bouquinistes date back to the 1500s, when they began popping up around the Pont Neuf. In 1649, roving book peddlers were banned in Paris, prompting many of them to open up more permanent bookstalls to bypass the ban. After the French Revolution, the sale of second-hand books in the bouquinistes boomed as the vast libraries of wealthy nobles were looted and sold. The bouquinistes finally received official sanction under the government of Napoléon Bonaparte. At the time, the stalls spread along a 1-kilometer section of the Seine, from the Quai Voltaire to the Pont Saint-Michel.

By the 1850s, the bouquinistes were assigned individual spots and proprietors paid the city an annual fee to rent a 10-meter space. Today, the distinctive green bookstalls line a 4-kilometer stretch of the Seine. There are an estimated 900 bouquinistes in Paris today, selling around 300,000 books and magazines. As book sales have declined, many of the booksellers have supplemented their book stock with art, jewelry and fabric. This has been met with censure by the Parisian government, as bouquiniste licenses only allow vendors to sell books and engravings.

Jerome Callais, bookseller and president of the Association of Paris Bouquinistes, became concerned by his declining sales and decided to petition for inclusion on UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list. With the help of local politicians, Callais was able to win approval to petition the Ministry of Culture, which is allowed to submit a candidate for the UNESCO list every two years. Despite the support from the city government of Paris, the Ministry has not commented on whether it will select the bouquinistes as their candidate for the UNESCO list.

Some book vendors have expressed skepticism that a UNESCO world heritage status will save their declining businesses, pointing out that the culture of literature and reading is disappearing due to the internet and the widespread use of phones. Others have noted that the Banks of the Seine in Paris are already listed on UNESCO's World Heritage List.

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