Postcard from... Paris


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The Independent Online

The most misguidingly named building in Paris is closing for renovations. Its residents, which have included the terrorist Carlos the Jackal, will weep few tears.

La Santé prison is a bizarre intrusion into residential Paris, a short stroll from Montparnasse and just around the corner from the entrance to the catacombs. Its grim walls and tower look like a Hollywood movie set for a 19th-century jail, parachuted into the leafy Paris boulevards.

La Santé (meaning “good health”) has been the principal prison within the French capital since it was built in 1867. Its most infamous inmates have included the Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega and serial bank-robber Jacques Mesrine.

Mesrine’s iconic status is based partly on his escape from La Santé in 1978 – one of only three successful unscheduled departures in its 147 years.

Most of the prisoners are departing to a suburban jail for at least five years as parts of a £790m renovation programme for the worst French jails. Only 100 “day release” inmates will remain.

If you want to know what a stretch in La Santé felt like, it will be open to the public for the first time on the annual Journées du Patrimoines – heritage days – from 21-22 September.