La Samaritaine, from the humility of the Gospel to the audacity of the temple of luxury

Held on June 23 in the presence of President Macron, the reopening of La Samaritaine was very expected by the Parisians, not only because it is the restoration of the historic building of the once most popular department store city , but also to integrate a project begun 20 years for LVMH, the flagship French luxury company run by billionaire businessman Bernard Arnault.

The spectacular work includes shops, offices, apartments and an emblematic Cheval Blanc hotel that will open on September 7th. Opposite the Pont Neuf, this 72-room palace will lavish luxury with 4 bars and restaurants, a roof top with an exceptional view, a Dior SPA that is unique in the world, a huge swimming pool and an avant-garde gym.

The French President inaugurating the new Samaritaine on the 23rd of June
The French President inaugurating the new Samaritaine on the 23rd of June

One of the curiosities of this new temple of luxury will be its name. The magnificence of the place contrasts with the humility of the wise Samaritan woman who, according to the Gospel of Saint John, would have offered water to Christ at the edge of Jacob’s well. The person responsible for this strangeness is King Henri IV, who ordered the construction of a pump in 1602 hydraulic, sophisticated machine erected on the side of the second pillar of the Pont Neuf to carry water from the Seine to the gardens of the Louvre and Tuileries palaces . To make Parisian Catholics forget their past as a Protestant rebel, the King had multiplied the works, the Place des Vosges, the gallery on the riverbank, and the bridge itself, and wanted to offer the population this important improvement in the distribution of water.

The Samaritaine, hydraulic pump attached to the Pont Neuf
The Samaritaine, hydraulic pump attached to the Pont Neuf

Very modern at the time, the immense construction included bronze machinery and a masonry building erected on stilts where the engineer responsible for the proper functioning of the pump was housed. In the tower that crowned the mansion, symbolizing the distribution of water, there were two bronze sculptures, one of Christ and another of the Samaritan woman, who quickly gave her name to the set. For nearly two centuries, the hydraulic pump has fulfilled its role, and has been rehabilitated several times. It began to decay in the reign of Louis XVI, and was plucked during the Revolution when machinery and sculptures were fused by the Army. It was the end of the Samaritan woman that Napoleon had dismantled in 1813.

The art nouveau architecture of the eastern strip
The art nouveau architecture of the eastern strip

But the name stuck, and was used years later by street vendor Ernest Cognacq, who sold fabrics in front of the bridge under a large red parasol. When he opened his first store in the same location in 1868, he chose to call it La Samaritaine to resemble the famous hydraulic pump. With the help of his wife, a former Bon March├ę saleswoman , Cognacq revolutionized Parisian commerce. Low, fixed prices, free access to products, credit for consumers Transformed the small point of sale into the biggest department store in Paris. Success led to the installation of annexes all the way to Rue de Rivoli and, in the 1960s, the group’s advertising proudly warned: ÔÇťOn trouve tout ├á La Samaritaine . ┬╗

But from the 70s onwards, La Samaritaine began to decline, closing most of its activities, giving up luxury, building materials and pets in order to focus unsuccessfully on fashion and decoration. Threatened with bankruptcy, it is bought in 2001 by the LVMH group, which in 2005 decides to take advantage of its unique location and its exceptional architectural collection to launch an iconic renovation project. La Samaritaine , the name of the poor and excluded pagan in the New Testament, began on that date its journey to become one of the most audacious temples of world luxury.

La Samaritaine, the name proudly placed on the sash of Rue de Rivoli
La Samaritaine, the name proudly placed on the sash of Rue de Rivoli

But from the 70s onwards, La Samaritaine began to decline, closing most of its activities, giving up luxury, building materials and pets in order to focus unsuccessfully on fashion and decoration. Threatened with bankruptcy, it is bought in 2001 by the LVMH group, which in 2005 decides to take advantage of its unique location and its exceptional architectural collection to launch an iconic renovation project. La Samaritaine , the name of the poor and excluded pagan in the New Testament, began on that date its journey to become one of the most audacious temples of world luxury.