The final city wall that was an actual wall was built between 1841 and 1844 on the orders of Adolphe Thiers, President of the Council, a position that corresponded to that of Prime Minister. It ran around the entire city, a space of almost 80km² and followed the boulevards des Maréchaux, a 33,7km-long ring road named after Marshals of the First French Empire that circles Paris and can today be traced by the PC (Petite Ceinture) buses (west) and the tram lines T3A (south and east) and T3B (east and north).
It was destroyed between 1919 and 1929, and only very few short sections remain, such as Bastion 44 in the rue du Bastion in the 17tharrondissement, the Poterne des Peupliers (a postern) in the 13tharrondissement or Bastion 1 at Porte de Bercy in the 12tharrondissement, in the middle of the Bercy interchange.
When you walk on Paris streets, you’re bound to notice the uniformity of the building facades. Almost everywhere you look, buildings will be the same height and in a similar style, with cream-colored stone facades.
These facades are called “Haussmann-style facades”. As I explained before, in the mid-1800s, Baron Haussmann, on orders from Emperor Napoléon III, transformed the city of Paris.
As part of the city’s transformation, the old houses were torn down, and new ones were built. The Immeuble de Rapport (Revenue House) and the Hôtel Particulier (Townhouse) became the reference for these buildings. They were meant to resemble each other, the esthetics of the rational. Now let’s have a closer look at these Haussmann buildings.
As you can see in the photo, then as now, the ground floor housed the shops opening onto the street. You’ll notice as well that the first floor just above the shops has a comparatively low ceiling. The rooms on this level were part of the shops or housed their back shops, workshops, or storage area. The second floor was the noble floor, with high ceilings and high windows that let in a lot of light. Wrought-iron balcony rails run along the façade. Can you see how the windows are smaller from one floor to the next as you go up? That’s because with each level you go up, the ceiling comes down. Accordingly, these levels were less expensive and people with slightly lower income than the rich second-floor people lived there. The wrought-iron rails running around the façade on the fifth floor mainly serve esthetic purposes.
The rooms under the roof were tiny and cramped servants’ rooms. Service staircases run down from their level directly to the kitchens of the second floor, so the servants could easily and discreetly access their workplaces. Today, many of these servants’ rooms have been reconfigured, often regrouped to form small apartments that are often rented to students. The second-floor apartments are still as they were in the old days, enormous rooms with high ceilings, stucco, giant fireplaces and big windows.
One thing that will strike you when you look at a map or a satellite view of Paris are those wide streets, called avenues and boulevards, that run through the city. They look like someone had drawn them with a ruler, which is somewhat unusual for an old European city. But they were drawn with a ruler, so to speak, by Baron George Eugène Haussmann. Let me tell you how and why he transformed Paris in the mid-1800s.
It was the time of the Second Empire, the reign of Napoléon III, nephew of Napoléon Bonaparte (who reigned during the First Empire). Napoléon III had lived in exile in London, and he had been impressed by the city that was rebuilt after the big fire of 1666, becoming a model for hygiene and modern urbanism. Made Prefect of the département Seine (Paris), Baron Haussmann was given the task by Napoléon III to transform Paris. The city was composed of crowded neighborhoods with narrow streets, dirt abounded, clean water and clean air were scarce.
Haussmann wanted to improve the flux of people, goods, air and water for the city. The name of his campaign was Paris embellie, Paris agrandie, Paris assainie – A more beautiful, bigger, and cleaner Paris. Another aim of his campaign was to prevent possible popular unrest, which was quite frequent in Paris: Following the 1789 French Revolution, there had been revolts notably in 1830 and 1848. (The 1830 uprising inspired the barricades in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables). By demolishing the old center of Paris, Haussmann deconstructed the centers of unrest and scattered the working-class population throughout the new neighborhoods. The old crowded neighborhoods were destroyed, narrow streets made way for large avenues and boulevards. The new train stations are served by some of them, to facilitate the transport of goods arriving by train. In order to improve hygiene through better air quality, new parks were created (Parc Montsouris in the south of the city, Parc des Buttes Chaumont in the northeast) and existing ones improved (Bois de Vincennes, Bois de Boulogne). A square (small park) was set up in each of the 80 neighborhoods. (Four neighborhoods constitute one arrondissement.) Haussmann also transformed the Place Saint Michel and its fountain which had marked him in his student times by its dirtiness.
In order to showcase monuments both new and old, Haussmann organized vast perspectives by creating avenues (such as the Avenue de l’Opéra for the Opéra Garnier) or squares, such as the one in front of Notre Dame.
In parallel, working with engineer Eugène Belgrand, Haussmann created a water conveyance network as well as a modern sewer network, and launched the construction of theaters (Théâtre de la Ville and Théâtre du Châtelet) and two train stations (Gare de Lyon and Gare de l’Est).
It is estimated that the works of Baron Haussmann modified 60% of the city of Paris. The new buildings lining all those new avenues and boulevards are a story in themselves.