Today, the limits of the city of Paris which is at the same time the département of Paris (n° 75) coincide with the expressway Boulevard Périphérique (“le Périph’” or “BP”), a 35km-long dual carriageway with the particular rule that entrants have priority over those already on the expressway. The speed limit is 70km/h but most of the time traffic jams don’t allow for that speed anyway. The Périphérique intérieur runs clockwise, the Périphérique extérieur counter-clockwise.
The strip between the boulevards des Maréchaux (“les Maréchaux”) and the Périph’ is occupied by social housing, schools, and sports equipment.
There are three “extensions” to the surface of the city of Paris that lie outside of this limit: the Bois de Boulogne park to the west, the Bois de Vincennes park to the east, and the Paris heliport in the southwest near the Seine river, belonging to the 15tharrondissement.
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.
The Ferme Générale was an outsourced customs, excise and tax collection operation created under King Louis XIV in 1681. It taxed goods coming into the city in the name of the king. Between 1784 and 1791, it built a 5m-high and 25 long wall around the city that was not meant to protect against invaders but to prevent any merchandise to enter the city without paying taxes. However, smugglers used the old quarries running under the wall in what is today the 14tharrondissement.
Two entry points of this tax wall can still be seen today: the lodges of the barrière d’Enfer at Denfert-Rochereau in the south (14tharrondissement), and the barrière du Trône at Place de la Nation (11th/12tharrondissements) to the east.
In the 14th century, King Charles V had a new wall built on the right bank but the Philippe Auguste wall was not demolished for all that, since it was considered so solid and wide that a cart could run on top of it.
Charles V was king of France from 1364 to 1380. His reign marks the end of the first part of the Hundred Years War, as he recovered almost all of the lands lost by his predecessors. He was a learned king who founded the first royal library, predecessor to the French National Library (Bibliothèque Nationale de France).
In 1356, Étienne Marcel, Prêvot des Marchands (a position similar to that of a mayor) had a new wall constructed on the right bank, however, he died before the works were completed. Charles V continued the fortification works following his tactics of terre déserte (“better a crushed land than a lost land”) and reinforced the Philippe Auguste wall on the left bank while creating a whole new wall on the right bank that was 5km long and consisted of a combination of ditches and earth-filled ramparts, the last of which was crowned by a small wall. The fortification extended beyond the Louvre Castle to the west, which made the castle lose its protective function. In the east, however, the residence of the king, the Hôtel Saint Pol, was poorly protected and therefore another small bastion was built: the Bastille. It protected against invasions through the Porte Sainte Antoine gate, and in case of an insurrection within Paris, it covered the road leading to the Château de Vincennes, the king’s residence outside of Paris.
The Charles V wall was destroyed in the 17th century, and there are few remains today. However, it left its imprint on the map of the city, as many boulevards run along the site of the fortification, such as boulevard Saint Denis, boulevard Saint Martin, boulevard du Temple, boulevard des Filles-du-Calvaire, boulevard Beaumarchais and boulevard Bourdon, to name only a few.
In 1672, Louis XIV, the Sun King, had a triumphal arch built on the site of one of the former wall’s gates, the Porte Saint Denis. Two years later, he had another triumphal arch built about 250m away, the Porte Saint Martin. The names are misleading since neither of them was ever meant to be a gate, but to glorify Louis XIV and his military victories.
In Gallo-Roman times, the population of Lutetia lived mostly on Cité Island and the south shore. There are still some remains to be seen today that will be the subject of a later blog post.
Philippe Auguste was king from 1180 to 1223 CE. He stands out among medieval kings of France for his long reign, his important military victories and his measures to reinforce the power of the king and put an end to feudalism.
He built the city wall that bears his name to defend Paris against attacks from the English Plantagenet dynasty in particular, coming from the north and the east. It was a simple wall 5km long with 77 towers.
Later he also built a second portion of the wall on the left bank, after Normandy fell into the hands of the Plantagenet, and an attack from the north-west had to be envisioned.
In order to protect Paris against invaders coming up the Seine river, Philippe Auguste had a fortress built, the Louvre Castle. (It was later demolished to make way for the Louvre Palace, but that’s a subject for another post.)
Since the first settlers built a fence around their settlement, the inhabitants of Paris have constructed walls around their habitat. As early as the 4th century CE, there were walls on Cité Island. As the city grew, new walls were erected, forming concentric circles, from Gallo-Roman times to the 21st century. Let’s have a closer look.
The city wall of Philippe Auguste dates back to the 13th century. Remains can be found near the Pantheon in the 5tharrondissement on the left bank, as well as in the 4tharrondissement on the right bank, in the Marais and near the Village Saint Paul.
TheGeneral Farmers Wall was built between 1784 and 1791 by the corporation of tax farmers. It was no longer a wall to protect Paris from invaders but to collect taxes on incoming goods.
Finally, the Adolphe Thiers Wallfrom 1846 corresponds more or less exactly to the boulevard des Maréchaux of today.
The present-day Paris city limitlies just a little over 100m further out and is marked by the Boulevard Périphérique (“Périph” or BP) expressway, a 35km-long ring road around Paris, but also including the Bois de Boulogne to the west, the Bois de Vincennes to the east, and a heliport in the southwest, near the Seine river.
We will have a closer look at each of these walls in the following posts. Stay tuned!