Paris, dubbed the ‘The City of Light’ (“La Ville Lumière”), one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It’s beauty, admired and emulated by many, has withstood the test of time. Even Hitler considered Paris too beautiful to bomb during the World War 2.

If Paris is dubbed as one of the world’s most beautiful cities, it is in part because of the works of Georges-Eugène Haussmann.

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Georges-Eugène Haussmann. The destroyer of old Paris and the builder of the new Paris.

France under the rule of Napoleon III underwent a massive urban renewal. Napoleon III believed that rebuilding Paris would provide employment, improve living conditions and attest to the power and glory of his empire. In twenty years, Paris was literally transformed. He commissioned Georges-Eugène Haussmann for the overall renovation of Paris.

Haussmann was born in Paris on March 27, 1809 at 55 rue du Faubourg-du-Roule, in the neighborhood of Beaujon, in a house which he later demolished during his renovation of the city.

 

PARIS BEFORE HAUSSMANN

1852_parisianapartmenthouse

The Paris of the 1850s was not as beautiful as it is now. It was a labyrinth of dark narrow streets, the results of desperate overcrowding. The place is dark and dangerous with terrible slum conditions and high death rates. There were few open spaces and only two public parks for the entire city.

Since the roads are narrow, traffic was a persistent problem. The city center was also a simmering pot of rebellion and discontent. One such event is the February Revolution of 1848.

Barricade on the rue Soufflot, an 1848 painting by Horace Vernet.

Barricade on the rue Soufflot, an 1848 painting by Horace Vernet.

 

REDESIGNING PARIS

Napoleon III appoints Haussmann to lead the redesign of Paris.

Napoleon III appoints Haussmann to lead the redesign of Paris.

Georges-Eugène Haussmann lead the monumental undertaking of redesigning Paris. The major aspects of his plans include demolishing old buildings and slums, creating broad boulevards, providing better housing, greening Paris and improving the infrastructure beneath the city.

 

CUTTING THROUGH THE CITY

Haussmann’s first project in the city renovation is the building of broad, straight, tree-lined boulevards that cuts through centre of the city as well as other quarters.

Avenue des Champs-Élysées. One of Haussmann's wide tree-lined boulevards.

Avenue des Champs-Élysées. One of Haussmann’s wide tree-lined boulevards.

The boulevards are lined with trees and designed to be wide enough to accommodate the cavalry. This enabled easier navigation throughout Paris. It had brought about light and circulation in the city. In order to do this, old buildings and slums were demolished. This also paved the way for the construction of better housing for the masses.

An aerial view of Paris showing the boulevards radiating from the Arc De Triomphe.

An aerial view of Paris showing the boulevards radiating from the Arc De Triomphe.

The broad, straight boulevards radiate out like the spokes of a wheel from the Arc Of Triumph and those centering on the new Opera House, afforded impressive vistas.

 

PARIS DOUBLES IN SIZE

The main boulevards added by Haussmann are outlined in red.

The main boulevards added by Haussmann are outlined in red.

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Works done during the second empire (1852-1870) in Paris

In 1860, the suburbs of Paris were annexed out around the existing city. From twelve arrondissements, it grew to twenty which is also the current number. The annexation called for Haussmann to enlarge his plans particularly with new boulevards that would could connect all the arrondissments to the city center.

 

THE GREENING OF PARIS

One lasting contribution of Haussmann to Paris is the major greening of the city. In just 17 years, they planted 600,000 trees and added 2,000 hectares of parks and green spaces to Paris. During its time, no city rivaled the gardens and parks of Paris.

Gustave Caillebotte - Paris Street; Rainy Day

Gustave Caillebotte – Paris Street; Rainy Day

The parks and open spaces that were created enabled Paris to become a walkable city; it’s an enjoyable city for motion. Parisians flock to the parks and promenading was a common way to enjoy one’s time. This also gave rise to the development of shops and botiques where people can walk by. And of course, in Paris, you have look your best even when just taking a leisurely stroll. That’s why Parisians have such sophisticated fashion style.

 

ARCHITECTURE

Haussmann may have demolished some old buildings but he renovated and preserved many old structures too particularly churches, temples and synagogues. He also paid special attention to the architectural details of public buildings and infrastructure; Up to the garden fences, kiosks, public urinals and lamp posts. These structures may be small and trivial city fixtures but Haussmann paid attention to them all.

One of Haussmann’s famous legacies are the Haussmann apartment buildings which line the boulevards of Paris. Haussmann treated buildings not as independent structures but as part of a unified urban landscape.

Before and After. Île de La Cité - Quai des Orfèvres & Pont St-Michel.

Before and After. Île de La Cité – Quai des Orfèvres & Pont St-Michel.

Rue Censier Formerly "Rue Sans-Chief", this street was a dead-end, the district had a bad reputation and was one of the dirtiest areas of the old Paris, due to industries along the Bièvres river (the river is now underground).

Rue Censier
Formerly “Rue Sans-Chief”, this street was a dead-end, the district had a bad reputation and was one of the dirtiest areas of the old Paris, due to industries along the Bièvres river (the river is now underground).

Before and after, Rue Soufflot.

Before and after, Rue Soufflot.

Boulevard Arago. The first pic was taken just after the opening of the new Boulevard, the real estate program following its opening hadn't even begun.

Boulevard Arago.
The first pic was taken just after the opening of the new Boulevard, the real estate program following its opening hadn’t even begun.

RENOVATION UNDERNEATH THE CITY

Not only did Haussmann paid attention to what is seen in Paris, he also rebuilt what is beneath Paris. The construction of new boulevards called for the redesign of pipes, sewers and tunnels under the streets.

Haussmann believed in the importance of having good sewers and aqueduct system for the city. Although not seen, he stressed its importance in the proper functioning of the city; It must provide good, clean water and take away the filth without spoiling the city’s beautiful exterior.

Avenue de l'Opéra. The Avenue, firstly named "Avenue Napoléon", has replaced a district which was a high place of prostitution and gambling.

Avenue de l’Opéra.
The Avenue, firstly named “Avenue Napoléon”, has replaced a district which was a high place of prostitution and gambling.

Boulevard Henri IV. The first pic shows a part of the terracing works.

Parc des Buttes Chaumont. The parc was built on a large quarry, which was famous for the quality of its stone, the quarry has served for many buildings in Paris and around, and even for overseas buildings (e.g. in the US) . The big rock on the pics was an important site of gallows till the opening of the parc.

Boulevard Henri IV. The first pic shows a part of the terracing works.

Boulevard Henri IV.
The first pic shows a part of the terracing works.

Aside from clean water and good sewer system, Haussmann also built an underground labyrinth that would provide gas for heat and lights to illuminate Paris. This gave way to the installation of gaslights in public and private places which illuminated the city at night. For the first time, Paris was indeed the City Of Light.

 

CRITICISM & OPPOSITION

With projects as grand as rebuilding Paris, Haussmann was met with a lot criticisms and opposition. His critics blamed him for the social disruption caused by his building projects. Haussmann was honest but he spent a lot of money on rebuilding Paris and this earned the ire of his critics. They accussed him of squandering the money. Despite what he did, Haussmann was eventually dismissed from his duties.

Before and after, Rue du Vieux-Colombier & St-Sulpice Church.

Before and after, Rue du Vieux-Colombier & St-Sulpice Church.

Rue Réaumur. On the left of the first pic we can see a small part of the largest and sadly famous "Cour des miracles" of Paris (dirty and scary slum districts known for their very high crime rate in the pre-Haussmann Paris). It's this one which is described in Victor Hugo's "Notre-Dame de Paris".

Rue Réaumur.
On the left of the first pic we can see a small part of the largest and sadly famous “Cour des miracles” of Paris (dirty and scary slum districts known for their very high crime rate in the pre-Haussmann Paris). It’s this one which is described in Victor Hugo’s “Notre-Dame de Paris”.

 

HINDSIGHT IS 20/20

Haussmann made Paris a beautiful city. His design and plans for Paris inspired other cities to do the same. The creation of similar boulevards, squares and parks were emulated in Brussels, Rome, Vienna, Stockholm, Madrid, Berline, Cologne and Barcelona.

Haussman’s influence also reached beyond Europe. His work also inspired the design of Central Park in New York and the City Beautiful Movement in the United States. The American architect Daniel Burnham also integrated some of Haussmann’s plan in his designs for Chicago.

Aside from aesthetic improvements in Paris, Hausmann’s work also improved the quality of life in the city. It industrialised Paris and greatly decreased sickness, mortality rates and congestion.

Paris, the epitome of a beautiful city, withstanding the test of time. Thanks to Haussmann’s vision and effort.

 

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Mary Rose - Citi IO

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