One often refers to a “Haussmannian Paris” - the wide avenues, the parks… I realised that I haven’t really talked about Georges-Eugène Haussmann (1809-91), commonly known as Baron Haussmann, on my blog. So it’s time. I thought that a good place to start the post about him could be where his statue stands on “his boulevard”, the Boulevard Haussmann.
Haussmann was not an architect, engineer… he worked in public administration, became “prefect” – State’s representative - and worked as such in different French regions until he was nominated in Paris (or rather “The Seine”) in 1853. The Emperor Napoleon III needed a strong personality to fulfill his ambition to make Paris healthier, greater, more beautiful, less congested… It meant rebuilding large parts of the city and – in 1860 – to integrate villages and suburbs like Auteuil, Passy, Monceau-Batignolles, Montmartre, La Chapelle, Belleville… into a larger city with 20 arrondissements.
The narrow streets would disappear and be replaced by wide avenues, boulevards – east / west (Rue de Rivoli was among the first to be opened), south/north… With the help of an old map indicating the rebuilt streets, I tried to mark the major ones - only in a restricted part of Paris – on today’s "Google Earth". We should remember that the only parts of central Paris which did not undergo this “revolution” were more or less parts of the Marais and the Saint-Germain-des-Prés areas.
Here I have tried to show the traces of Boulevard Haussmann on an 1846 map, before it was built, and on a map from the end of 19th century (the blue part has actually the name of Avenue Friedland).
What of course is typically “haussmannian” is the type of buildings that you find along the new wide avenues. Here we can see typical buildings on part of the Boulevard Haussmann… knowing that the boulevard continues its long way eastwards to the department stores (Printemps, Lafayette…).
A typical “Haussmannian” building would offer space for shops on the ground floor and then a floor in between for shop equipment or space for the shop-owners. The second floor would be the “noble floor” (the elevators did not yet exist), with a wrought iron balcony, high ceilings and elegant rooms. On the top, under the attic, you would find very modest accommodations - mostly “chambres de bonnes”. This is also when gas and water came into the apartments and Paris got an adequate sewer system.
We must not forget that the complete rebuilding of the city also included the creation and / or modification of the majority of our present parks, squares and gardens (including the Bois de Boulogne and the Bois de Vincennes) and also large squares like Place de la République, Place de la Nation…
All this became “too much” for many. The projects were criticized and Baron Haussmann had to leave his office in 1870. But, most of his plans were executed, some a few decades later.
I guess that many of us have a wish to keep things as they are, not to "destroy" our beautiful city. Can one then imagine what many people may have thought during the 1850s, 1860s 1870s…. when the "Haussmannian revolution” took place?