Baron Haussmann

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?    


martinealison said...

Bonjour cher Peter,

Un article très intéressant... J'aime beaucoup les immeubles haussmanniens. L'appartement que j'ai acheté à Montmartre est haussmannien.
Je peux cependant tout à fait imaginer la crainte des Parisiens à cette époque. Aujourd'hui déjà j'ai du mal lorsqu'on détruit certaines bâtisses me demandant toujours ce qui va être construit à la place.

Gros bisous 🌺

claude said...

Il n'y a pas si longtemps, je me suis aperçue qu'il y avait de beaux immeubles rue Campagne Première. J'aime beaucoup les immeubles Haussmanniens et tout comme Martinealison, j'aime beaucoup moins ce qu'on bâtit maintenant lorsqu'un immeuble ancien est détruit.

Richard Ewen said...

Much of the street widening was influenced by the defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian war. Many narrow streets were barricaded and it was difficult to move troops quickly. Napoleon wanted to be able to have freedom of movement to defend the city and also protect the government from citizen uprisings that caused cobblestones to be dug up and thrown at police or troops from behind trash infused barricades.

Today what a pleasure to walk these wide avenues and enjoy the sites unlike those crowded narrow sidewalks of New York. Thank you, Peter, for this article. I enjoyed reading about the apartment development that if followed in our US cities today would diversify the land use and allow the inner city to enjoy mixed usage of property.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Richard, it was the numerous street uprisings using barricades in the first half of the 19th century that led to the Haussmann changes. The Franco-Prussian war was 1870-71, Haussmann was gone by then.

As Peter said, the changes also included new water, sewer, street lighting and other improvements that were sorely needed. At the time Paris was considered one of the dirtiest major cities in Europe.

Anonymous said...

Who called this fabled city to be "upside down", and who called it "a rebirth" of it when Haussmann undertook this historic overhaul?
Were they Parisians? Or visitors from everywhere else? That is the question :)
It all depended on who were expressing their views, when confronted with the sight that the city of Paris offered at the time. The messages of hope and hopelessness ran side by side.

In the middle of all this, a young lawyer by the name of Jules Verne had become a successful writer. The dramatic changes the city was subjected to fired his imagination, and thus propelled him to write a futuristic romance, a scientific prediction called "Paris in the Twentieth Century".

Of course, his astute literary agent talked him out of publishing the novel. It was the worst of all possible times to read a book about other future changes of the agent's beloved city. He guessed (correctly) that doing so would ruin Verne's career. He persuaded the writer to file the manuscript away for "future publishing".

Long believed lost, the novel was discovered in 1994, when Verne's great grandson opened a safe and found the manuscript. Often referred to as Verne's "lost novel", the work paints a view of a technological future civilization, where several of Verne's "predictions" wound up coming true...

Is it still a pattern, in plein 21st century, to dismiss from their jobs those who forever sealed their work for posterity? A long time ago, I learned about another Frenchman who suffered the same fate as Baron Haussmann: Marius Petipa.
Would you like to see where oh where Michael Jackson got some of his moves? This is a 110 year old choreography. It was created by the above mentioned, Marius Petipa, at the time Ballet Master of the Russian Imperial Ballet. I once read a comment on YouTube, saying that this ballerina was copying Michael Jackson's moves. Mais non! Pas du tout! It is the other way around: the clever boy found inspiration (and solace?) in the works of Petipa.

Opéra de Paris: from 4:08 to 4:48.


Thank you so much Peter for such a well researched, fantastic post!! It is always a pleasure to see your wonderful photos, especially when they show the city you love so much.

Jeanie said...

This is fascinating, Peter, filling in lots of bits I wasn't aware of, though I'd read a bit about Baron Haussman. This is the only Paris I know and I find it beautiful and functional. But I suspect that there was quite the uproar and I see that happen in this country all the time. Sometimes for the better, sometimes not. I'll review this post again. Lots to learn here.

Thérèse said...

Responsable de bien belles transformations dans Paris et ailleurs par ricochet.