On Thanksgiving Day I met a fellow blogger at Boulevard Haussmann in Paris. I thought I would share some photos with you, as well as tell you a little bit of history about Haussmann, and how he changed the face of Paris.
I’ve actually wanted to share with you, for awhile now, what the Parisian building called a “haussmannien” is all about. But I never managed to get a good collection of haussmannien buildings to illustrate the point. I’ve been collecting them one by one over the years. No shortage on Boulevard Haussmann, however!
Boulevard Haussmann is where you’ll find the Opera.
And the Printemps (with its windows decked out for the holidays).
And Galéries Lafayette.
Sorry, but I need to do a MINI FOOD DETOUR
(feel free to skip right down to the history part)
I can’t resist sharing a few photos from the Galéries Lafayette Gourmet store, which is now located kitty corner from the main store.
The marquise was so pretty I took a closeup.
This is a great place to stop and have lunch. Or pastries.
There are places to sit, and lots of different types of food to choose from (including sushi, American cookies, charcuterie, gelato and more). Holidays items have started to make their appearance.
And don’t forget the little market downstairs, which has everything from regular ole sliced bread to fancy things like sugar spoons.
I’m sorry to say that my tarragon-stuffed chicken was dry, but I tasted Elaine’s fish and it was divine. And mine came with those delicious fries.
The steak (which they are famous for) looked scrumptious and I’ll know what to get next time. The wait-staff and chef, Benoit, are personable and absolutely lovely. They took our coats, found a place for me to put my sac and let me know which items had gluten. Such customer service in France is practically unheard of! 😉
Okay, detour over. Time for the …
In 1852, Napoleon III gave carte blanche to George Eugène Haussmann to modernise Paris. Napoleon had lived in London for two years before being elected President of France (and three years before declaring himself emperor by a mostly peaceful coup d’etât at the end of 1851).
While in London, he was seduced by the changes that the Industrial Revolution wrought there. He envisaged changing the landscape of Paris in a similar fashion – from one that was increasingly insalubrious with poverty-packed lodgings, rife with disease and rickety in structure, to one that encompassed parks and modern spacious streets.
In a sense, Napoleon’s vision and Haussmann’s coup de force probably saved Paris because the wealthy had started to leave the town centre for a healthier life in the suburbs. The new architecture brought wealth and order back into the heart of Paris.
For nearly 18 years, Haussmann had the support of bankers and parliament to make these changes. In bulldozing the wide avenues necessary for these habitable “walls” (now called Haussmannien buildings), churches and cathedrals were torn down, as were historic places such as the market “des Innocents,” the tower of “Hospitaliers,” and the hotel Coligny, as well as a condemned apartments that displaced a number of poor people to the outskirts of Paris.
Why create this style of habitable walls? For one thing, it’s remarkably pretty and gives Paris the distinctive flavor it has today. Some of the characteristics are the black window guards (in many, though not all of them). (This one below is in the 8th).
The stone is always creamy-beige and generally cut in large blocks. This one below is in the 16th.
They delineate the streets (below is in the 5th),
the corners (below is in the 1st, I think),
and the Seine.
Napoleon (and Haussmann)’s goal was modernisation. With the wide, straight avenues, they would be able to have railroads put in, communications, sewers systems and aqueducts. They created a true Paris centre, rather than having the collection of small streets and rickety buildings that was keeping Paris firmly entrenched in the Middle Ages.
Haussmann had a solid team of people around him, including his engineer, Jean-Charles Alphand. He destroyed more than 20,000 houses and reconstructed more than double that number with clean running water and gas lines. It’s estimated that 60% of the capital was affected by his efforts.
He insisted that all building owners in the targeted areas clean the facades of their buildings once every ten years. All roads needed to be levelled and paved. The buildings had to be aligned, and the height limited to 20 meters (with streets the width of 20 meters).
Haussmann was credited with making the star-shaped Arc de Triomphe (with all the broad avenues coming off it) what it is today –
and his effects are visible in the majestic Champs Elysées.
Napoleon had an ulterior motive. In creating large avenues allowed for military to access the town centre in case of revolution. Bullets cannot turn corners and it would be difficult to upstage a revolt in the open like that without getting hit.
Napoleon even requested that Haussmann not put in the arcades that are found across from the Jardin des Tuilieries because that would be contrary to his goal in retaining order. Crowds can duck into arcades.
You can see a slice of the existing arcades at the bottom of each building.
Haussmann’s nickname was the “Borrower” and his unlimited finances, support, and unquestioned freedom eventually came to an end. It happened in 1869, but after a brief stay in Bordeaux, then Rome, he returned to Paris and attempted to work some more. Eventually he had to give up his renovation projects and the Haussmann regime officially ended.
He lived fully until the age of 82, conceding his state as an older man, but refusing to be a dotard. He lived vigorously until the end, just as he wished.
It took until after the Second World War for historians to fully appreciate the value brought about by Napoleon and Haussmann. Today their contribution is uncontested. Haussmann, under the aegis of Napoleon III, changed the face of Paris.