In the period from 1853-1870 Paris turned a corner and emerged from being an overgrown mediaeval city to become a modern capital. Only in the last twenty years have there been any major modifications to the broad lines laid down by Haussmann.Life of Haussmann
It was under Napoleon that Georges Haussmann was born on March 27, 1809, in a small house entre cour et jardin in the rue Faubourg le Roule, a house that he had demolished when he was Prefect of the Seine to make room for the boulevard that bears his name.
Haussmann’s parents were financially
comfortable but not wealthy. Both were protestant, a fact of considerable
social importance then as now in France. His father, Nicolas Valentin Haussmann,
came from an Alsatian family of textile merchants. His grandfather, also
Nicolas, was born in 1760 and had set up a textile printing works near
Colmar which, with the chemical knowledge of Nicolas’ elder brother Jean-Michel,
had been a pioneer in that field. At the Exposition in 1819 the Haussmann’s
won a gold medal for having been the first to apply lithographic printing
to textriles. Both father and grandfather were men of no uncertain character
or political conviction Georges Haussmann grew up in close contact with
both of them, and the fact that he consciously inherited their experience
throws some light on his ways of thinking and acting in later life.
The Transformation of Paris 1858-1870
In 1858, practically the whole of
the first reseau, the intial programme of public works, was completed.
All subsequent works were classified into a second and a third reseau,
but they were not divided into two naturally homogeneous groups. Taken
together the works had a logical unity. They were classified into two groups
because Haussmann knew in 1858 that the ministers and parliament would
never agree that the entire network was ‘in the public interest’. When,
therefore, Haussmann discussed with the Ministers of Public Works and Finance
a treaty between the state and the City of Paris, whereby the state world
make some financial contribution to his public works, he could persuade
them to include in the treaty only the remaining parts of the Emperor’s
a plans and a few other roads, for instance round the Opera, which he slipped
in with the rest. The works covered by the treaty constituted what was
known as the second reseau.
The rest of his schemes Haussmann kept back; to be carried out as he found the means. These constituted the third reseau. Since the suburban communes were not annexed until the year after the treaty was signed, all work in these communes was necessarily classified under this reseau.
The first and second reseaux, therefore, were based on Louis Napoleon’s plans, and were executed with the financial participation of the state. Most of the work of the third reseau was complementary to the second, and was carried out concurrently. The methods Haussmann used were debateable, and when discovered raised a storm of opposition which eventually drove him form office. But the whole financial aspect of the transformation of Paris was so complicated and bound up with the decline of the Second Empire and with Haussmann’s fall that it has been reserved for a separate chapter.
The estimated cost of the second
reseau was 180 million francs. On March 3, 1858, the treaty was signed
between the government and the municipality whereby the state agreed to
contribute one-third of the cost. The Ministers of Public Works and Finance
signed it for the state and by the Prefect of the Seine, subject to the
approval of the Minister of the Interior, for Paris. The work was to be
executed within two years, and annual financial statements submitted to
a special committee of experts. The Corps Legislatif modified the original
proposal, and, fearful of Haussmann’s extravagance, stipulated a maximum
state contribution of 50 million francs.
Haussmann presented the treaty to the municipal council for approval together with a nice specimen of municipal oratory. ‘Today,’ he told them, ‘you stand between two major, clearly marked financial periods; the first of which ran from 1852 to 1858, the second starting in 1859….’ He talked of ‘the urgent needs which you are in a better position that anyone else to understand….’ Moreover, ‘no one is less disposed foolish extravagance….’ He flattered their ‘prudent foresight’ is seeing how the population of Paris would continue to grow with the railways. In fact he congratulated them on the way they had learnt the lessons he had been repeating to them for six years.
The treaty became law on May 28,
1858, and the way was open for the next stage in the transformation of
By 1858 the first reseau had already modified the Paris of 1853. The rue de Rivoli now extended in the east as far as the Hotel de Ville. The north-south route was complete except for a short link across the Ile de la Cite to join the boulevard St Michel with the boulevard de Sebastopol. Haussmann planned to build this link, and also to continue the rue de Rivoli to join the rue St Antoine to the east. This completed the world-famous highway which runs right across Paris form Neuilly in the west by way of the Etoile, the Champs Elysees, the place de la Concorde, rue de Rivioli, the Bastille, to Vincennes in the east.
The next task was to open up the
new gateways of the city, the railway termini. The boulevard de Sebastopol
already served the gare de l’Est, and after 1864 the agree du Nord. But
to open up these two stations on all sides Haussmann extended the rue de
La Fayette south-west from the stations to the business centre, and built
the boulevard Magenta south-east towards the gare de Lyon, the terminus
for the south. From the gare de Lyon to the dock and warehouse area of
Bercy he constructed the avenue Daumesnil, which also became the main road
to the Bois de Vincennes. The gare St Lazare, for the northwest of France,
he linked to the centre of Paris by the rue Auber, and opened up the approaches
to the gare de l’Ouest (Montparnasse) by the rue de Rennes.
Two more things remained to be done: to join the new suburbs with the city itself, and to provide a circular route running round the north and south of the city.
The rapidly growing industrial areas in the suburban communes he linked to the centre by radial highways. The boulevard Malesherbes opened up Batignolles in the north-west; the boulevards Barbes and Ornano served Montmartre and Clignancourt in the north; the rue de La Fayette Brought the main artery from La Villette in the north-east right into the centre of Paris.
It was also important the people
and goods should be able to cross Paris without striking into the crowded
centre each time, and the inner ring of boulevards was no longer adequate,
especially in the south. In the second reseau Haussmann therefore started
the boulevard St Germain, parallel with the rue des Ecoles which had been
Louis Napoleon’s original inadequate idea for a boulevard on the left bank,
and completed the southern outer ring by the boulevards St Marcel and Port-Royal,
which joined the boulevard St Michel south of the university. The line
of the inner boulevard du Prince Eugene (Voltaire) and the boulevard Richard
Lenoir, and to the west by the boulevard Haussmann, the boulevard Malesherbes,
and the avenue Friedland which linked the inner boulevards with the place
With these on his plan Haussmann was faced with seven roads, unevenly spaced and of unequal importance. He had plenty of space, for beyond the Arc de Triomphe, and even between it and the city, there was as yet no systematic building. Batignolles, the nearest built-up area, lay to the north and the extended village of Passy far t the south. Haussmann therefore opened two new roads in the right angle between the avenue Kleber and the Champs Elysees; these were the avenue d’Iena and avenue Josephine (Marceau); and it was this whole section which Joseph Thome developed during the period 1864-7. Balancing these on the other side of the circle he cut the avenue Prince Jerome and avenue Essling (Mac-Mahon and Carnot). Finally, to complete the symmetry, he put the avenue de la Reine Hortense (Hoche) between the avenue Wagram and the avenue Friedland.
The final touch was a circular road (rue de Tilsitt-Presbourg) round the outside of the houses overlooking the place de l’Etoile. This was intended to free the place ifself from the carriages which might be expected to call on the wealthy tenants likely to live there. A uniform design was imposed on the houses which surrounded the place, with a small garden and frille at the back giving on to this circular road. Haussmann baldly remarks that this design by on e of his architects, Hittorff, was so bad that he had to mask the fronts with trees; but at least in ensure the uniformity without which half the effect of the street planning would have been lost.
Haussmann imposed a pattern on Paris, which has dominated all future development. This has continued to be based on the great transurban routes, the radial roads to the suburbs, the strategic nodal points, and the circular boulevards. The pattern was by no means obvious to all his contemporaries. M. Lock, in the Temps in 1867, lamented the time when roads were built to serve the intimate and daily needs of the inhabitants of the town, and not as exercises in town planning.
‘One cannot grasp the intention
and scope of the plan.... One sees only long straight lines striking out
at random, illustrating all possible variations of the triangle and quadrangle,
except perhaps the regular forms of these geometrical figures.’ He thought
the respectable areas on the Right Bank had suffered more damage than the
left bank and he suspected, as many future critics were to do that the
main concern of the planners was public security. ‘If it was not a plot
directed against the Parisians themselves, one must suppose that Paris
planning has for fifteen years been given over to geometricians, who have
amused themselves drawing lines indiscriminately from one point to another....’