Growth of a City
After 1850: Haussmann and the Creation of Modern Paris

Growth of a City

The city of Paris literally evolved from a kernel—the Ile de la Cité in the middle of the Seine, which constituted the Gallic settlement of Lutèce, occupied by the Parisii tribe.

As seen on the diagram, the growth of Paris is delineated as a series of fortifications and ramparts. The original Gallo-Roman wall, that protected the Ile de la Cité, is expanded by the wall of Philippe Auguste, built in the 12th and early 13th centuries, extending the protective limits of the city on the left bank of the Seine to include the Montagne Ste Geneviève and the Tour de Nesle, and on the right bank to
the fortress of the Louvre. The ramparts of Charles V (end of 14th century) extend the city on the right bank to the east, where fortresses like the Bastille protected trade routes into the city. Louis XIII, in the first half of the 17th century, extended fortifications on the right bank to the west, in order to protect the Louvre and Tuileries. The area described forms the core of the Old Paris, as it still existed in Balzac’s time.

One can measure the rapid expansion of the city in the 18th and 19th centuries by noting the amount of land incorporated in the next two, successive, placing of city limits. The famous « barriers » of the Fermiers-Généraux—57 toll gates—were erected from 1784 to 1791 to enclose a city that now extended from the Observatoire to the south, to the villages of Passy in the West, Montmartre in the north, and Bercy in the east, an area that occupied all of the « cuvette » formed by the Seine. The fortifications of Thiers (1841-1845) annexed the high ground around the city, and with it what were then the villages of Vaugirard, Auteuil, and LaVillette, among others. With the addition of the Bois de Boulougne and the Bois de Vincennes, established under Napoléon III in the second half of the 19th century, we have the city limits of Paris today.

The diagram is taken from the Guide Michelin, Paris et ses banlieues (Paris, 2002), p.5. click to enlarge

Plan de Paris During the Time of Louis XIII (1610-1643)

The map presents Paris as it was in the first half of the 17th century. As seen, the Château des Tuileries and the gallery of the Louvre fronting the Seine had already been constructed. The transformation of the Cour Carrée into a classical structure, and construction of the Colonnade du Louvre on its east facade, however, were later completed under Louis XIV.


Up to and including the 17th century, urban development in Paris was more or less dependent on the choice of a sovereign to favor his Parisian domicile over one located elsewhere. Louis XIV, for example, ultimately choose to locate at the Château de Versailles, outside of Paris. Thus the monumental aspect of Paris grew haphazardly, as kings and powerful nobles choose to build or not to build.

The map is taken from Histoire physique, civile et morale de Paris, depuis les premiers temps historiques jusqu’à nos jours, par J-A. Dulaure, 6e édition (Paris : Furne et Cie), 1838.

Monuments before 1800
A number of monuments familiar to the visitor today were built before 1800. Except for the Château des Tuileries, burned down in 1871 and never rebuilt, all these monuments exist today. Their settings however have been radically changed.

A partial list with approximate dates includes:

Château des Tuileries 1572



Place des Vosges


Palais et Jardin du Luxembourg

La Sorbonne 1642
Le Val-de-Grâce 1645
L’Observatoire 1672
Les Invalides 1676
L’Institut (College des 4 nations) 1688

Place Vendôme


Around 1760, we see construction of three more familiar sites:

L ‘Ecole militaire
Le Panthéon
La Place Louis XV, today Place de la Concorde

Le Palais-Royal c. 1630 construction of Palais by Richelieu
  c. 1780 construction of arcaded galleries


After 1850: Haussmann and the Creation of Modern Paris
In 1859, the poet Charles Baudelaire wrote the following lines, in reaction to the transformations that were overtaking the more comfortable Paris of the July Monarchy:

Le vieux Paris n’est plus (la forme d’une ville
Change plus vite, hélas ! que le cœur d’un mortel)
Paris change ! Mais rien dans ma mélancolie
N’a bougé !

[The old Paris is no more (the form of a city
Changes more quickly, alas, than the heart of a mortal)
Paris is changing! But nothing in my melancholy has

« Le Cygne », 1857, Les Fleurs du Mal (Paris : Garnier), 1961, p. 95.

Baudelaire’s poem describes the poet passing through the « nouveau Carrousel, » reflecting on, and lamenting, the destruction under Baron Haussmann of the old houses in the « quartier » between theArc du Carrousel and the Louvre—in effect, executing the project that was first put into motion by Napoléon I. Under Napoléon III, the north wing of the Louvre was completed, and the Rue de Rivoli carved through to join the Rue St. Antoine, providing clear passage all the way to the Place de la Bastille. The streets and houses between Tuileries and Louvre, which Balzac found so sinister, in fact housed a number of poets and artists in the 1830s and 1840s, notably Gérard de Nerval in 1835-1836. As described in Baudelaire’s poem, Haussmann would level these structures. Only the Palais des Tuileries, present until 1871, remained to block what today is the monumental vista that sweeps from the Cour Carrée, through the Arc du Carrousel, to the Place de la Concorde, the Arc de Triomphe, and on to the Great Arch of La Défense on a clear day.

The landscape of Paris was radically altered by the works of Baron Haussmann, who literally carved the monumental boulevards and vistas we know today out of what was still, at the end of Balzac’s life, a medieval city. A tourist of today, with a time machine, could return to the year 1900 without being estranged. To return to 1850, would be an exercise in alienation. Using the map of today’s streets and monuments displayed, if one systematically erases from it all the features and edifices listed below, all constructed after 1850, one has a striking idea of how different the Paris Balzac knew was from the modern city.

  1852-1870 The « grands boulevards » and the « gares » (Gare du Nord – 1865)
  1875 L’Opéra (Charles Garnier)
  1889 La Tour Eiffel
  c. 1900 Le Métro (first line Maillot-Vincennes – 1900)
    Le Petit Palais
    Le Grand Palais
    Le Pont Alexandre III
    Le Sacré-Cœur
  1937 Le Palais de Chailot
  1973 Le Tour Montparnasse
  1977 Le Centre Georges-Pompidou
  1988 La Pyramide du Louvre
  1989 La Grande Arche de la Défense


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