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The Destruction of Paris

My last blog post dealt with copyrighted material and my search for images I could not find. I mentioned a couple of people and I thought I’d like to expand on them. Before I do, let’s set the stage in the mid-1800s in Paris under the rule of Napoleon III (the nephew of Napoleon).imgres

Paris up until the mid-1800s was still a medieval city

London was forced to rid itself of its medieval trappings in 1666. The Great Fire of London created the opportunity for the city to rebuild and become more contemporary. It took Paris almost 200-years to catch up but it wasn’t a fire that provided the catalyst.

Napoleon III hired Baron Haussmann as his Prefect of the Seine. Haussmann’s marching orders were to yank Paris out from its medieval roots and open it up. He did so by leveling a great part of the city, especially what we consider now to be the historical part of Paris. In its place, Haussmann created what we see today: the wide boulevards, the magnificent plazas or roundabouts with four and five streets converging, and the Haussmannian buildings lined up along the boulevards. He also took a city with only 87—out of 250—miles of street sewers and created a sewer system of covering almost 260 miles of streets. It was the most elaborate sewer system in Europe at the time. He also more than doubled the amount of fresh water to each Parisian.

Unfortunately, he also displaced many residents (estimates are in the millions) and created real estate speculation benefiting only a few. Gone were many historical buildings, passageways, and streets. For 17 years, Paris lived in a perpetual state of construction, dust, and noise.

The leaders of the Paris Commune (i.e., the city government) realized what was going to happen and they hired photographers to take pictures of the buildings and streets before Haussmann leveled them. These photographers included Charles Marville, Eugéne Atget, Pierre Emonds, Achille Quinet, and Henri Godefroy. Their photographs are like a taking a step back in history. Many of the photos were used by Leonard Pitt in his book Walks Through Lost Paris. His book takes you through the streets of Paris and is a pictorial “now and then” of contemporary pictures shown alongside the photos taken in the 1860s. He points out what remains and what is gone.

The leaders of the Paris Commune (i.e., the city government) realized what was going to happen and they hired photographers to take pictures of the buildings and streets before Haussmann leveled them. These photographers included Charles Marville, Eugéne Atget, Pierre Emonds, Achille Quinet, and Henri Godefroy. Their photographs are like a taking a step back in history. Many of the photos were used by Leonard Pitt in his book Walks Through Lost Paris. His book takes you through the streets of Paris and is a pictorial “now and then” of contemporary pictures shown alongside the photos taken in the 1860s. He points out what remains and what is gone.

If you want to see some of these remarkable photos…

I suggest you go to www.theimageworks.com and search under the names I’ve provided above. I also recommend you purchase Mr. Pitt’s book. It’s a great read and a book you’ll want to take with you on your next trip to Paris.

One of the places I take you in my book Where Did They Put the Guillotine? will be the site of Marat’s residence. It’s not there any longer but I found a photo of it taken by Pierre Emonds prior to its destruction. I can assure you this photo will be in my book.

Do we have a lot of stories?

Of course we do. I’m looking forward to sharing these with you. Please continue to visit our blog and perhaps subscribe so that you don’t miss out on the most recent blog posts.

Thanks so much for following my blog and my little journey through this incredibly interesting process of writing a series of niche historical travel books and then getting the bloody things published.

-Stew

Please note that I do not and will not take compensation from individuals or companies I mention or promote in my blog.

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Copyright © 2014 Stew Ross

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