|Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann (1809-1891)|
In the middle of the 19th century, the center of Paris had the same structure as it did in the Middle Ages. The narrow interweaving streets and cramped buildings impeded the flow of traffic, resulting in unhealthy conditions that were denounced by the first hygiene scientists. The plan to modernize the city dates back to revolutionary times, when the opening of broader avenues in Paris was suggested, with a street making a straight line from Place de la Nation to the Louvre. Napoleon I then commissioned the construction of a colossal street along the Jardin des Tuileries, the Rue de Rivoli, that extended under the Second Empire up to the Châtelet and the Rue Saint-Antoine. However, the law's objective of eventually widening the streets was not implemented.
At the end of the 1830s,tThe population of Paris had doubled since 1815, with no increase in its area. Paris prefect Claude-Philibert Barthelot, comte de Rambuteau, realised that the problems regarding traffic and hygiene in the old over-populated districts had become a cause for concern. In accordance with the contemporary miasma theory of disease, it was important to "let air and men circulate". This conclusion stemmed from the 1832 cholera epidemic, which killed 20,000 in Paris. In 1848, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte became emperor and adopted the title Napoléon III. He decided to modernize Paris after seeing London, a city transformed by the Industrial Revolution, which offered large public parks and a complete sewer system. The post as emperor enabled him to ignore any resistance, but still he had to find a man capable of implementing a project of such magnitude. He eventually found Georges Eugène Haussmann, an effective administrator of proven loyalty, and he nominated him Prefect of the Seine in 1853. The two men formed an efficient team, the emperor supporting the prefect against his adversaries, and Haussmann showing loyalty in all circumstances, while promoting his own ideas such as a project for Boulevard Saint-Germain.
Haussmann was born in Paris on 27 March 1809, son of Nicolas-Valentin Haussmann, a senior official in the military establishment of Napoleon Bonaparte. He began his schooling at the collège Henri-IV and at the lycée Condorcet in Paris, and then began to study law. At the same time he studied music as a student at the Paris conservatory of music, for he was a good musician. In 1831, he began his career in public administration, finally becoming Prefect of the Yonne Department, including Bordeaux in 1850.
|View over Paris, at dusk, with the large boulevards|
To connect the city with the rest of France, Napoleon III built two new railroad stations: the Gare de Lyon and the Gare du Nord. The signature architectural landmark was the Paris Opera, the largest theater in the world, designed by Charles Garnier, crowning the center of Napoleon III's new Paris. Napoleon III also wanted to build new parks and gardens for the recreation and relaxation of the Parisians, particularly those in the new neighborhoods of the expanding city. In addition to building the four large parks of Paris, Haussmann had the city's older parks including the famous Jardin du Luxembourg, refurbished and replanted.
The reconstruction of the centre of Paris was the largest such public works project ever undertaken in Europe; never before had a major city been completely rebuilt when it was still intact. In the end, the Baron Haussmann's transformations to Paris improved the quality of life in the capital. Disease epidemics (save tuberculosis) ceased, traffic circulation improved and new buildings were better-built and more functional than their predecessors.
At yovisto, you can learn more about Paris in the 19th century and the change it went through with the reconstruction guided by Baron Haussmann in the lecture of Yale Prof. John Merriman on "Paris and the Belle Epoque".
References and Further Reading:
- Biography of Baron Haussmann
- Baron Haussmann at Britannica Online
- Haussmann and the Paris Revival - at museumofthecity.org
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