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19th Century in Paris

After the chaos of the French Revolution and then the reign of Terror in the century that followed, Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte brought a relative calm to the capital that had been missing for nearly 100 years. But this calm wasn’t really what would characterize the 19th century. The period would instead be defined by various political regimes and countless rebellions, a veritable ever-changing political reality. This century would introduce Paris to some of the most important changes that still reign today, in Paris and in France as a whole.

History Happens in Paris

It would be far from true to say that the 19th century in Paris was characterized by stability, be it political or social! The century was, instead, defined by changes in political regimes: one hundred years saw the passing of the Consulate, the Empire, the Restoration, the July Monarchy, the Second Republic, the Second Empire, and the Third Republic... Not an easy political game to follow!

As always, the source of all of these changes could be found in Paris: the Revolution of the Three Glorious Days in 1830 led to the July Monarchy, which overthrew the Bourbon kings of the Restoration in favor of the House of Orleans. During the Trois Glorieuses, the Parisian people were the ones to build the barricades, confront soldiers in the streets and, finally, take City Hall.

The 1848 Revolution would also find its roots in the capital. The opposition to the rule of king Louis-Philippe, who succeeded Charles X after the success of the Trois Glorieuses, organized a huge manifestation, which would quickly escalate into a shootout on boulevard des Capucines. This people’s rebellion led to Louis-Philippe’s abdication and the eventual installation of Napoleon III as the second Emperor of France.

But it wasn’t over yet! One of the bloodiest episodes in Paris’s history was, without a doubt, the Commune of Paris in 1871. This rebellion would lead to tens of thousands of deaths. Is there any other city whose history is so colored with revolution?


When you think of 19th century Paris, any architectural-minded person might think first of the baron Haussmann, whose urban renovation of the city made it into the Paris that we all know and love today. But Paris’s makeover started long before this! Projects to improve traffic conditions and water alimentation had started during the first Empire under Napoleon Bonaparte, when the rue de Rivoli and several eponymous bridges were built. Canals such as the canal de l’Ourcq and artificial basins like the bassin de la Villette were also constructed. Napoleon wanted to make Paris the capital of the world, and the projects that he conceptualized moved it in this direction: monuments like the Vendôme column, the Arc de Triomphe at the Louvre and, later, the famous Arc de Triomphe on the Champs-Elysées, were just some of the projects that he undertook.

Baron Haussmann’s contributions to the cityscape of Paris were no small feat. His urban design was influenced in large part by the desires of Napoleon III to create new major axes in the city, in order to make it more modern and easier to navigate. Installing huge new avenues would make it much easier to get around in Paris, while the creation of large squares and parks as well as fountains would beautify the city and make it a more pleasant place to live. Look for the Wallace fountains – the green fountains designed to look like there are Grecian women holding them up – all over the city. At this time, Paris started spreading into the cities around it, like Auteuil and Belleville, annexing them into the larger city and finally attaining its current size of 20 arrondissements.

Perhaps the most important Haussmannien development was the innovation of the style of building that now shares his name, the image that every visitor to Paris has of a true, classic Parisian apartment, synonymous with elegance and refinement. Haussmann created norms when designing these buildings. They were six stories high – the seventh floor accommodated the maid’s rooms – with a stone façade, cast-iron balconies from the 1st to 5th floors, an inner courtyard which provided access to the stairways, and hardwood floors, molding and fireplaces in every apartment. These buildings and the apartments they contain are now the typical abode of the Parisian bourgeoisie.

The World’s Fairs in Paris at the end of the 19th century contributed numerous changes to Paris. Not only were several structures erected, including the Eiffel Tower, the Alexandre III Bridge, the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais, but the Parisian way of life underwent some changes as well. The metro was built and inaugurated for the World’s Fair in 1900… and modern Parisian life wouldn’t be the same without it!

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