20th Century in Paris

The World’s Fairs that took place at the beginning of the century changed the face of Paris, adding, amongst other structures, the Petit Palais, the Grand Palais and the Alexandre III Bridge. But they also changed daily life in Paris, inaugurating the metro system that is now an integral part of Paris for locals and visitors alike. Even if the city didn’t face quite as many changes as in the tumultuous 19th century, like the Revolution and the Commune of Paris, the 20th century was far from eventless as far as Paris was concerned.

The 20th Century for Parisians

The end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th is known as the “belle époque” or beautiful era in Paris. The capital became a frivolous, carefree and optimistic place to be, encouraged by the success of the World’s Fairs and by the expansion of France’s colonial empire. Paris became a creative center, attracting professionals in art, theater and cinema. Writers, painters and sculptors from all over the world came to Paris, joining countless Parisian artists in the inspirational artistic center. The city didn’t lose this sense of creativity during the First World War, which spared Paris to a certain extent.

This lightness of spirit would continue during the “années folles” or crazy years, where Montmartre and Montparnasse became the artistic centers of the world, and during which artists continued flocking to Europe to be a part of it.

During ww2, everything changed. Paris was occupied by the German army, and artistic development stagnated in Paris. The capital was liberated in 1944, and even though it had suffered through the Occupation, with arrests, deportations and executions, it was quite lucky to scrape through with few physical scars.

In May of 1968, the last of Paris’s rebellions occurred, a student rebellion, that began with the occupation of the Sorbonne, exploded in the Latin Quarter before moving through the entire country. Uprisings, barricades… a veritable return to the time of the French Revolution! But this movement had more social than political repercussions, and it didn’t last very long.

In 1976, Paris became an autonomous municipality for the first time since the French Revolution. Jacques Chirac, who would later become the President of the Republic, was Paris’s mayor for 18 years – he was re-elected twice. In 1982, a reform was adopted, giving each arrondissement its own mayor and municipal counsel.

Modern Architecture

The end of the 19th century was marked by the emergence of a new architectural style: Art Nouveau. The principal architect of this style in Paris was Hector Guimard, who designed, amongst other things, the famous metro entrances that still stand in Paris today. Other Art Nouveau masterpieces include Castel Béranger in the 16th arrondissement, another work by Guimard, and the house at 29, avenue Rapp in the 7th arrondissement, designed by Jules Lavirotte.

In the 16th arrondissement, you’ll find good examples of modernism, a movement that was more representative of the 20th century. The La Roche house, built in 1923, was designed by Le Corbusier and Jeanneret. The Robert Mallet-Stevens houses, on the street of the same name, are another excellent example. A representative example of Le Corbusier’s ideals is the La Cité refuge of the Salvation Army (13th arrondissement), with its concrete skeleton and glass enclosure.

Classical architecture came back to Paris in public construction during the 30s, with the Palais de Chaillot and the Palais de Tokyo, built for the international exposition in 1937.

Architecture and urbanism in Paris in the 20th century wasn’t all successful: the housing crisis led to architecture’s industrialization, and giant skyscrapers and monotonous structures became the norm throughout the country, particularly during the 50s and 60s. The areas of Belleville and Porte d’Italie were destroyed and subsequently rebuilt, and the Montparnasse Tower, a behemoth of modern, soulless architecture, was built in Paris’ center.

The end of the 20th century saw the birth of a series of daring projects under the orders of different presidents: Georges Pompidou’s modern art museum, François Mittérand’s Louvre Pyramids, Parc de la Villette and Grande Arche in La Défense, Jacques Chirac’s Branly museum. Today, these projects make up an important part of Paris’s landscape and cultural heritage.

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