Baron Haussmann

Friday, January 15, 2021

Baron Haussmann was a French official who served as prefect of Seine (1853–1870), chosen by Emperor Napoleon III to carry out a massive urban renewal programme of new boulevards, parks and public works in Paris.


Georges-Eugène Haussmann, commonly known as Baron Haussmann (27 March 1809 – 11 January 1891), was a French official who served as prefect of Seine (1853–1870), chosen by Emperor Napoleon III to carry out a massive urban renewal programme of new boulevards, parks and public works in Paris commonly referred to as Haussmann's renovation of Paris. His vision of the city still dominates central Paris.

Haussmann was born in a German family. His paternal grandfather Nicolas was a deputy of the Legislative Assembly and National Convention, an administrator of the department of Seine-et-Oise and a commissioner to the army. His maternal grandfather was a general and a deputy of the National Convention: Georges Frédéric Dentzel, a baron of Napoleon's First Empire.

Despite proving himself as a hard worker and able representative of the government, his arrogance, dictatorial manner, and habit of impeding his superiors led to his being continually passed over for promotion to prefect. It changed after Napoleon III was elected as first President of France in 1948.

Haussmann travelled to Paris in January 1849 to meet the Minister of the Interior and the new president. He was deemed to be a loyal holdover from the civil service of the July Monarchy, and shortly after their meeting Louis Napoléon granted Haussmann a promotion to prefect of the Var Department at Draguignan and afterwards the prefect of Bordeaux region.

In 1850, Louis Napoléon started an ambitious project to connect the Louvre to the Hôtel de Ville in Paris by extending the Rue de Rivoli and create a new park, the Bois de Boulogne, on the outskirts of the city, but he was exasperated by the slow progress

The emperor's minister of the interior, Victor de Persigny, interviewed the prefects of Rouen, Lille, Lyon, Marseille and Bordeaux for the Paris post. In his memoirs, he described his interview with Haussmann:

"It was Monsieur Haussmann who impressed me the most. It was a strange thing, but it was less his talents and his remarkable intelligence that appealed to me, but the defects in his character. I had in front of me one of the most extraordinary men of our time; big, strong, vigorous, energetic, and at the same time clever and devious, with a spirit full of resources. This audacious man wasn't afraid to show who he was. ... He told me all of his accomplishments during his administrative career, leaving out nothing; he could have talked for six hours without a break, since it was his favourite subject, himself. I wasn't at all displeased. ... It seemed to me that he was exactly the man I needed to fight against the ideas and prejudices of a whole school of economics, against devious people and skeptics coming from the Stock Market, against those who were not very scrupulous about their methods; he was just the man. Whereas a gentleman of the most elevated spirit, cleverness, with the most straight and noble character, would inevitably fail, this vigorous athlete ... full of audacity and skill, capable of opposing expedients with better expedients, traps with more clever traps, would certainly succeed. I told him about the Paris works and offered to put him in charge."

Persigny sent him to Napoleon III with the recommendation that he was exactly the man needed to carry out his renewal plans for Paris. Napoleon made him prefect of the Seine on 22 June 1853, and on 29 June, the emperor gave him the mission of making the city healthier, less congested and grander. Haussmann held this post until 1870.



Haussmann went to work immediately on the first phase of the renovation desired by Napoléon III:

- completing the grande croisée de Paris, a great cross in the centre of Paris that would permit easier communication from east to west along the rue de Rivoli and rue Saint-Antoine, and

- north-south communication along two new Boulevards, Strasbourg and Sébastopol.

The two axes crossed at the Place du Châtelet, making it the center of Haussmann's Paris. Haussmann widened the square, moved the Fontaine du Palmier, built by Napoléon I, to the center and built two new theatres, facing each other across the square:

  • the Cirque Impérial (now the Théâtre du Châtelet) and
  • the Théâtre Lyrique (now Théâtre de la Ville).

The grand cross had been proposed by the Convention during the Revolution 1789, and begun by Napoléon I. Napoléon III was determined to complete it. Completion of the rue de Rivoli was given an even higher priority, because the Emperor wanted it finished before the opening of the Paris Universal Exposition of 1855, only two years away, and he wanted the project to include a new hotel, the Grand Hôtel du Louvre, the first large luxury hotel in the city, to house the Imperial guests at the Exposition



Haussmann's successor as prefect of the Seine appointed Jean-Charles Adolphe Alphand, the head of Haussmann's department of parks and plantations, as the director of works of Paris whom Haussmann brought with him from Bordeaux. Alphand respected the basic concepts of the Haussmann's plan.

Despite their intense criticism of Napoleon III and Haussmann during the Second Empire, the leaders of the new Third Republic continued and finished his renovation projects.

  • 1875: completion of the Paris Opéra
  • 1877: completion of the boulevard Saint-Germain
  • 1877: completion of the avenue de l'Opéra
  • 1879: completion of the boulevard Henri IV
  • 1889: completion of the avenue de la République
  • 1907: completion of the boulevard Raspail
  • 1927: completion of the boulevard Haussmann

Haussmann's plan for Paris inspired the urban planning and creation of similar boulevards, squares and parks in Cairo, Buenos Aires, Brussels, Rome, Vienna, Stockholm, Madrid, and Barcelona. After the Paris International Exposition of 1867, William I, the King of Prussia, carried back to Berlin a large map showing Haussmann's projects, which influenced the future planning of that city. 

His work also inspired the City Beautiful Movement in the United States. Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of Central Park in New York, visited the Bois de Boulogne eight times during his 1859 study trip to Europe, and was also influenced by the innovations of the Parc des Buttes Chaumont. The American architect Daniel Burnham borrowed liberally from Haussmann's plan and incorporated the diagonal street designs in his 1909 Plan of Chicago.

Haussmann had been made senator in 1857, member of the Academy of Fine Arts in 1867, and grand cross of the Legion of Honour in 1862. His name is preserved in the Boulevard Haussmann.