Paris Renovation & Baron Hausmann

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

In 1852 Napoleon III gave a public speech declaring: "Paris is the heart of France. Let us apply our efforts to embellishing this great city. Let us open new streets ... let the beneficial sunlight reach everywhere within our walls".


In 1852, Paris had many beautiful buildings, but, according to many visitors, it was not a beautiful city. The most significant civic structures, such as the Hôtel de Ville and the Cathedral of Notre Dame, were surrounded and partially hidden by slums. Napoleon wanted to make them visible and accessible.

In 1852 Napoleon III gave a public speech declaring: "Paris is the heart of France. Let us apply our efforts to embellishing this great city. Let us open new streets, make the working class quarters, which lack air and light, more healthy, and let the beneficial sunlight reach everywhere within our walls".

The Emperor was a convinced follower of Saint-Simon. His desire to make Paris, the economic capital of France, a more open, more healthy city, not only for the upper classes but also for the workers, cannot be denied, and should be recognised as the primary motivation."

Napoleon III and Haussmann launched a series of enormous public works projects in Paris, hiring tens of thousands of workers to improve the sanitation, water supply and traffic circulation of the city.

Napoleon III  and Haussmann met almost every day to discuss the projects and overcome the enormous obstacles and opposition they faced as they built the new Paris.

Napoleon III installed a huge map of Paris in his office, marked with coloured lines where he wanted new boulevards to be.

Napoleon III and Haussmann made a special point to build an equal number of new boulevards, new sewers, water supplies, hospitals, schools, squares, parks and gardens in the working class eastern arrondissements as they did in the western neighborhoods.

Haussmann wrote in his memoirs that Napoleon III instructed him:

"Do not miss an opportunity to build, in all the arrondissements of Paris, the greatest possible number of squares, in order to offer the Parisians, as they have done in London, places for relaxation and recreation for all the families and all the children, rich and poor".

In response Haussmann created:

  • twenty-four new squares;
  • seventeen in the older part of the city,
  • eleven in the new arrondissements,
  • adding 15 hectares (37 acres) of green space



Altogether, in seventeen years, they 

  • planted 600.000 (six hundred thousand) trees and added
  • two thousand hectares of parks and green space to Paris
  • All in all there were built eighty kilometres of new avenues.

Never before had a city built so many parks and gardens in such a short time

According to the confession of Baron Haussmann:

  • "On his own estimation the new boulevards and open spaces displaced 350,000 people; 
  • by 1870 one-fifth of the streets in central Paris were his creation;
  • he had spent 2.5 billion francs on the city;
  • one in five Parisian workers was employed in the building trade".

Haussmann build much more as was demolished.

He demolished 19,730 buildings, containing 120,000 lodgings or apartments, while building 34,000 new buildings, with 215,300 new apartments and lodgings. French historian Michel Cremona wrote that, even with the increase in population, from 949,000 Parisians in 1850 to 1,130,500 in 1856, to two million in 1870, including those in the newly annexed eight arrondissements around the city, the number of housing units grew faster than the population



Street blocks were designed as homogeneous architectural wholes. He treated buildings not as independent structures, but as pieces of a unified urban landscape.

The interiors of the buildings were left to the owners of the buildings, but the façades were strictly regulated, to ensure that they were the same height, color, material, and general design, and were harmonious when all seen together.

The new apartment buildings followed the same general plan:

  • ground floor and basement with thick, load-bearing walls, fronts usually parallel to the street. This was often occupied by shops or offices.
  • mezzanine or entresol intermediate level (the term is often used loosely for the floor above the ground floor), with low ceilings; often also used by shops or offices.
  • second, piano nobile floor with a balcony. This floor, in the days before elevators were common, was the most desirable floor, and had the largest and best apartments.
  • third and fourth floors in the same style but with less elaborate stonework around the windows, sometimes lacking balconies.
  • fifth floor with a single, continuous, undecorated balcony.
  • mansard roof, angled at 45°, with garret rooms and dormer windows (a dormer). Originally this floor was to be occupied by lower-income tenants, but with time and with higher rents it came to be occupied almost exclusively by the concierges and servants of the people in the apartments below.

For the building façades, the technological progress of stone sawing and (steam) transportation allowed the use of massive stone blocks instead of simple stone facing.



Lutetian limestone (calcaire lutécien) — also known as “Paris stone” — is a variety of limestone particular to the Paris area. It has been a source of wealth as an economic and versatile building material since ancient Roman times and has contributed markedly to the unique visual appeal of the “City of Light”. (It has been hailed as “the warm, elusive, cream-grey stone of the French capital”. 

The name "Lutetian" derives from Lutetia (French, Lutèce) which was the city's name in ancient times.



To connect the city with the rest of France, Napoleon III built two new railroad stations: 

  • the Gare de Lyon (1855) and 
  • the Gare du Nord (1864) 

and rebuilt the Gare de Paris-Est and the Gare de Lyon.

He completed Les Halles, the great iron in glass produce market in the centre of the city, and built a new municipal hospital, the Hôtel-Dieu, in the place of crumbling medieval buildings on the Ile de la Cite.



The gas lights that illuminated Paris at night during the Second Empire were often admired by foreign visitors and helped revive the city nickname Ville-Lumiére, the City of Light. At the beginning of the Empire, there were 8,000 gas lights in the city. By 1870, there were 56,573 used exclusively to light the city streets.

He installed miles of pipes to distribute gas for thousands of new streetlights along the Paris streets. At the beginning of the Second Empire, gas was provided by six different private companies. Haussmann forced them to consolidate into a single company, the Compagnie parisienne d'éclairage et de chauffage par le gaz, with rights to provide gas to Parisians for fifty years. Consumption of gas tripled between 1855 and 1859.

Haussmann placed street lamps every twenty meters on the boulevards. Shortly after nightfall, a small army of 750 allumeurs in uniform, carrying long poles with small lamps at the end, went out into the streets, turned on a pipe of gas inside each lamppost, and lit the lamp. 

The entire city was illuminated within forty minutes. The amount of light was greatly enhanced by the white stone walls of the new Haussmann apartment buildings, which reflected the brilliant gaslight. 

Certain buildings and monuments were also illuminated: 

  • the Arc de Triomphe was crowned with a ring of gaslights, 
  • they outlined the Hôtel de Ville,
  • The Champs-Elysees was lined with ribbons of white light. 

The major theaters, cafés, and department stores were also brightly lit with gaslight, as were some rooms in apartments in the new Haussmann buildings. The concert gardens, in which balls were held in summer, had gas lighting, as well as small gas lamps in the gardens, where gentlemen could light their cigars and cigarettes.



During the Second French Empire, the reign of Emperor Napoleon III (1852–1870), Paris was the largest city in continental Europe and a leading center of finance, commerce, fashion, and the arts. 

The population of the city grew dramatically, from about one million to two million persons, partly because the city was greatly enlarged, to its present boundaries, through the annexation of eleven surrounding communes and the subsequent creation of eight new arrondissements.

The population of Paris was recorded as 949,000 in 1851. It grew to 1,130,500 by 1856 and was just short of two million by the end of Second Empire, including the 400,000 residents of the suburbs annexed to Paris in 1860.

In 1859, Napoleon III issued a decree annexing the suburban communes around Paris. All of them became part of the city of Paris in January 1860. To the 12 existing arrondissement of Paris were added areas organized into 8 new arrondissements. Haussmann enlarged his plans for Paris to include new city halls, parks and boulevards to connect the new arrondissements to the center of the city.

The annexation more than doubled the area of the city from 3,300 hectares to 7,100 hectares, and the population of Paris instantly grew by 400,000 to 1,600,000 people



In his plan of 1851 Napoleon III proposed to extend the Rue de Rivoli to connect the Louvre with the Hôtel de Ville. Napoleon III was especially anxious to finish the extension of rue de Rivoli from the Louvre to the Hotel de Ville, before the opening of the Paris Universal Exposition of 1855. Napoleon III demanded the construction of a new luxury hotel, to house his imperial guests during the Exposition. They constructed the Hotel du Louvre, one of the largest buildings in the city and one of the first modern luxury hotels in Paris. Three thousand workers laboured both day and night for two years to complete the street and hotel, which were finished in time for the Exposition in 1855. Rue Rivoli should be a standard for further reconstruction of streets in Paris.



At Napoleon's request, new laws had been passed in 1850 and 1851 making it easier for the city to expropriate private land for public purposes. They also allowed the city to expropriate, in the public interest, not only land for new streets, but all of the building sites on both sides of the new streets, an asset of enormous value.

This was the basic method adopted by Haussmann to finance the reconstruction of Paris. The government expropriated the old buildings, compensated the owners, and private companies built the new streets and buildings, following the standards set by Haussmann. The private companies were often paid for the construction work they did with city land, which they could then develop and sell.

In 1854 the Parliament approved another loan of sixty million francs, but Haussmann needed far more for his future projects. On 14 November 1858, Napoleon and Haussmann created the Caisse des travaux de la Ville, specifically to finance the reconstruction projects. It borrowed money at a higher rate of interest than regular city bonds, and used the money to pay private companies, such as that of Pereire brothers, to rebuild the city. "It was a great relief for the city's finances," Haussmann wrote later in his Memoirs "which allowed the city to carry out several grand operations at the same time, with rapid execution, in short more economically."



The signature architectural landmark was the Paris Opera, the largest theatre in the world, designed by Charles Garnier, crowning the center of Napoleon III's new Paris. When the Empress Eugenie saw the model of the opera house, and asked the architect what the style was, Garnier said simply, "Napoleon the Third."

The shed was taken off on 15 August 1867, in time for the Paris Universal Exposition. Visitors and Parisians could see the building's glorious new exterior, but the inside was not finished until 1875, after the fall of the Empire in 1870.

The façade of the Opéra Garnier employed seventeen different colored materials, including various marbles, stones, and bronze.



According to Eugene Chavette, author of an 1867 restaurant guide, there were 812 restaurants in Paris, 1,664 cafés, 3,523 debits de vin, 257 crémeries, and 207 tables d'hôtes.The latter were inexpensive eating places, often with a common table, where a meal could be had for 1.6 francs, with a bowl of soup, a choice of one of three main dishes, a dessert, bread, and a half-bottle of wine.



Napoleon III's new parks were inspired by his memories of the parks in London, especially Hyde Park, where he had strolled and promenaded in a carriage while in exile; but he wanted to build on a much larger scale. 

Napoleon III created four major parks at the cardinal points of the compass around the city

  • the Bois de Boulogne (1852–1858) to the west of Paris: 
  • the Bois de Vincennes (1860–1865) to the east; 
  • the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont (1865–1867) to the north, and 
  • The Parc Montsouris (1865–1878) to the south.

In addition to building the four large parks, Haussmann had the city's older parks, including 

  • The Parc Monceau, formerly owned by the Orleans family, and
  •  the Jardin du Luxembourg, refurbished and replanted. 


He also created some twenty small parks and gardens in the neighbourhoods, as miniature versions of his large parks.

The intention of Napoleon's plan was to have one park in each of the eighty neighbourhoods of Paris, so that no one was more than a ten-minute's walk from such a park. The parks were an immediate success with all classes of Parisians.



DRINKING WATER. To bring fresh water to the city, his hydraulic engineer, Eugène Belgrand, built a new aqueduct to bring clean water from the Vanne River in Champagne, and a new huge reservoir near the future Parc Montsouris. These two works increased the water supply of Paris from 87,000 to 400,000 cubic metres of water a day. He laid hundreds of kilometres of pipes to distribute the water throughout the city. 

TECHNICAL WATER. He  built a second network, using the less-clean water from the Ourq and the Seine, to wash the streets and water the new park and gardens. 

SEWERS. He completely rebuilt the Paris sewers. So they no longer emptied into the Seine. In 1852 Paris had 142 kilometres of sewers, which could carry only liquid waste. Containers of solid waste were picked up each night by people called vidangeurs, who carried it to waste dumps on the outskirts of the city. The tunnels he designed were intended to be clean, easily accessible, and substantially larger than the previous Parisian underground. Paris's sewer system expanded fourfold between 1852 and 1869.



Overcrowding, disease, crime, and unrest in the centre of the old Paris

Overcrowding. In the middle of the nineteenth century, the centre of Paris was viewed as overcrowded, dark, dangerous, and unhealthy.

In 1845, the French social reformer Victor Considerant wrote:

"Paris is an immense workshop of putrefaction, where misery, pestilence and sickness work in concert, where sunlight and air rarely penetrate. Paris is a terrible place where plants shrivel and perish, and where, of seven small infants, four die during the course of the year."

In the neighbourhood of Champs-Élysées, population density was estimated at 5,380 per square kilometre (22 per acre); in the neighbourhoods of Arcis and Saint-Avoye, located in the present Third Arrondissement, there was one inhabitant for every three square metres (32 sq ft). In 1840, a doctor described one building in the Île de la Cité where a single 5-square-metre room (54 sq ft) on the fourth floor was occupied by twenty-three people, both adults and children. In these conditions, disease spread very quickly. Cholera epidemics ravaged the city in 1832 and 1848. In the epidemic of 1848, five percent of the inhabitants of these two neighbourhoods died.

Traffic circulation. Traffic circulation was another major problem. The widest streets in these two neighbourhoods were only five metres (16 feet) wide. The narrowest were one or two meters (3–7 feet) wide. In one documentary they claim that the narrowest street was just 70 cm wide. Wagons, carriages and carts could barely move through the streets.

The centre of the city was also a cradle of discontent and revolution. Between 1830 and 1848, seven armed uprisings and revolts had broken out in the centre of Paris, particularly along the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, around the Hôtel de Ville, and around Montagne Sainte-Geneviève on the left bank. The residents of these neighbourhoods had taken up pavement stones and blocked the narrow streets with barricades, which had to be dislodged by the army.

Voltaire complained about the markets "established in narrow streets, showing off their filthiness, spreading infection and causing continuing disorders." He wrote that the façade of the Louvre was admirable, "but it was hidden behind buildings worthy of the Goths and Vandals."

In 1794, during the French Revolution, a Commission of Artists drafted an ambitious plan to build wide avenues, including a street in a straight line from the Place de la Nation to the Louvre, where the Avenue Victoria is today, and squares with avenues radiating in different directions, largely making use of land confiscated from the church during the Revolution, but all of these projects remained on paper.

Napoleon Bonaparte also had ambitious plans for rebuilding the city. He began work on a canal to bring fresh water to the city and began work on the Rue de Rivoli, beginning at the Place de la Concorde, but was able to extend it only to the Louvre before his downfall. "If only the heavens had given me twenty more years of rule and a little leisure," he wrote while in exile on Saint Helena, "one would vainly search today for the old Paris; nothing would remain of it but vestiges."