Paris: Arc de Triomphe et Baron Haussmann
The construction of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris was ordered in 1806 by Napoleon, the French Emperor. Napoleon wanted to honor the Grande Armee, the name of the French army at that time.
The Grande Armée had conquered most of Europe and was then considered invicible. After his Austerlitz victory in 1805, Napoléon said to his soldiers : “You will return home through archs of triumph”.
The construction had been stopped between 1814 (abdication of Napoléon) and 1826.
The Arc de Triomphe costed 9.3 millions French francs, a gigantic amount of money at that time.
The names of 128 battles of the first French Republic and Napoléon’s Empire are written on the white walls under the vault together with the names of the generals who took part in them.
The construction of Arc de Triomphe was completed in 1836, long after Napoléon’s death in 1821.
PARIS BECOMES THE CITY OF LIGHT
It was in the mid-nineteenth century that Baron Haussmann tore down so many medieval houses, churches and palaces that he gave Paris its nickname, the City of Light. There is a theory that the name is a reference, not to quaint streetlamps or philosophical enlightenment, as is often suggested, but to the sun shining through the gaps that Haussmann smashed in the ancient pattern of streets.
Baron Haussmann (Georges Eugène) was a native Parisian, the son of one of Napoléon Bonaparte’s military attachés. He was also, some would say, the city’s biggest vandal.
He was the Préfet de la Seine (Paris’s chief administrator) from 1853 to 1870, and the man entrusted with a mission to remodel the city along rationalist nineteenth-century lines. This job was given to him by the French Emperor Napoléon III:
During his enforced exile in England, Napoléon III fell in love with Victorian London. He saw a grandiose city that had been reconstructed and much expanded in the centuries after the Great Fire of 1666, and began to think that he could do the same thing to Paris, but without all the smoke. He therefore conceived a grand plan entitled Paris embellie, Paris agrandie, Paris assainie (Paris beautified, enlarged and cleaned up).
Napoléon III’s promise was to bring air, light and clean water to the Parisians. Haussmann, a politician and friend of the Emperor’s Minister of the Interior, was chosen for the job, apparently because of his total lack of nostalgia. He was a great lover of straight lines, and quickly set about smashing them through the old city with no regard for the treasures that got in his way.
He destroyed about half of the buildings on the Île de la Cité. It was almost literally a stroke of luck that Notre-Dame was not in the way of the three new streets he drew across the map of the island.
Large areas were redeveloped during this Haussmannian frenzy – it is estimated that about 20,000 buildings were destroyed, and around 40,000 built.
Stephen Clarke, Paris Revealed, the Secret Life of a City.