Baron Haussmann: How Architecture Ended The French Revolutions


Today, the romance of Paris monopolizes all other aspects of the original City of Love. Whether couples mingle under the famous arches of the Eiffel Tower or dig their initials into a lock on the Pont des Arts Bridge, the blissful atmosphere of love surrounds the city, but Paris' haunted alleyways and squares may tell a different story. If the streets could talk.

Surely, a man named Georges-Eugne Haussmann, also known as Baron Haussmann, would share a more chilling story about his way to Paris. That's because Baron Haussmann was responsible for ending the seemingly endless revolutions and rebellions that plagued Paris for so many years, but not with some brilliant stroke of diplomacy. He did it with architecture.

The Problem

During the 19th century, Paris was besieged not by a foreign army but by its own people. Parisians did not agree that they supported dictatorship, democracy or other, and by 1870, six separate regimes had been pulled down by massive riots and rebellions. By the time Napoleon III declared himself emperor in 1852, one finally saw a key element of the various revolutions: the roads.

If you build it, they'll riot

In the 19th century, central Paris was a cobweb of narrow streets that could easily be replaced with nothing but furniture from neighboring houses. According to historian Mark Traugott, more than 4,000 temporary barricades were erected in the Revolution of 1830. Over 6,000 were involved in the February Revolution of 1848! These barriers were instrumental in preventing the police forces and the army from suppressing these rebellions, so Napoleon III resolved to do something about Paris' notoriously narrow streets before another revolution brought it down. Enter Baron Haussmann.

Direction From High

Baron Haussmann will be the first to tell you that he was no architect. In fact, he referred to himself as an "artist-demolitionist," so naturally, his favorite way to fix up tight neighborhoods was to knock everything down. Unfortunately, he rarely visited the neighborhoods he had so openly destroyed. Baron's favorite style was commanding barking from the comfort of his desk.

Broad Boulevards Through Paris

In 17 years, Haussmann demolished more than 12,000 buildings. Many of those buildings were located in poor neighborhoods, which coincidentally was where the city had a lot of violent upheaval. By forcing wider promenade through the city, Haussmann eliminated large-scale barricading, allowing police to break up riots more easily.

Of course, many were not happy with the change, seeing it as imperialist meant to quell dissent. Hausmann, on the other hand, also built 27 parks and squares, improved perishable sewage and public transport systems, and even built aqueducts to supply clean drinking water to Paris. The Palais Garnier, home of the Opéra National de Paris, and Les Halles Bazaar, would not have existed without Haussmann. The wide boulevard, lined with bright streetlights, contained cafes and shops, prompting artists to have fun during their absent hours.

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