British Library Map Exhibition

Following on the runaway success of their exhibition 'The Lie of the Land', the British Library's Map Library has mounted a new exhibition in the foyer to the reading room.  If only the architects of the new British Library had any appreciation of the visual appeal of maps, they might have installed more than two cases, but it is good to see the Map Library continuing to come up with interesting displays in such limited space. 

The accompanying text is reproduced by permission of the Map Library, the British Library. 

Paris before Haussmann

Paris in the early nineteenth century was a city of contrasts.  Graceful monuments, historic buildings and slum dwellings were often side by side, the result of centuries of haphazard development.  The city was very densely populated, the result of immigration from the provinces.  Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote this about his first impressions of Paris:

Entering through the faubourg Saint Marceau, I saw only small, dirty and stinking streets, ugly black houses, an air of filth, poverty, beggars, carters, sewing women, women hawking tisanes and old hats. (1)
Many quartiers contained decrepit tenements, which were sometimes five or six storeys high.  Only one household in five had running water; chamber pots were emptied into the streets from the windows.  Two-thirds of the streets contained open sewers which had been built over the centuries in a piecemeal fashion.  They were woefully inadequate for the city in 1850, with a million inhabitants.  Part of the city's water supply came from the Seine, often downstream from the mouths of sewers which emptied their contents into the river.  The cramped, unhealthy conditions invariably bred disease.  Cholera, moving westward from Asia, arrived in Europe in the early 19th century.  In 1832, 39,000 Parisians contracted cholera. 18,400 people died, including the Prime Minister.  A similar number died in 1848-49.

The old neighbourhoods of the east and the city centre, parts of which dated from the medieval period, had become less desirable.  The crowded south-east had been the stronghold of resistance during the revolutions of 1830 and 1848.  The rich were gradually moving to the west side.  However, even the wealthy areas were interspersed with slums.

Travel across the city by carriage was hampered by a maze of medieval streets, which had evolved for the use of pedestrians, horsemen and sedan chairs.  Carriages and other large vehicles were forced to take circuitous routes via the boulevards that encircled the city.

Haussmann, Prefect of the Seine

Haussmann was appointed Prefect of the Seine in June 1853.  His patron, Louis Napoleon or Napoleon III, had become President and subsequently Emperor following the 1848 revolution.  Napoleon envisioned the transformation of Paris into a spectacular and beautiful city which would advertise his power and success as emperor.  He wanted to regenerate Paris quickly, for two reasons.  Firstly, he wished to demonstrate the efficiency of his administration.  Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, he needed to create jobs to reduce the high rate of unemployment which had helped to bring about the revolution.  Napoleon wanted the unruly segments of the population to be kept in check.

Napoleon entrusted Haussmann with the task of enlarging upon his plans for transforming Paris.  He allowed Haussmann almost dictatorial powers and extensive finance.  He also protected Haussmann from his critics.  This support which was crucial for Haussmann's success, and allowed construction to proceed at an unprecedented pace.  There had been previous attempts to improve Paris.  Many of Haussmann's projects for improving Paris had been considered or even begun by preceding governments.  Previous attempts had been made on municipal land or empty plots.  However, no one had had the sheer will or the finance to demolish large swathes of the city.  Haussmann succeeded in putting many of his plans into action, and most were completed during his period of office.  The city was transformed through the building of new boulevards and avenues, buildings, public parks and an extended sewer system.

Haussmann himself had had a sickly childhood, fraught with respiratory problems caused by the polluted Parisian air.  This may well have led to his later concern for clean air and water, his readiness to destroy parts of Old Paris that he perceived as squalid, and his enthusiasm for building a new sewer system.

Napoleon may have ordered or sanctioned the building of long, straight boulevards to facilitate the use of artillery fire, forestall the building of barricades, and to break up working-class areas with a history of insurrection.  Between 1827-49 there had been eight occasions when barricades had been thrown up in eastern Paris; they had preceded revolution on three occasions.  These included the July Revolution or Trois Glorieuses (the Three Glorious Days) of 1830, and the February 1848 revolution.  The old boulevards, known as the grands boulevards, were built for recreation and exercise.  Haussmann's streets and boulevards were planned to solve traffic problems.

Transforming the city

When Haussmann became Prefect of the Seine, Napoleon presented him with a map of Paris on which he had drawn the new streets he proposed to build.  As Napoleon's original map is now lost we cannot be sure of the relative roles of Haussmann and Napoleon in the development of their vision of Paris.  Haussmann and Napoleon would develop Napoleon's plans together, into a grand plan for the transformation of Paris.

Haussmann's first task was to commission a detailed map of Paris, which would form the basis of his work.  He established the department of the Plan de Paris, which installed wooden towers throughout the city, which, being taller than the surrounding buildings, served as triangulation points in the surveying process.  The resulting map was reproduced in various forms.  Haussmann kept an engraved copy at the scale of 1:5,000, which measured 9 by 15 feet, on a rolling stand in his office.  Each of the departments involved in his projects were given a copy of this map, and a smaller scale map at 1:20,000 was produced for the public.

Early nineteenth century Paris was divided into twelve arrondissements, encircled by two walls.  The outer wall comprised military fortifications.  The inner wall, the Wall of the Tax Farmers, existed solely for the purpose of collecting taxes on goods coming into the city.  Haussmann and Napoleon decided to tear down this wall, despite the reduction in revenue that this would entail.  In 1859, the areas outside the inner wall were annexed to Paris.

Paris had doubled in area, and increased its population by a third, to 1,600,000 inhabitants.  There were now twenty arrondissements.

The Grande Croisée or great crossroads of Paris had been envisaged even before Napoleon I. N-S and E-W movement was difficult on the Right Bank, as was travel between the two banks.  The crossroads would extend from north to south across the two banks, and from east to west across the Right Bank.  Part of the crossroads - the Rue de Rivoli and the Rue de Strasbourg - had been built before Haussmann took office.  Haussmann extended the Boulevard du Strasbourg to the south with the Boulevard de Sébastopol, and across to the Left Bank with the Boulevard St-Michel (Map 3.). He also extended the Rue de Rivoli from the Louvre to the Hôtel de Ville.

Haussmann's constructions effectively moved the centre of Paris to the north-west, an area to which the rich had been migrating for decades.  The decision to move the opera house to the Boulevard des Capucines was prompted by security concerns.  In 1858, bombs had been hurled at the imperial carriage as it drew up outside the old opera house.  The new site, with its wide street, would offer more easily guarded approaches (Map 2).  Haussmann also built and widened a number of streets through and around revolutionary areas.  On the Right Bank, the Faubourg St-Antoine was surrounded by boulevards Voltaire and Mazas; on the Left Bank, the Montagne St-Geneviève was circled by rues Monge, Gay-Lussac and Claude Bernard.

Haussmann was obsessed with hygiene.  He razed the lle de la Cité, the heart of Old Paris, one of its densest areas of medieval buildings and history.  The only buildings which he left standing were Notre Dame, the Sainte-Chapelle, the Conciergerie and the Palais de Justice (Map 3).  The homes of 15,000 people were destroyed.  Paris would no longer look to its historic centre as a focus; instead, the quartiers were linked to each other by boulevards, which, by their sheer width, also served to separate adjacent but contrasting neighbourhoods.

The fall from grace

There were many who objected to the 'Haussmannization' of Paris.  Residents of the provinces felt that too much money was being spent on Paris.  The Parisian bourgeoisie, worried by the 1848 revolution, were concerned by the thousands of labourers brought into Paris by the public works.  Many banking houses thought that Haussmann's expenditure was inflationary.  Residents complained when their houses were pulled down and when they imagined that their neighbourhoods were being ignored.  Over the years, Haussmann faced increasing opposition to his activities.  Sceptics argued that his wide streets served little purpose beyond being 'anti-riot' streets.  It was felt by some that all he did for the poor areas was build encircling boulevards from which they could be oppressed.  Haussmann was dismissed in January 1870.

Despite Haussmann's and Napoleon's plans, the new boulevards did not prevent further insurrection in 1871.  The Communards were able to resist the army for longer than the revolutionaries of June 1848.  Haussmann's destruction of the rabbit warren that comprised eastern Paris had served to turn barricading and insurrection from a relatively isolated activity into one which required organisation and greater manpower.

(1) Jean-Jacques Rousseau, ed.  Michel Launay, Les Confessions (Paris: Gamier, 1968), pp. 146-7.  English translation from David P. Jordan, Transforming Paris: the life and labours of Baron Haussmann (New York & London: The Free Press, 1995), p. 13.
Catalogue of the display


(1) Vuillemin.  Nouveau plan de Paris divisé en 12 arrondissements ([Paris], 1839).  Maps 16110.(66.)

(2) Guesnu.  Souvenir de nouveau Paris, ses monuments, promenades, boulevarts et grandes voies de communications (Paris, [ 1 8681).  Maps 16130.(10.)

(3) Atlas administratif des 20 arrondissements de la Ville de Paris publié d'après les ordres de M. le baron G. E. Haussmann senateur ... (Paris: Imp.  Janson, 1868), plate 2. Maps 149.d.1.


[Mid-19th century Parisian street] and [Boulevard de Sébastopol].  In Adolphe Joanne, Paris Illustré.  Nouveau guide de 1'étranger et du Parisien (Paris: Librairie de L. Hachette et Cie,1863), vol.l, p.173 and p.75. BL I0172 BBB 10.

[Barricade in Rue St Martin].  In The Illustrated London News (1848), vol. 12, March, p.131. BL PP.761 1.

[Portrait of Haussmann].  In Theodor Flathe, Geschichte der Neuesten Beit in Allgemeine Weltgeschichte, eds.  Theodor Flathe, G. F. Herkberg et al, vol.  XII, part III (Berlin, 1892), p.109. BL 09007 cc.1.

Short bibliography

Cars, Jean de & Pierre Pinon.  Paris - Haussmann.  "Le Paris d'Haussmann " (Paris: Édition du Pavillon de I'Arsenal & Picard Éditeur, 1991)

Chapman, J. M. and Brian.  The Life and Times of Baron Haussmann: Paris in the Second Empire (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1957)

Elliot, James.  The City in Maps: urban mapping to 1900 (London: The British Library, 1987)

Jordan, David P. Transforming Paris: the life and labours of Baron Haussmann (New York & London: The Free Press, 1995)

Pinkney, David H. Napoleon III and the Rebuilding of Paris (Princeton & London: Princeton University Press & Oxford University Press, 1958)

Valance, Georges.  Haussmann le grand (Paris: Flammarion, 2000)

Weeks, Willet.  The Man who made Paris Paris: the illustrated biography of Georges Eugène Haussmann (London: London House, 1999)

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