Originally Posted by Davydave86
I sometimes can't help but wonder if Paris would have been better off without Haussmann. The old Paris seemed to have so much character, from narrow alleyways with cottages and courtyards to the densely packed Ile de la Cite, the birthplace of the city. The architecture and streetacapes were diverse - from narrow and winding streets to grand squares and avenues, the results of centuries of organic growth.
The Paris we have today, courtesy of Haussmann is on so many levels monotonous. Mile after mile of identikit buildings on wide and unnaturally straight streets...same height, same colour scheme, same ornamentation. Paris sometimes feels less like a city in touch with its historical roots, and more like an experiment in civil engineering. The Ile de la Cite, once a dense warren of streets and the beating heart of Paris is today a windswept and sterile entity. Thankfully areas such as the Marais remain, though it could have been what most of the city would be today. Under a less authoritarian regime, and a patient wait for the feasibility of underground railways, it could very well perhaps have been preserved.
I think that is very much a tourist’s perspective. It also ignores how and why the city changed. Firstly, Haussmann did not make all the changes. The Ile de la Cite (almsot entirely pre Haussmann) cannot be described as sterile, with the Palais de Justice, Concieregerie, Notre Dame, the Hotel Dieu, and several small parks.
Ile St Louis actually was two small islands in the medieval era, later joined by a property developer to form a whole c1600 under Henri IV, so streetwise untouched (largely) since then. If you lived in the centre of Paris (not in the two islands, a tourist trap) you would delight in the light, which is due to a height ratio relative to the width of the boulevard, hence the Mansard roof design to maximise utilisable space. You also would love the facility of getting around - if you have a meeting across town, allow 3 minutes’ walk either end, add the number of metro stops and changes, multiply by 3 and you have your total travel time in minutes.
Part of the Nap III / Haussmann plan was the improvement of sanitary conditions and reduction of disease. While some medieval buildings were demolished, most of what was cleared was rubbish, tenements, squalid fever-ridden dens. (Google Marville, the photographer who recorded the Haussmann demolitions.) Timber buildings had already been outlawed by Henry IV about 1600 to minimise fire risk. London could have learned, but they were getting ready for a civil war! Venice in +/- 1300 had for similar reasons ‘banished’ its glassworks to the island of Murano.
Not all the grands boulevards are the work of Haussmann. As Paris grew over the centuries, new city walls were built and periodically were demolished to allow the city to expand. Their foundations became the first boulevards, which in its English translation means ‘a bulwark’, derived from the site of an old defensive wall. All those surrounding Paris eventually were destroyed, although a few bits remain. In 1670 Louis XIV pulled down the wall built by Louis XIII, giving rise to a grand boulevard, the Nouveau Cours. (Google Turgot Map). The ‘Farmers’ Wall’ built from c1780 was being pulled down in part within a decade. The Thiers wall (Enceinte de Thiers
) built 1840’s was the last to go, demolished during the interwar years when it and its adjacent road were replaced by the Boulevarde Peripherique.
One of the oldest walls, that of Phillip II (Plantagenet era) possibly is the largest survivor, parts still to be found, incorporated into buildings