Benoit, Paris en 1860

The single most important inspiration for the Plan of Chicago was Paris, as it was remade during the nineteenth century, most especially by Georges-Eugène Haussmann, who was Prefect (governor) of Paris from 1853-70, under the regime of Emperor Napoleon III. “Among great cities,” the Plan asserts, “Paris has reached the highest state of development.” The parks and broad boulevards and avenues for which the city is famous had their origin, like many European cities, in the efforts of the monarchy to exalt and beautify its capital. Many of Paris’s famous squares and gardens were developed in the seventeenth and eighteenth century at the instigation of the powerful kings of the Bourbon dynasty. Louis XIV, the most powerful French ruler before Napoleon Bonaparte, even had a map drawn up in 1675 that would serve, with mixed success, as a guide for public improvement until his death in 1715. Paris first boulevards had appeared when portions of the medieval walls and ramparts (bulwark, boulevart in French), were be removed to make room for broad thoroughfares that supported the city’s growth.

These earlier projects, however, were mostly constructed on land that was either already open space or which had been cleared without substantially destroying other elements of the urban fabric. Under Haussmann and Napoleon III, entire neighborhoods were destroyed to make room for new broad avenues and boulevards that crossed from one end of the city to the other. In this view, one of these, the Rue du Rivoli, runs from the lower right corner in a westerly direction to the place of the Louvre and the Tuileries Gardens in the middle distance on the north (right) bank of the river. It may be discerned from the view that the Rue du Rivoli obliterated a large swath of older and denser blocks on the right bank in the middle distance. This handsome view from an 1861 guidebook and history revels in the “splendor” Haussmann and his contemporaries were trying to create, emphasizing as well the uniformity of the height and aspect of the buildings that lined the new streets. Such was the aesthetic vision of the city presented by the authoritarian regime of Napoleon III. Wide rights of way, it was thought, opened the city to fresh and improved the circulation of traffic, but some observers have also suspected had a military function, as they would make it easier for troops to quell urban unrest.

See also:

The Streets of Rome

Parisian Avenues and Boulevards



DeJean, Joan. How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City. New York: Bloomsbury, 2014.

Pinkney, David H. Napoleon III and the Rebuilding of Paris. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1958.

Saalman, Howard. Haussmann: Paris Transformed. New York: George Braziller, 1971.

Sutcliffe, Anthony. The Autumn of Central Paris: The Defeat of Town Planning, 1850-1970. McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1971.

Felix Benoit, “Paris en 1860,” from Paris dans sa splendeur: monuments, vues, scènes historiques, descriptions et histoire (Paris: H. Charpentier, 1861), pl. 3. The Newberry Library, oversize G 397 .658