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32 internautes sur 33 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Paris was transformed into a modern city 200 years earlier than we had thought 3 mai 2014
Par Paul Carrier - Publié sur
Format: Relié
Anyone who stumbles upon "How Paris Became Paris" could be forgiven for assuming, based on the title, that the book chronicles the sweeping 19th-century modernization of the city under Emperor Napoleon III and his prefect of the Seine, Georges-Eugene Haussmann.

Over the course of some 17 years, Haussmann rebuilt the sewers of Paris; constructed a new aqueduct and reservoir; demolished medieval buildings; installed avenues, squares, fountains and parks; planted thousands of trees; set strict architectural standards for buildings along the new boulevards; and built the Palais Garnier for the Paris Opera.

But Joan DeJean, the author of several books about France, documents something else entirely: the 17th-century transformation of Paris from a barren, war-ravaged city where wolves roamed the streets to a vibrant, bustling metropolis that seemed to grow by the week, as one innovation after another created the grandest city in Europe.

DeJean was animated and enthusiastic when discussing these changes during a recent NPR interview. So, not surprisingly, she brings a breezy but authoritative style to the printed page as well. Along the way, she introduces interesting figures whom readers probably do not know, such as Nicolas de La Reynie. As lieutenant general of the Paris police from 1667 to 1709, he effectively ran the city "brilliantly" for four decades.

The 19th-century modernization of Paris was "merely the second of two great periods of building that transformed medieval Paris into the city we know today," DeJean writes. She argues that Haussmann and Napoleon III simply continued an urban rebirth that actually began some two centuries earlier during the reign of King Henri IV (1553-1610) and continued under two of his successors: his son, Louis XIII (1601-1643), and grandson, Louis XIV (1638-1715).

Under these monarchs, particularly Henri IV and Louis XIV, infrastructure improvements and public works projects became royal obsessions, and the people of Paris - both residents and tourists - reaped the benefits.

Henri kicked off the metamorphosis by building the Pont Neuf across the Seine River. An unusually wide bridge (75 feet), it broke with tradition by having no houses lining its sides. The Pont Neuf had sidewalks, allowing people from all walks of life, including unescorted women, to enjoy the view along the river's banks. Theater groups performed on the Pont Neuf. Vendors set up stalls there. In an era when newspapers were censored and far from timely, the bridge quickly became a newsroom of sorts, as Parisians gathered there to share information about what was happening in their city.

Other improvements followed. The Place Royale became "the original modern city square." The upscale Île Saint-Louis in the Seine emerged as "the third wonder of modern Paris." Louis XIV removed Paris' fortifications and replaced them with a 120-foot-wide boulevard lined with double rows of elm trees on both sides - "the largest recreational space that had ever been conceived."

New public gardens were created or, in the case of the Tuileries, redesigned and enlarged. Paris had an intra-city postal system for a brief period, as well as torchbearers for hire to guide travelers at night, and a public transit system consisting of horse-drawn carriages. Over time, thousands of wall-mounted lanterns were installed, providing "the original design for permanent, stationary street lighting."

DeJean says Louis XIV decided to "open Paris up" by upgrading medieval streets that were "mere alleyways." Narrow streets were expanded, uneven streets were adjusted to a uniform width, and crooked streets were straightened.

In 1556, decades before this transformation began, a Spanish architect working for his king visited Paris, but he didn't stay very long. "I didn't remark a single notable building," Gaspar de Vega said, "and the only interesting thing about the city is its size." A mere 100 years later, such a dismissive assessment of Paris had become inconceivable.

With myriad amenities and improvements on display, people felt comfortable walking through the city as the 17th century progressed, even at night. DeJean explains that a new kind of tourism developed, one that focused less on obligatory visits to churches and monuments and more on having a good time by making the rounds of cafes, gardens, boulevards and other public places, to see and be seen.

Paris became the center of European fashion, a city where self-made financiers became so wealthy - and despised - that the French developed derogatory terms for them which eventually entered other languages as well: nouveau riche, parvenu, millionaire, financier. Beautiful coquettes, sometimes of humble birth but always blessed with a keen sense of fashion, plucked the pockets of male admirers and used the money to develop even more expensive tastes.

In the course of "a mere century," DeJean writes, "Paris was reinvented" as a new kind of wonder of the world, "famous for its streetlights and its boulevards, its shop windows and its romance with the Seine - and its fast-paced pedestrian life." Hundreds of years before Haussmann's more noted improvements, Paris already had developed "a true mystique" and an "aura of desirability."
25 internautes sur 31 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
The Bridge to the Future 7 mars 2014
Par Sondra McClendon - Publié sur
Format: Relié
For a paper that I am writing on urban history, I knew I would include Paris. I've only been there for three days, but it was just enough time to experiences it wonder, and now I know more reasons why! The significance of the Pont Neuf bridge revealed in this book opens the mind to how interwoven humans are with environment. She examines how the unique design of the bridge brought people together in new ways - from the fun of flirtation to unfortunate robberies.

I am most inspired by DeJean's thorough study of how the most modern city in the world had its foundation laid in the seventeenth century. Her writing style is appropriate for most readers, although it may be too casual at times for serious historians. Quite frankly, I find it a breath of fresh air. If there is anything out there on this time period that has similar academic caliber as Cities Perceived: Urban Society, I'd be interested to know, but this is good for me right now! It's a great read that will certainly enhance the way you see the world.
5 internautes sur 5 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
How Paris became Paris became Paris became Paris became Paris became Paris became infinitum. 29 juin 2014
Par Le Stryge - Publié sur
Format: Relié
I freely admit I will read/watch just about anything that has Paris as its subject, or even uses that city as a background, but this book took me ages to finish. (A highly unusual situation for me it must be said!)

So constantly I got the feeling that I was just reading the same page over again.
The author knows her material, and presents it in quite a conversational tone but repeats and repeats similar anecdotes and facts until you get this odd feeling of déjà vu .

Yes Paris may have been innovative in so many ways but again and again we are told this and she lauds the praises of that particular city so constantly that even I became more than a little bored, ...and I hasten to add that Paris is my very favourite city in the world!

Each chapter is devoted to another area or field where Paris apparently "led the way" in becoming "modern".

Now there's next to nothing on the very extensive work carried out under the direction of Baron Haussmann at all, ...everything here takes place in the 16th/17th centuries and basically starts off with the removal of the surrounding defensive walls, the building of the Pont Neuf with footpaths, Place des Vosges, Place Vendome, and the development of the up until then barren Ile St. Louis.
She charts the rise of shops and also what we would call "developers" and "financiers", but I think they were probably more like astute speculators than anything else.

Oh, and she does harp on (and on!) about the streets being "lit", ...but as this was only by single candles, suspended one to a street so I don't think the "city of light" was all that bright for quite some time.
Still I suppose it was an innovation, but the very dim effects of guttering candles would hardly have done much to stop street crime (and the cloak-stealing!) as she so often asserts.

After that the author seems to consider Paris to be "modern", despite the fact that it was still largely composed of rat-infested medieval slums that had to be completely demolished and rebuilt before Paris began to look anything at all like what we see today.
The large open square or parvis we now see directly in front of Nôtre Dame Cathedral being one of the very worst places for squalid overcrowded pest holes. Its current open appearance is entirely due to Haussmann.

I enjoyed some of the information here but only up to a point.
What the book needed was a firmer hand with the editing to remove so much of the repetition which I notice has also been remarked upon by most of the other reviews here.
Yes there are quite a lot of very interesting facts if you happen to be into the detailed history of Paris, but if you are just an intending tourist looking for some light background in preparation for a forthcoming trip, then this is far too weighty and dry for your purpose.

I'm giving it three stars, which pains me a bit because it was a valiant attempt, (AND it's about Paris too), but the presentation is just a little too academic and the writing itself comes perilously close to appearing biased. And all too often it relies on re-hashing the same statements again and again.
19 internautes sur 24 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Historical information is interesting but..... 3 mai 2014
Par P.Garcia - Publié sur
Format: Format Kindle Achat vérifié
I love Paris. Each summer for the last five years I've spent a couple of weeks going over each arrondissement and discovering something new each stay. From museums, public spaces, parks, monuments and bridges, the city is beyond compare. I was looking forward to this book and to be honest, I did enjoy certain aspects and information. I just felt the writing was a bit dry and many of the key points were repeated over and over to the point that I was anticipating the "rewind" before it appeared (examples of Paris being the center of "la mode" were just beaten to death). All in all the book could be so much more concise.
10 internautes sur 12 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Fascinating, detailed study of urban development and life 14 avril 2014
Par Charles Hugh Smith - Publié sur
Format: Relié
I would recommend this engaging historical study of the built environment of Paris to anyone planning to visit the city, not as a replacement for a travel guide but as an enriching parallel guide to the significant sites the author describes in detail. I have visited Paris seven times over the past two decades, most recently for three weeks last October, and the book gave me a new appreciation for what I'd seen and experienced. The author does an excellent job of tracing the social changes that flowed from each advancement of urban space. Reading this book will enable you to visit Paris and see the layers of urban improvements first-hand.

I would also recommend the book to other students of urban planning, as the author illustrates how single major improvements such as Pont Neuf changed the entire urban experience, commerce and society.

The level of detail can be either overwhelming or entertaining, depending on the reader. Those with an interest of French history and the arts will find the descriptions and illustrations well worth their time, as will students of urban design. Combine this book with a tour of the Paris sewers (a daily public tour) and you have a new appreciation for what makes a city enduringly great.
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