19 internautes sur 20 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
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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."
21 internautes sur 26 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
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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.
15 internautes sur 18 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
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Format: Format Kindle
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.
8 internautes sur 9 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
Charles Hugh Smith
- Publié sur Amazon.com
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.