How Paris Became Paris The Invention of the Modern City (Joan DeJean)

Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; First American Edition, First Printing edition (March 4, 2014)


Présentation de l’éditeur

At the beginning of the seventeenth century, Paris was known for isolated monuments but had not yet put its brand on urban space. Like other European cities, it was still emerging from its medieval past. But in a mere century Paris would be transformed into the modern and mythic city we know today.

Though most people associate the signature characteristics of Paris with the public works of the nineteenth century, Joan DeJean demonstrates that the Parisian model for urban space was in fact invented two centuries earlier, when the first complete design for the French capital was drawn up and implemented. As a result, Paris saw many changes. It became the first city to tear down its fortifications, inviting people in rather than keeping them out. Parisian urban planning showcased new kinds of streets, including the original boulevard, as well as public parks and the earliest sidewalks and bridges without houses. Venues opened for urban entertainment of all kinds, from opera and ballet to a pastime invented in Paris, recreational shopping. Parisians enjoyed the earliest public transportation and street lighting, and Paris became Europe’s first great walking city.

A century of planned development made Paris both beautiful and exciting. It gave people reasons to be out in public as never before and as nowhere else. And it gave Paris its modern identity as a place that people dreamed of seeing. By 1700, Paris had become the capital that would revolutionize our conception of the city and of urban life.

« Capital of the Universe »


Prior to the seventeenth century, the most celebrated European city was one famous for its past. Visitors made pilgrimages to Rome to tour its ancient monuments or its historic churches: they were seeking artistic inspiration and indulgence rather than novelty and excitement. Then, in the seventeenth century, a new model for urban space and urban life was invented, a blueprint for all great cities to come. The modern city as it came to be defined was designed to hold a visitor’s attention with quite different splendors: contemporary residential architecture and unprecedented urban infrastructure rather than grand palaces and churches. And this remade the urban experience for both the city’s inhabitants and its visitors alike. The modern city was oriented to the future rather than the past: speed and movement were its hallmarks.

And, as many Europeans quickly recognized, only one city was truly modern: Paris.

Near the end of the seventeenth century, a new kind of publication began to appear: pocket guidebooks and maps specifically designed for visitors who planned to explore a city on foot. These ancestors of today’s guidebooks were created to introduce Europeans to Paris. It was a city that, their authors felt, had become such a revolutionary kind of place that it needed to be seen in this way to be understood. The genre began in 1684 with the first edition of Germain Brice’s Description nouvelle de ce qu’il y a de plus intéressant et de plus remarquable dans la ville de Paris, soon translated into English as A New Description of Paris, destined to become the best—selling guide to any city until the 1750s.

Brice presented information street by street, neighborhood by neighborhood, so that, as he explained in his preface, “in one walk, people can see a number of beautiful things. »    His guidebook’s organizational principle indicates that Brice—a native Parisian and longtime professional guide for foreign visitors—had taken stock of the fact that tourism had spread beyond the happy few who traveled in private vehicles from one monument to the next, paying little attention to the surrounding areas since the urban landscape itself was of no particular interest. By the 1680s a new infrastructure had made walking easy, and there were sights aplenty all along the way. The city itself was the monument.

With the 1698 edition, Brice’s guidebook also included a handy new feature: a fold-out map to guide visitors during their walks. As soon as Paris’ infrastructure began to evolve at a rapid pace, a golden age began for French cartography. And since the cityscape was in constant flux all during the seventeenth century, new maps were continually issued. Each mapmaker told the story of Paris in a difl’erent way, with topographic maps, bird’s-eye views, portraits.

The first map aimed specifically at the growing numbers of foreigners in the city was published by Nicolas de Fer in 1692. A contemporary periodical described it as especially useful to “those who know nothing about the city,” and de Fer’s organization is still being followed in today’s tourist maps. On its left side, the map lists the streets of Paris in alphabetical order, and on its right points of interest: churches and palaces, but also bridges and embankments.

The map is laid out in squares, numbered I to 14 horizontally and A to L vertically, each measured in steps, “so that someone can see in a glance how many he’ll have to take to get from one place to another. » De Fer was offering in efl’ect a combined map and guidebook for tourists on foot—and in 1694, he published a small-format map (nine by twelve inches) that was easily carried about in one’s pocket. This detail from that 1694 map shows how convenient it would have been for exploring the new Champs-Elysées neighborhood, just then becoming part ofthe fabric of Paris. No one saw the potential ofde Fer’s innovations more clearly than Brice—hence his decision to reissue his own guide in 1698 with a fold~out map and a listing, in alphabetical order, of the streets of the city.

There had been earlier books about Paris: Father Jacques Du Breul’s 1612 work on its antiquities, for example. But these volumesilike works such as Andrea Palladio’s Iss4 introductions to ancient Roman monuments and medieval pilgrimage churches—were destined for visitors who measured a city’s greatness by its history, and they focus on civic and religious monuments.

How Paris Became Paris The Invention of the Modern City (pocket map)

John Stow’s 1598 A Survey of London and Thomas De Laune’s 1681 The Present State of London also have an antiquarian slant; they evoke modern-day London mainly as a center of commerce and the nation’s financial hub. In contrast, guidebooks to Paris present a city bristling with creative energy, a cultural magnet an incubator of the kind of ideas that could revolutionize urban life.

Recent research indicates that once a city acquires a reputation—as an exciting place or as one where nothing ever happens—that image tends to survive unchanged for long periods of time. The original guidebooks to Paris help explain how one of the most powerful urban images of all time was put into place.

Both Brice and de Fer had the same idea of why modern tourists might choose to visit a city. In Brice’s opinion, visitors no longer wanted detailed historical information. Visitors now preferred a guidebook that included “an account of the latest trends in modern residential architecture, rather than the translation of [Latin] epitaphs in a cemetery.” Thus, Brice, like de Fer, included recent architectural achievelents – both private homes and innovative public works such as avenues- that in the course of the seventeenth century had become central to the experience of Paris.




Votre commentaire

Entrez vos coordonnées ci-dessous ou cliquez sur une icône pour vous connecter:


Vous commentez à l’aide de votre compte Déconnexion /  Changer )

Image Twitter

Vous commentez à l’aide de votre compte Twitter. Déconnexion /  Changer )

Photo Facebook

Vous commentez à l’aide de votre compte Facebook. Déconnexion /  Changer )

Connexion à %s

%d blogueurs aiment cette page :