Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Paris "Mur-murant"

Becket, November 21, 2012

Imagine this: it's early spring in 1814 and Napoleon's "grand tour" is coming to an end; if you are in Paris and look north, you can see the troops of Tzar Alexander atop the hills of Montmartre.  This image of foreign armies--not only Russian but also Prussian and Austrian--entering triumphantly in Paris is not going to be easily forgotten.  It must have certainly been in Louis-Philippe's mind when he first thought about surrounding the city with a protective wall-- known as the Thiers Wall after the prime minister Alphonse Thiers,--the larger enclosure in this 1841 fortification map.  It run for 33 kilometers (21 miles) and encircled 7800 hectars (more than 30 square miles,) more or less establishing the shape of Paris proper, all the way to the present.

Defensive walls have had a profound impact in the shape of cities, even after they become obsolete and get demolished (just think of Vienna's Ringstrasse.) The Thiers Wall came down after WWI, but its footprint can still be traced in the Boulevards des Maréchaux and the Boulevard Périphérique.

The inner area that appears in this 1841 map is bound by the Wall of the Farmers-General, a legacy of the "Ancien Régime" built just before the revolution, not for defensive purposes but to collect taxes.  It enclosed 3400 hectars (13 square miles) and defined the extents of Paris until Napoleon III expanded the city all the way to the Thiers Wall, setting the stage for the enormous urban transformations of his prefect, Baron Haussmann.

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