Paris – The Modern City

PARIS, north of the river, —which is for most purposes the practical Paris of business and pleasure, and of the ordinary tourist at the present day, — has grown by slow degrees from small beginnings. The various rings of its growth are roughly marked on the Map of Historical Paris. The wall of Philippe Auguste started from near the easternmost end of the existing Louvre, and, after bending inland so as just to enclose the Halles Centrales, reached the river again near the upper end of the Ile St. Louis. It thus encircled the district immediately opposite the primitive islands : and this innermost region, the Core of the Right Bank, still contains most of the older buildings and places of interest north of the river. Étienne Marcel’s walls took a slightly wider sweep, as shown on the map ; and by the time of Louis XIII., the town had reached the limit of the Great Boulevards, which, with their southern prolongation, still enclose almost everything of historical or artistic interest in modern Paris. The fact that the kings had all their palaces in this northern district was partly a cause, partly perhaps an effect, of its rapid predominance. The town was now spreading mainly northward.

The increase of the royal power brought about by Richelieu, and the consequent stability and internal peace of the kingdom, combined with the complete change in methods of defense which culminated in Vauban, enabled Louis XIV. to pull down the walls of Paris altogether, and to lay out the space covered by his predecessor’s fortifications in that series of broad curved avenues which still bears from this circumstance the name of Boulevards (“bulwarks ” or ramparts). The original line so named, from the Bastille to the Madeleine, is ordinarily spoken of to this day simply as “the Boulevard.” All the others called by the same have borrowed the title, mostly at a very recent date, from this older girdle. Gradually, the faubourgs which gathered beyond the line of the inner city, as well as beyond the artificial south-ern prolongation of the Boulevards by which Louis continued his circle, with true French thoroughness of system, on the southern bank, have entirely coalesced with the central town, and at last enormously outgrown it.. Nevertheless, to the end, the Paris of Louis XIV. continues to enclose almost all that is vital in the existing city. Especially is Paris within the Great Boulevards to this day the Paris of business and finance : it includes the Bourse, the Banque de France, the Bourse de Commerce, the chief markets, the Post Office, the Ministries of Finance, Marine, and Justice, the Hôtel de Ville, numerous government offices, the principal wholesale warehouses, financial firms, and agencies, and almost all the best shops, hotels, banks, and business houses.

Even the inner circle itself, again, within the Boulevards, has been largely transformed by modern alterations, especially in that extensive reorganisation of the city inaugurated under Napoleon III. by Baron Haussmann. In the brief itinerary which follows, and in which I have endeavoured to give the reader in two short walks or drives some general idea of the development of the Right Bank, with its chief points of interest, I shall indicate roughly the various ages of the great thoroughfares, and note with needful conciseness the causes which at various times led to their construction.

Start from the Place de la Concorde, and walk eastward along the Rue de Rivoli, in the direction of the Louvre. (If you like, the top of an omnibus will suffice as far as the Hôtel de Ville.) The Place de la Concorde itself, though old in essence, is, in its present form, quite a modern creation, having been laid out in 1854 under the Second Empire, when it was decorated with the eight seated stone figures, wearing mural crowns, and representing the chief cities of France (including Strasbourg). The Luxor obelisk (age of Rameses IL) was erected in the place, in its simpler form, by Louis Philippe, in 1836. The two handsome large buildings on the north side are still earlier in date, age of Louis XV.: one of them is occupied by the Ministère de la Marine, — that nearest the Tuileries.

Proceed along the Rue de Rivoli, driven through this part of Paris by Napoleon I. He was a Corsican, and admired his native Italian arcaded streets, which he transplanted to Paris in this thoroughfare, and in the Rues Castiglione and des Pyramides, all of which commemorate his victories. The form, however, is ill-adapted to the North, being draughty and sunless; and Frenchmen have never cared for the Rue de Rivoli, which is the street of strangers and especially of Englishmen. The native Parisian has always preferred to sun himself on the boulevards. To your right are the gardens of the Tuileries, still much as they were laid out under Louis XIV. by Le Nôtre, in the formal style which well accorded with that artificial epoch. They contrast markedly with the newer portion, further east, on the site of the palace, laid out by the present republic in something like the English manner.

On the left, as you proceed, lies the Rue Castiglione, another of Napoleon’s arcaded streets, leading up to the Place and Colonne Vendôme. On the right, a little further on, you come abreast of the Louvre, the first pavillon being part of the connecting wing of the Tuileries. On the left, the Rue des Pyramides, again Napoleonic ; and further to the left opens up the Place du Palais-Royal, with the façade of the palace showing behind it. This part, marked Conseil d’Etat, is the original building (much restored and rebuilt) ; it was erected by Richelieu for his own occupation, and bore at first the name of Palais-Cardinal. Occupied after his death by the widow of Louis XIII., it took its present name ; and was later the residence of the notorious regent, Philippe d’Orléans, and of his scheming grandson, Philippe Égalité. The garden behind, with an arcade of shops, now half-deserted and uninteresting, which also bears the name of Palais-Royal (almost to the exclusion of the original building), was laid out and let in this curious way by the regent, as a commercial speculation. As a relic of the past, it is worth ten minutes’ visit, sometime in passing.

Continue along the Rue de Rivoli, eastward, till you reach the Rue du Louvre. So far, you have been passing through the Paris of Louis XIII., Louis XIV., and the Empire; but now you are abreast with the wall of Philippe Auguste, and enter the core of the Right Bank. Old as this part is, however, by origin, few of its buildings are medimval ; almost everything has been re-made in the Renaissance period.

To your right lies the site of the old château of the Louvre, and opposite it, the mediæval Church of St. Germain l’Auxerrois, one of the few remaining, which thus announces your arrival in early Paris from the town of Napoleon and François Ier. (The Rue du Louvre itself is of very recent origin, and leads to the left to the new post-office.) Still going east, you have on your right the tower of St. Jacques, once another fine mediæval, church, now demolished. Near it, on the left, opens out the modern Boulevard de Sébastopol, forming part of the great trunk line from north to south, which was a principal feature in the Haussmannising plan. It is known, further north, as the Boulevard de Strasbourg, and south as the Boulevard du Palais and the Boulevard St. Michel. Keep on till you come to the Hôtel de Ville, the centre of the town on the North Bank.

The old Hôtel de Ville, which this building replaces, was erected in 1553, under François Ier, by an Italian architect, in emulation of the similar buildings in Italy and the Low Countries. It was afterward largely added to at various times, and played an important part in the history of Paris. This first Hôtel de Ville, however (a handsome Renaissance building), was unfortunately burned down during the internal struggles of 1871. The present edifice was erected shortly after, in much the same style, but on a larger scale ; a walk round the exterior will help to piece out the visitor’s conception of Renaissance Paris. Note here once more the pavillons at the angles, and other features which recall the Louvre. A visit to the interior is quite unnecessary for any save those hardened sightseers who desire to inspect the decorations and arrangements of purely contemporary buildings. The sole reason for coming to the Hôtel de Ville at all, indeed, is the desirability of recognising its historic site, and understanding that here, by the hall of the old Prévôt des Marchands and the seat of the revolutionary Commune of Robespierre’s period, you stand at the heart of La Ville, — the Paris of the merchants. The building is occupied by the Préfet de la Seine, — the Department which practically coincides with Paris. The place in front of it, now called after the hotel itself, is the old Place de Grève, the famous place of execution under the old monarchy, — almost equally conspicuous in the history of the great Revolution.

Earlier still than the building of François Ier, a Hostel de Ville” had stood upon the same site, purchased for the purpose by Étienne Marcel, Prévôt des Marchands, the real founder of the Paris municipality — to whom, therefore, a bronze equestrian statue has been erected in the little square facing the river.

The Hôtel de Ville forms a . convenient centre from which to begin the exploration of the core of the northern city. Walk round to the back (with a second fine façade) and, between the two handsome barracks, you see towering before you the front of the Church of St. Gervais. This is an old church, re-modelled ; and, unlike most of the churches in the older part of Paris, it does not commemorate a local saint. Gervasius and Protasius, to whom it is dedicated, were two very doubtful martyrs of the persecution under Nero, whose names, bodies, and resting-place were miraculously and conveniently revealed to St. Ambrose at Milan (A. D. 387) at the exact moment when he needed relics for the church he had built, and which is now dedicated to him, — the most interesting building in that beautiful city. St. Germain, Bishop of Paris, brought back some relics of these saints in 56o; and thenceforth St. Gervais and St. Portais became great objects of cult, like St. Stephen, in the Frankish city. They are frequent subjects of French pictures in the seventeenth century. This church, dedicated to them, probably occupies the site of one built by St. Germain in their honour. It was begun in 1212, added to and completely altered in 1420, and finally remodelled in front in the later Renaissance or classic manner. Most of the building as it stands is late Gothic ; but you must go to the side to see it : the incongruous classic façade, illustrating the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian orders, was added by Debrosse in 1616. Notice the coldness and bareness of this pseudo-classical front, as compared with the rich detail of the earlier mediæval exteriors. Almost the only breaks are the figures, on either side, of the two martyrs to contain whose relics the church was built. The sides, enclosed in houses which go close up to the wall, show the earlier architecture. Most churches in Paris were so walled up during the seventeenth century. The tower, and the aspect of the streets at the side, are very characteristic of a set of old effects now seldom visible.

The interior is chiefly noticeable for its great height, and for its interesting late Gothic architecture. The patron saints, with their palms of martyrdom, stand on either side of the high altar. The chapels at the south side should be examined separately : in one is a good stained glass window by Pinaigrier (restored) of the Judgment of Solomon. Notice to what saint each is dedicated. The beautiful flamboyant lady-chapel, behind the choir, contains good modern frescoes, illustrating the mystic titles of the Blessed Virgin, whose history is shown in the stained glass of the windows, also by Pinaigrier, but very much restored. These scenes the reader will now, I trust, be able to follow for himself, — the birth, education, marriage, etc., of the Virgin, with the events of her life as recorded in the Gospels, and her death and assumption. Good Pietà (Christ mourned by angels) as you return on the north side, with some excellent paintings, — Martyrdom of St. Juliet, etc. I do not enlarge, as I hope the reader is now able to follow the lead I have given him in previous churches.

From St. Gervais, walk a little way along the north side of the church, enclosed in its curious envelope of houses, till you come to the Mairie of the Fourth Arrondissement. Then, turn up into the Rue de la Verrerie, along which continue till you reach the side of the Church of St. Merri, almost hidden from view by a wall of houses. The façade is round the corner, in the Rue St. Martin. This is one of the few remaining mediæval churches in this district. St. Merri (Abbot Mederic of Autun) was a historical saint of the seventh century, local and early. He had a hermitage on this spot (then in the woods), and was finally buried here. The shrine over his tomb became the centre of a Parisian cult, and several churches rose successively above his body. The present one was not built till 1520; it is nevertheless a good late Gothic building. But notice the decline from the purity of Notre-Dame and the exquisite lightness of St. Louis’s chapel.

Handsome flamboyant doorway, one mass of sculpture ; statues of twelve Apostles, with symbols of their martyrdoms, all restored, after being destroyed in the Revolution. The interior is interesting, but spoilt in seventeenth century ; good stained glass, badly injured. I bring you here mainly for the sake of the reminiscences.

Continue straight on through characteristic old streets, to the modern Boulevard de Sébastopol, which cuts right through the core of Paris. Cross it and take the first turn to the left (as you walk northward), observing the marked contrast of the modern thoroughfare to the narrow streets we have just been traversing. Go along the Rue de la Reynie, and continue for one block, till you see, a little obliquely to your right, the Square des Innocents. In the centre rises the Fontaine des Innocents, designed by Pierre Lescot, with beautiful and appropriate sculptured figures of nymphs, bearing urns of water, by Jean Goujon. The fountain originally stood with its back to the Church of the Innocents, demolished in 1783. It has been reërected here, with a fourth side added (to the south), and has been much altered by the addition of a base and cupola. Nevertheless, it still remains a beautiful and typical example of French Renaissance architecture and sculpture. The coquettish reliefs, indeed, are not perhaps more lovely than those which adorn Jean Goujon’s portion of the Louvre ; but they are nearer to the eye, and the scale enables one to judge of the entire effect more truthfully. The other exquisite nymphs which we saw in the Renaissance sculpture at the Louvre were originally part of the same fountain. The pretty little square in which the fountain stands is characteristic of the many democratic public gardens of Paris.

Proceed diagonally across the square, and continue along the north side of the Halles Centrales, till the east end of St. Eustache, with its characteristic French chevet, comes in view before you. At the Pointe St. Eustache, as you cross the roadway, look up the vistas of un-Haussmannised Paris, again contrasting vividly with the broad Rue de Turbigo, which runs hence to the Place de la République. Do not enter at the first door at which you arrive, — the one in the chevet, a rather good one, but continue along the south side of the church, observing as you pass the beautiful transept, with fine rose window, noble Renaissance portal, and a stag’s head with the crucifix (emblem of St. Eustace) surmounting the gable. Go on round the corner to the gaunt, bare, lumbering, and unimposing late Renaissance or classical façade. In this you see the worst aspect of the decadent Renaissance architecture of Louis XIV., — no saints, no archways. The door to the right gives access to the interior. In any other town but Paris, so splendid a building, rivalling many cathedrals, would attract numerous visitors. Here, it is hardly noticed. This is the church of the “Dames de la Halle,” or market-women, who may often be observed in it.

We have already seen in brief at Cluny the main elements of the story of St. Eustace, the saint who was converted by the apparition of the Christ between the horns of the stag he was pursuing. Though not a local martyr, St. Eustace early obtained great consideration in Paris. But the first church here was one to St. Agnes : look out for memorials of her throughout the building. St. Eustace had practically supplanted her as early as 1223: his church, after many enlargements, was finally pulled down under François Ier, and the present splendid Renaissance edifice erected in its place in 1532; completed in 164o. It is a strangely picturesque and unique building. St. Eustache, indeed, displays Renaissance architecture in a transitional state, endeavouring vainly to free itself from the traditions of the Gothic. In general plan, and in the combination of all its parts, it is in essence a Gothic cathedral ; but its arches are round, and its detail and decorative work are all conceived in the classical spirit of the Renaissance. If you wish to see the difference between such a church and one in which developed Renaissance methods have finally triumphed, you must visit St. Sulpice.

Notice three things about St.- Eustache : (1) it replaces a church to St. Agnes, who is still one of its two patronesses ; (2) it is the great musical church of Paris ; (3) it is the church of the markets.

Immediately on entering, stand in the centre of the nave, and look up the church toward the choir and chevet. The enormous size of the building will at once strike you. Notice, too, the tall, round arches of the nave and aisles, the triforium above them (best seen from the aisles), and, higher still, the clerestory rising above the aisle-vaulting. The proportions are admirable. Observe also the roof, essentially Gothic in plan, though with an incongruous substitution of round for pointed arches. But note that all these quasi-Gothic constructive features are combined with classical columns and pilasters of the three great orders — Doric, Ionic, Corinthian — superimposed, and with such Renaissance detail as masks, cherubs, and other later decorative features.

Now walk up the right aisle. Everything in this church is, of course, comparatively modern, but still rich in symbolism. Most of the chapels have their names inscribed upon them, —an excellent feature. The first, containing Franciscan saints, has a good modern stained-glass window, representing the saints and patrons of the order, — St. Francis, St. Louis, etc. Observe the frescoes in the various chapels, and note their applicability to the saints to whom they are dedicated. I need not now enlarge upon this point. For example, the chapel of the souls in purgatory has a relief of Christ bound to the pillar — his purgatory — (a portion of it is preserved here) and a fresco representing mourning souls below, with triumphant ones in heaven. Observe from this point the beautiful Renaissance detail of the aisles and of the vaulting in the ambulatory, or passage behind the choir. Do not overlook the chapels of St. Agnes (co-patroness) and St. Cecilia, the inventress of the organ and patroness of music. The transepts are very short, but are deco-rated with good rose windows and other excellent semi-Gothic detail. Walk round the ambulatory, noticing as you go the various chapels with their polychromatic decoration and their appropriate frescoes. Thus, that of St. Anne contains a representation of the saint educating her daughter, the Virgin. Note also on your left as you go the delicate work of the choir-screen, and the excellent vaulting and decoration of the lofty choir. The lady-chapel behind the choir is not wholly pleasing. It contains a good eighteenth century statue of the Virgin and Child by Pigalle. Observe particularly in the north part of the ambulatory the chapel of Ste. Geneviève, with scenes from her legend. The chapel of St. Louis, next it, contains excellent modern frescoes from his life, by Barrias, and a fine stained-glass window of his education, with his mother, Blanche of Castille, looking on, beneath a canopy marked with fleurs-de-lis and the three castles of Castille. One fresco represents him taking the crown of thorns to the Sainte Chapelle. Observe these little historical reminiscences ; they add interest. Pleasing reliefs in the north transept of St. Cecilia and King David, representing music, for which this church has always been celebrated, especially on St. Cecilia’s Day and Good Friday. They stand for psalms and hymns, — the Jewish and the Christian psalmody. Notice, again, the figure of St. Agnes with her lamb, between the doorways, a tribute to the earlier dedication of the building. Above it, good stained-glass window of the Annunciation, with traditional details. Do not be content to notice merely the points to which I call attention, but observe for yourself, as you go, the other figures, with their meaning and connection. To spell it all out is half the pleasure. Above the holy water vessel in this transept is a figure of Pope Alexander I., who first sanctioned the use of holy water, accompanied by angels. Beneath it, the baffled and disappointed demons, fleeing from the consecrated water. The next chapel contains the relics of St. Eustace and his children, martyrs. It is, perhaps, a little characteristic of modern feeling that the half-mythical namesake saint of the church should thus be relegated to a subordinate chapel in the edifice originally erected to his honour. The pictures are imitated from those in the Catacombs at Rome. Notice, in particular, the fresco of St. Eustace kneeling before the stag, which displays between its horns the miraculous image ; also the subsequent scenes of his legend (for which, see Mrs. Jameson). Beautiful view from this point of the choir and ambulatory.

Do not leave this interesting building with-out having examined all its details. It contains enough to occupy you for several hours, and is rich in illustrations of modern Catholic sentiment. Even the most tawdry bits of its modern church furniture become of interest when examined as parts of a consistent whole, falling into their due place in a great system of belief and the government of conduct. You have not really understood a church till you have grasped this connection between its various members. Ask yourself always, “Why is this here?” and though you may not always be able to see, the longer you proceed to investigate in this spirit, the more will the meaning of the whole come home to you. For example, return to the south transept and observe the figure of St. Gregory : he is the musical Father from whom the Gregorian chants take their name, and as such deserves commemoration in the musical church.

Quitting St. Eustache, you can continue westward a few steps, and then turn down a short street on the left, which leads you obliquely to a curious circular building, the Bourse de Commerce. Skirt round this till you come to its ugly façade, and then continue your way into the Rue du Louvre.

This short walk will have enabled you to take your bearings in the heart of the old district north of the river. You can prolong it a little, if you choose, through the town of Louis XIV., by walking northward along the Rue du Louvre as far as the new post-office, and then turning to the left into the little circular *Place des Victoires with its clumsy rearing equestrian statue of the Grand Monarch. The place dates from his reign, and was designed by Mansart. Originally known as the Place Louis XIV., it was decorated by an earlier statue of the king, destroyed in the Revolution. The Restoration replaced it by the present ugly monument. A few steps to the northwest stands the Church of Notre-Dame des Victoires, begun in 1656, to commemorate the taking of La Rochelle, the Huguenot stronghold. It is instructive to compare this building of the worst period with the mediæval and Renaissance churches you have just been examining. The Rue Notre-Dame des Victoires will lead you hence up to the Bourse (adequately viewed from outside), whence the brand-new Rue du 4 Septembre takes you straight back to the Opéra and the centre of modern Paris.

I have only walked you here through a small part of this older town ; but if you care to explore the interesting district, rich in Renaissance and even mediæval buildings, which lies to the east of the Hôtel de Ville, you cannot do better than take Mr. Augustus Hare’s “Paris ” as your guide, — a valuable book, especially rich in historical reminiscences of the Renaissance period, the epoch of Louis XIV., and the great Revolution. Mr. Hare will lead you to many forgotten nooks of old Paris, which the modest dimensions of the present book are insufficient to deal with. But I advise you only to explore these less-known byways after you have examined all the objects of first-rate importance here enumerated.

The Musée Carnavalet, also in this district, you had better defer visiting till after you have seen the École des Beaux-Arts, in the St. Germain Quarter, south of the river. It will be noticed later.