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Boulevards of Paris
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Boulevards of Paris

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Key Information:
Group Size: 3 - 6 people
Destination: Paris
Season: January - December
Languages: English, French
Minimum Cost: 55 Euro (EUR) Per person
Maximum Cost: 55 Euro (EUR) Per person

Of all the revolutions that gripped Paris in the 18th and 19th centuries, none so completely changed the face of the city as the architectural revolution directed by city prefect Baron Haussman. This three-hour walking seminar explores the work of Haussmann and urban planning in Paris over two centuries. We begin our discussion with the Palais Royal, which was constructed in 1781 by the Duc de Chartres as Paris's first purpose-built shopping and leisure complex. Today a charming oasis of calm, Palais Royal caused a sensation when it opened, revolutionizing shopping in a city whose narrow, congested, essentially medieval streets were a danger to any pedestrian foolish enough to set foot in them.

Palais Royal was also the site of Paris's first covered passage or shopping arcade, launching a vogue that would sweep the post-Revolutionary city, with over fifty arcades being built between 1790 and 1850. We will wander some of the surviving passages that were not destroyed by Haussmann, and which later became a source of nostalgia for those yearning for a pre-Haussmannian Paris (Walter Benjamin's 20th century encyclopedic "Arcades Project" dedicates over 1000 pages to the topic). From here, we'll emerge into modern Paris, stepping out onto one of the wide, straight-as-an-arrow "grands boulevards" created during the Second Empire (late 1800s) by Napoleon III and his prefect, Baron Haussmann.

While the scale of these changes was unprecedented - huge tracts of the old city disappeared overnight - the ideas they implemented were not new. We'll discuss how Huassmann's boulevards were modeled on those created by Louis XIV in the 17th century. As we stroll, we'll discuss the role of these streets as the hub of fashionable Parisian life in the 19th century, providing a backdrop for novelty shopping, theaters, and all variety of entertainment, as well as being a popular place of promenade: Balzac's famous flâneur would most certainly have been found there.Our walk will include what is perhaps the most iconic example of Second Empire urbanism, the Opera Garnier and its surrounding streets and avenues.

Completed in 1875, the Opera is the jewel in the crown of Beaux Arts architecture in Paris. As well as admiring its spectacularly ornate yet rationally organized exterior, we will also visit its sumptuous interiors, including, if rehearsal schedules permit, the famous auditorium with its whimsical ceiling painting by Marc Chagall. Depending on time and interest, our walk may also include a visit to one of the late 19th century department stores, Printemps or Galleries Lafayette, with their art-nouveau glass domes, as well as to one Haussmann's churches, St-Augustin or Ste-Trinité, both of which provide classic examples of his own town planning strategies.

The sites visited on this architectural and urban walking seminar will provide an opportunity to discuss many issues, most notably the change in French social structure following the revolution, the resultant rise of the bourgeoisie in the 19th century and the concomitant development of railways, industry and capitalism, all of which led to Napoleon III's radical rebuilding of Paris. Please note that this is walking intensive and covers extensive territory in the city.

This walk is also available privately, starting at €270 per group.