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Baron Haussmann

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Baron Haussmann

Georges-Eugène Haussmann, commonly known as Baron Haussmann (French pronunciation: ​[ʒɔʁʒ øʒɛn (ba.ʁɔ̃ )], 27 March 1809 – 11 January 1891), was the Prefect of the Seine Department in France, who was chosen by the Emperor Napoleon III to carry out a massive program of new boulevards, parks and public works in Paris, commonly called Haussmann's renovation of Paris.[1] Critics forced his resignation for extravagance, but his vision of the city still dominates Central Paris.


Origins and early career

Haussmann was born in Paris on March 27, 1809, at 55 rue du Faubourg-du-Roule, in the neighborhood called Beaujon, in a house which he later demolished during his renovation of the city. He was the son of Nicolas-Valentin Haussmann (1787-1876), a protestant, and a senior official in the military establishment of Napoleon Bonaparte, and of Ève-Marie-Henriette-Caroline Dentzel, the daughter of a general and a deputy of French National Convention, Georges Frédéric Dentzel, a baron of Napoleon’s First Empire. He was the grandson of Nicolas Haussmann (1759-1847), a deputy of the Legislative Assembly and of the National Convention, an administrator of the Department of Seine-et-Oise, and a commissioner to the army.

He began his schooling at the collège Henri-IV and at the lycée Condorcet in Paris, and then began to study law. At the same time he studied music as a student at the Paris conservatory of music, for he was a good musician.

He was married on October 17, 1838 in Bordeaux to Octavie de Laharpe, also a protestant. They had two daughters: Henriette, who in 1860 married the banker Camille Dollfus; and Valentine, who in 1865 married Vicomte Maurice Pernéty, the chief of staff of his department. They divorced in 1891, and she married Georges Renouard (1843-1897).

On May 21, 1831, he began his career in public administration; he was named the secretary-general of the prefecture of the Department of Vienne at Poitiers; then, on June 15, 1832, he became the deputy prefect of Yssingeaux.

He became sous-préfet of Nérac in 1830, and advanced rapidly in the civil service until in 1853 he was chosen by Persigny to be prefect of the Seine département in succession to Jean Jacques Berger, who hesitated to incur the vast expenses of the imperial schemes for the embellishment of Paris. Haussmann held this post until 1870.[2]

Rebuilding of Paris

Commissioned by Napoleon III to instigate a program of planning reforms in Paris,[3] Haussmann laid out the Bois de Boulogne, and made extensive improvements in the smaller parks.[4] The gardens of the Luxembourg Palace (Luxembourg Garden) were cut down to allow the formation of new streets, and the Boulevard de Sebastopol, the southern half of which is now the Boulevard St Michel, was driven through a populous district. Additional, sweeping changes made wide "boulevards" of hitherto narrow streets. A new water supply, a gigantic system of sewers, new bridges, the opera house, and other public buildings, the inclusion of outlying districts – these were among the new prefect's achievements, accomplished by the aid of a bold handling of the public funds which called forth Jules Ferry's indictment, Les Comptes fantastiques de Haussmann, in 1867 (a play on words between contes, stories or tales – as in Les contes d'Hoffmann or Tales of Hoffmann, and comptes, accounts.)

A loan of 250 million francs was sanctioned for the city of Paris in 1865, and another of 260 million in 1869. These sums represented only part of his financial schemes, which led to his dismissal by the government of Émile Ollivier. After the fall of the Empire he spent about a year abroad, but he re-entered public life in 1877, when he became Bonapartist deputy for Ajaccio.

His work destroyed much of the medieval city. It is estimated that he transformed 60% of Paris's buildings. Notably, he redesigned the Place de l'Étoile, and created long avenues giving perspectives on monuments such as the Arc de Triomphe and the Opera Garnier.

"Baron Haussmann"

For his work, Haussmann received many honours (see below), he was however never formally ennobled. In later life, he nonetheless became known as Baron Haussmann. According to his memoirs,[5] Haussmann's use of the title baron was based on his elevation to the Senate and to an 1857 decree of the emperor's that gave Senate members the title of baron; his memoirs further stated that he joked that he might consider the title aqueduc, (a pun on the French words for 'duke' and 'aqueduct') but that no such title existed. However, the Dictionary of the Second Empire states that Haussmann used the title of baron casually, out of pride as the only male descendant of his maternal grandfather, Georges Frédéric, Baron Dentzel, a general under the first Napoleon. This use of baron, however, was not official, and he remained, legally, merely Monsieur Haussmann.[6]


Haussmann had been made senator in 1857, member of the Academy of Fine Arts in 1867, and grand cross of the Legion of Honour in 1862. His name is preserved in the Boulevard Haussmann. His later years were occupied with the preparation of his Mémoires (3 vols., 1890–1893).


He died in Paris and is buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris.

Haussmann's works

Rebuilding of Paris

Between the Revolution of 1789 and Haussmann's renovation of Paris in the 1860s, ideals changed from those of a politically motivated city to those of an economically and socially centered city. Modern technology such as railroads and gas lamps were conveniences which the rising bourgeoisie could enjoy in their leisurely lifestyle. New spaces that were created during the renovation encouraged the bourgeoisie to flaunt their new wealth, creating a booming economy. All of these examples of the changes occurring in Paris during this period can be seen in representations of the city. There are two views of Baron Haussmann: One depicts him as the man who destroyed Old Paris, and the other as the man who created New Paris.

Haussmann was hired by Napoleon III on 22 June 1852 to "modernize" Paris. Napoleon hoped in hiring Haussmann that Paris could be moulded into a city with safer streets, better housing, more sanitary, hospitable, shopper-friendly communities, better traffic flow, and, last but not least, streets too broad for rebels to build barricades across them and where coherent battalions and artillery could circulate easily if need be.[7] He created broad avenues linked to the main train stations so army troops from the provinces could be deployed in a short amount of time (for example, the boulevard de Strasbourg near Gare de l'Est and Gare du Nord). This work, achieved during the Second Empire, is one of the causes of the quick repression of the 1871 Paris Commune revolt: since the 1848 revolution, Adolphe Thiers had become obsessed with crushing out the next foreseeable Parisian rebellion. Thus, he planned to leave the city and retreat, in order to better take it back with more military forces.[4]

Haussmann's design of streets and avenues, combined with the new importance given to trains, made this plan more than successful, and Adolphe Thiers easily crushed the Communards. Haussmann accomplished much of this by tearing up many of the old, twisting streets and rundown apartment houses, and replacing them with the wide, tree-lined boulevards and expansive gardens for which Paris is famous today. Other elements of Haussmann's plan included uniform building heights, grand boulevards, and anchoring elements including the Arc de Triomphe and the Grand Opera House.

Haussmann's plan for Paris inspired some of the most important architectural movements including the City Beautiful Movement in the United States. In fact, renowned American architect Daniel Burnham borrowed liberally from Haussmann's plan and even incorporated the diagonal street designs in his 1909 Plan of Chicago. Cities like London and Moscow also have Haussmann influences in their city plans.

Historian Shelley Rice, in her book Parisian Views writes that "most Parisians during [the first half of the nineteenth century] perceived [the streets] as dirty, crowded, and unhealthy . . . Covered with mud and makeshift shanties, damp and fetid, filled with the signs of poverty as well as the signs of garbage and waste left there by the inadequate and faulty sewer system . . ." (p. 9). For these people, Haussmann was performing a much needed service to the city and to France.

How ugly Paris seems after a year's absence. How one chokes in these dark, narrow and dank corridors that we like to call the streets of Paris! One would think that one was in a subterranean city, that's how heavy is the atmosphere, how profound is the darkness!
—the Vicomte de Launay, 1838 (as quoted in Rice, p. 9)

It should be noted, however, that the people who suffered most from the medieval living conditions were often exiled to the suburbs by Haussmannization, since slums were cleared away and replaced with bourgeois apartments.

Criticism of his work

Haussmann was honest, but he spent 2.5 billion francs[1] on rebuilding Paris, a sum that staggered his critics. Jules Ferry and other enemies of Napoleon alleged that Haussmann had recklessly squandered money, and planned poorly. They further alleged he had falsified accounts. While Napoleon had hired Haussmann, the political attacks were so intense that he forced Haussmann to become a scapegoat, hoping his resignation would satisfy the bourgeois parties which had become increasingly angered during the economic depression of the late 1860s.[8]

Haussmann's plans, with their radical redevelopment, coincided with a time of intense political activity in Paris. Many Parisians were troubled by the destruction of "old roots". Historian Robert Herbert says that "the impressionist movement depicted this loss of connection in such paintings as Manet's A Bar at the Folies-Bergère." The subject of the painting is talking to a man, seen in the mirror behind her, but seems disengaged. According to Herbert, this is a symptom of living in Paris at this time: the citizens became detached from one another. "The continuous destruction of physical Paris led to a destruction of social Paris as well." The poet Charles Baudelaire witnessed these changes and wrote the poem "The Swan" in response. The poem is a lament for, and critique of the destruction of the medieval city in the name of "progress":

Old Paris is gone (no human heart

changes half so fast as a city's face)…
There used to be a poultry market here,
and one cold morning… I saw

a swan that had broken out of its cage,
webbed feet clumsy on the cobblestones,
white feathers dragging through uneven ruts,
and obstinately pecking at the drains…

Paris changes . . . but in sadness like mine
nothing stirs—new buildings, old
neighbourhoods turn to allegory,

and memories weigh more than stone.[9]

Haussmann was also criticized for the great cost of his project. Napoleon III fired Haussmann on 5 January 1870 in order to improve his own flagging popularity. And Haussmann was a favorite target of the Situationist's critique; besides pointing out the repressive aims that were achieved by Haussmann's urbanism, Guy Debord and his friends (who considered urbanism to be a "state science" or inherently "capitalist" science) also underlined that he nicely separated leisure areas from work places, thus announcing modern functionalism, as illustrated by Le Corbusier's precise zone tripartition (one zone for circulation, another one for accommodations, and the last one for labour).

The changes wrought by Haussmann on the streetscape of Paris were documented in the film, Paris: Living Space, featuring Edmund N. Bacon and based on sections of his book Design of Cities.

See also


Further reading

  • Carmona, Michel, and Patrick Camiller. Haussmann: His Life and Times and the Making of Modern Paris (2002) 505pp
  • Pinkney, David H. Napoleon III and the Rebuilding of Paris (Princeton University Press, 1958)
  • Pinkney, David H. "Money and Politics in the Rebuilding of Paris, 1860-1870," Journal of Economic History (1957) 17#1 pp 45–61. in JSTOR
  • Richardson, Joanna. "Emperor of Paris Baron Haussmann 1809-1891," History Today (1975), 25#12 pp 843–49
  • Weeks, Willet. Man Who Made Paris: The Illustrated Biography of Georges-Eugene Haussmann (2000) 160pp

External links

  • "Georges Eugène Haussmann" from French language site Insecula
  • Find a Grave

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