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Posts Tagged ‘Baron Haussmann’

This blog has quietly passed the 10-year anniversary. We met many remarkable personalities along the way, and I want to recall some of them in this post. Not all were paragons of virtue, but they were bursting with enthusiasm, perseverance, and unlimited energy. The combination of all three is what leads to high achievement. Here then is a collection of five exceptional go-getters:

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Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, later Napoleon III

(1808-1873)

His megalomaniac uncle ravaged Europe, wasted a whole generation of Frenchmen on battlefields, and caused untold suffering to people across the continent, from Spain to Russia. Napoleon III, on the contrary, ruled for eighteen prosperous years with modernization and progress as his goals. For some strange reason, Napoleon the Great found his historical place among the admired personalities instead of being sent to hell along with Hitler. His industrious nephew, on the other hand, is called Napoleon le Petit (Napoleon the Small) by the ungrateful French. And yet! Where are the glorious conquests of Napoleon I now? Gone, long gone. Only the legend remains. The legacy of Napoleon III, far less glorious, but far more useful, is still with us. It’s time to do this remarkable man justice. His life story is just as colorful as his uncle’s. Read The English Courtesan Who Made a French Emperor

Georges-Eugène Haussmann, the man who transformed Paris

(1809-1891)

Better known as Baron Haussmann, this man was chosen by Emperor Napoleon III to carry out a massive urban renewal of Paris. Never before had a city been transformed so fast and so completely. Never again will we see such a ruthless urban upheaval for greater good. What was possible then, under the imperial absolutism, is no longer doable in a democratic state. Nevertheless, whichever way we look at it today, we cannot deny Baron Haussmann’s genius. Read more…

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Countess of Castiglione, professional beauty, secret agent, and pioneer of photography

(1837-1899)

Virginia Elisabetta Luisa Carlotta Antonietta Teresa Maria Oldoïni, the Countess of Castiglione by virtue of her marriage, and the most notorious narcissist of the century, led a busy life. Still in her teens, she became the mistress to a king who then sent her to conquer an emperor. After bedroom diplomacy in her youth, she spent the rest of her life posing for portraits of her gorgeous self. While doing so, she rewrote the rules of photography. Read La Castiglione: The Too Much Countess

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Charles F. Worth, father of the haute-couture and fashion dictator

(1825-1895)

When Charles Worth died, queens and other wealthy women around the world wept. In his egalitarian establishment, Rue de la Paix, royalty met with high-ranking prostitutes and the common language was money. This former printer’s apprentice, ended with 1,200 employees and a huge fortune. How did it all happen? Read it here…

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Sarah Bernhardt, the drama queen who conquered the world

(1844-1923)

The Divine Sarah as she was known worldwide, was a woman of many talents, and even more eccentricities. She possessed the energy of a power plant and an extraordinary courage to fight adversity. When she stood in the US Congress, pleading for America to join the WW1, no one had to ask who was this small, one-legged, old Frenchwoman. If you lived in a civilized country you would have heard her name. She’d made sure of that. Read The Inescapable Sarah Bernhardt here…

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After twenty years apart, the Three Musketeers reunite to right a wrong.

Madelon-la-Belle left Paris twenty years ago to escape her damaged reputation. She abandoned her infant daughter, Louise, in the care of her sister. Now she is back, a wealthy widow, and she plans to be a caring mother. Her idea of caring motherhood is to make Louise a high-born heiress. It only needs a little deception.

This does not sit well with Louise’s father, Captain d’Artagnan of the Royal Musketeers, who finds Madelon’s plan unsound. He wants to see Louise married as soon as possible, before she becomes a slut like her mother, and has already found a good husband for her. Unfortunately, the formidable Madelon does not agree with d’Artagnan’s choice. A battle of wills ensues, involving d’Artagnan’s long-lost friends, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis.

A screenplay inspired by Alexandre Dumas’s classic novel.

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10

Georges-Eugène Haussmann (1809 – 1891)

In 1845, the French social reformer Victor Considerant wrote: “Paris is an immense workshop of putrefaction, where misery, pestilence and sickness work in concert, where sunlight and air rarely penetrate. Paris is a terrible place where plants shrivel and perish, and where, of seven small infants, four die during the course of the year.”

before

Paris before Haussman

Indeed, urban reform was long overdue in Paris. Neglected by the kings, who preferred Versailles, the city was overcrowded and dirty. In the narrow crooked streets, diseases spread quickly as did social unrest. Napoleon I made a few attempts at beautifying and sanitizing the capital but, being too busy with disseminating misery across the European continent, he never really got down to it on a large scale. After the Waterloo defeat, plans for a better capital were shelved and it took his nephew, Napoleon III, to begin the greatest urban project ever achieved. Napoleon III might not have been the greatest warrior–the French still prefer his (in)glorious uncle–but he was a mover and shaker of the practical sort. Paris still benefits from his industry while Napoleon I’s conquests are long gone.

Having spent part of his exile in London (see The English Courtesan who Made a French Emperor published here) he brought to France the idea of English urbanism. He found a man with a similar vision and with boundless energy in Haussmann, the Prefect of the Seine. Together, in seventeen years, they made Paris what it is today.

during

Piercing a new boulevard during the Haussmannian transformation

Announcing his motto Paris embellished, Paris enlarged, Paris cleaned up, Haussmann didn’t take prisoners in his war against the old. All that was ugly, dirty and disease-ridden became history. He pierced wide avenues and established rules for standardized buildings. He created a square by district and projected dozens of parks, gardens, and woods. He built new churches, bridges, theaters, and railway stations. He enlarged the city, which then went from 12 to 20 arrondissements. Underground, Paris got a sophisticated water and sewage system that – to this day – is one of the tourist’s sights of the city.

etoile

Paris after Haussmann (Place de l’Etoile)

The titanic work has always been controversial in view of the methods used to achieve this incredible result. To modify Paris in this way, Haussmann did not hesitate to destroy nearly 18,000 houses that hampered his vision of straight and wide boulevards. He excluded the working classes for whom the new dwellings were unaffordable. Haussmann was finally deposed in 1870, a few months before the fall of Napoleon III and the Second Empire.

1852

Notre Dame in 1852

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Notre Dame after Haussmann’s intervention

Thanks to Napoleon III’s vision and Haussmann’s ruthlessness, Paris is the city we know today. Such a colossal project cannot be achieved without a totalitarian approach and would be impossible to realize in a democracy with its many rules and laws.

opera

The Avenue de l’Opéra, one of the new boulevards created by Napoleon III and Haussmann. The new buildings on the boulevards were required to be all of the same height and same basic façade design, and all faced with pale-ochre stone, giving the city a unified look.

Related posts:

The English Courtesan Who Made a French Emperor

The Eiffel Tower Story

In the Gallery of Achievers:

The Inescapable Sarah Bernhardt

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