didn’t have time to complete all of the great projects he envisioned for the grandeur of the capital: he began the Arc de Triomphe, the Bourse, The Vend├┤me Column and the Ourcq, Saint-Martin and Saint-Denis canals. In addition he saw to the clearing of old bridge houses along the banks of the Seine to restore the view of the river.

Following the Napoleonic wars, Paris was occupied in 1814 and 1815; something the city had not known for four centuries. Parisians also welcomed back the Bourbons with a sigh of relief. The city underwent a period of rapid growth: the population grew from 600,000 in 1800 to 1,000,000 in 1846, solely as a result of migration to Paris from the provinces. The population growth of France in the 19th century was almost entirely absorbed by the capital. The city was ill equipped to deal with such a rate of expansion, having an infrastructure that dated from the Middle Ages, so Paris soon became an overpopulated and insalubrious city. While it’s true that the western side of the city remained comfortably residential, the eastern side was overcrowded, underfed and vulnerable to epidemics (such as the cholera outbreak in 1832), the mortality rate was high.

Nevertheless, this social inequality did not immediately develop into political antagonism: the revolutions of 1830 and February 1848 would unite the working classes and the bourgeoisie against the monarchy. Social hardships ultimately resulted in the July Revolution of 1848 and the repression that followed.

It was the Second Empire that transformed Paris and gave it the face it wears today. Influenced by the modernity that he had witnessed in London, Napoleon III wished to improve the lives of the people and lessen the chances of popular uprising. He gave to Georges Haussmann the task of directing public works, from 1853 to 1869. The prefect of the Seine was entrusted to turn Paris into a great modern capital, adapted to modern transport and equipped with adequate sanitation and open areas.

By demolishing old medieval quarters, Haussmann opened up north-south and east-west axes through the city. These wide rectilinear avenues, bordered with trees and ornate cut-stone buildings, provided visual links between the beautiful parts of the city. He also oversaw the installation of a small circular-line train, which has since been abandoned. The engineers Alphand and Belgrand achieved the task of providing the city with a new potable water network, drawing from upstream sources on the Seine, and a modern sewer system.

They also saw to the creation of 2,000 hectares of park areas, from the forests of Boulogne and Vincennes, through to the parks of Les Buttes Chaumont and Montsouris, down to the little squares that open up each district. The prefect also saw to the provision of new amenities for the residents, such as the theatre at Châtelet, the Opéra Garnier, two hospitals, new mairies etc. Baltard was assigned the job of redesigning the central area of Les Halles. Unlike Haussmann, who didn’t concern himself with housing for the working classes, Napoleon III financed the creation of several residential districts for workers.

In this way, Paris finally spread out as far as the fortifications that had been set in place by Thiers in 1845. The surrounding communes of Auteil, Les Batignolles, La Villette and Charonne were subsequently annexed and Haussmann established the current administrative division of Paris into 20 districts, taking care to split up the rowdier quarters such as Belleville. This paved the way the urbanisation of previously rural areas, which then became residential zones for workers who had been forced out of the city centre by rising rents.

The empire came to an end however in 1870, with the Franco-Prussian war, the arrest of the emperor, the proclamation of the republic on 4 September 1870, and the siege of Paris. The exasperation of the siege and the German march on the Champs-Elyées provoked the Commune of Paris insurrection, a socialist and workers’ revolt which lasted from March to May of 1871. Facing up to the new government in Versailles, the Communards burned many monuments, including the Hôtel de Ville and the Château des Tuileries.

The end of the century was marked by a calming of the situation and the establishment of a more moderate Third Republic. From 1878 on, the Universal Expositions displayed scientific and technological advances. The exposition of 1889, of which the linchpin was the Eiffel Tower, was the pinnacle of wrought-iron architecture. The exposition of 1900 gave the capital the Grand and the Petit Palais as well as the first metro line , decorated by Guimard. The basilica of Sacre-Coeur was added the city’s riches in 1910. Paris was the scene for a new artistic and cultural movement with the arrival of the impressionist painters, then of de la Ruche and Bateau-Lavoir in Montmartre. Several private art collections were assembled in this period by individuals who were fascinated by Far-Eastern art, which have subsequently become the collections of museums (Ennery, Cernuschi, Guimet). The population peaked in 1911, with almost 2.9 million Parisians.

To find out more about the city of Paris and its history, click on one the links below.

For an interactive approach to learning the history of Paris, we recommend Parsitoric:

Paristoric, 11 rue Scribe
(metro Opéra) (tel. 01 42 66 62 06, shows on the hour 09.00-21.00 from April to October, 9.00-18.00 the rest of the year, but until 21.00 Fridays and Saturdays)More information

Paristoric presents the history of the city in a 45 minute show on a big screen. Images, photos and etchings give viewers an understanding of how the city came together over 2000 years. Directed by people whose passion is the city, the film is quite moving – at the same time poetic and educational. Translation into ten languages is available through headphones.