A Remarkable Capital: Napoleon Bonaparte’s Public Works

Rue de Rivoli--wikipedia.org
Rue de Rivoli

While Paris was often neglected by previous rulers; Napoleon had no such intentions: scheming to overhaul the city such that “if …[he] had another twenty years and some leisure, you would have looked in vain for the Old Paris” (Horne 173). Interestingly, the first step in his physical reformation of the capital was the result of an assassination attempt. While “l’explosion de la machine infernale fit de nombreuses victims,” the destruction of the surrounding buildings near the Louvre offered the real catalyst (Melchior-Bonnet 10). Viewed by the emperor as an eyesore , the damage offered an easy pretext for demolishing the disjointed, medieval homes in the area. While the project started with initially forty homes, the proverbial ball was rolling, and the Emperor kept expanding his reclamation of old buildings throughout the city to be replaced with straighter roads and arcades like those along Rue de Rivoli.

La Halle Aux vin--la baille aux vins-fr.wikipedia
la baille aux vins-fr.wikipedia

Le petit corporal’s construction ideas also had a very public purpose as he planned numerous works that sought to improve the overall quality of life in the city. In an effort to provide further economic stability to the city, Napoleon ordered “ la construction d’une nouvelle halle: “la halle aux vins (Melchior-Bonnet 18). This massive storehouse located on the quay Saint-Bernard acted as a reliable, centralized location for maintaining the import and export of wines to the city, a vital part of the economy. This project of course wouldn’t have been possible without the massive network of quays and canals that the Emperor introduced to the cityscape.

Canal de l'Orcq--farm4.static.flickr
Canal de L’Orcq–farm4.static.flickr

As a city that had always been plagued by poor sanitation and was lagging behind many of its contemporary cities in the availability of clean drinking water, the first priority—especially in Chaptal’s eyes– was to “give it water!” (Horne 182 ) Starting with Canal de l’Orcq, Napoleon rapidly set about “accélérer la traversée par eau de Paris et améliorer son ravitaillement.” (Melchior-Bonnet 87).The contruction of the Canal was also great boon to commerce throughout the 19th century, allowing cross-city water transportation in the northern parts of the city. During the Reign of Napoleon III the canal was also improved with the addition of lifts, facilitating upstream travel. All told, nineteen new wells were dug and fountains were redirected to draw their water from the canal instead of the horribly polluted Seine. The contruction of the Canal was also great boon to commerce throughout the 19th century, allowing cross-city water transportation in the northern parts of the city. During the Reign of Napoleon III the canal was also improved with the addition of lifts, facilitating upstream travel. Currently many of these wells are still in use today, however, the Canal de l’Orcq is now for watercraft only and is no longer a source of potable water.

Canals Through Paris

Soundly defeated at Waterloo, Napoleon’s subsequent exile would spell the end of the First Empire. The ensuing decades would see multiple monarchs and even his nephew try their hands at absolutism, but almost all of these reigns would be shorter lived and far more ineffectual. Ultimately most of these of these rulers would coast of off Bonaparte’s achievements and plans long after his death. Working under Napoleon III, Baron Haussmann’s applied many of le petit corporal’s visions for Paris, creating one of the greatest and most influential urban overhauls of the 19th century (Winchester 176). The continuation Bonaparte’s dream for centralized roads, large boulevards, and larger scale waterworks has allowed Paris to successfully flourish and blossom into modern city that continues to grow to this day with the current population of 2.1 million( Major Cities).

Works Cited
Horne, Alistair. The Seven Ages of Paris. New York: Vintage Books, 2004. Print

“Major Cities in France 2013.” World Population Review. n.d. Web. 29 Oct. 2013.

Melchior-Bonnet, Bernadine. Napoléon, Consul et Empereur. Paris: Library Larousse, 1988. Print

Winchester, Hilary. Contemporary France. Longman: London, 1993. Print

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