Haussmann-free Paris

November 8, 2006 at 3:23 pm | Posted in vie quotidienne | 2 Comments

In the mid-nineteenth century, Napoleon III commissioned Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann to rebuild Paris for the modern era. Up until this point, Paris had been much like other European cities: dirty, dark, disorderly, and in grave danger of fire or plague. But Haussmann changed all that — he swept away most of the teetering medieval houses and stinking alley-ways, and replaced them with broad, sunlit boulevards and solid stone buildings with matching façades.

Nowadays, as you walk around the city, you see a lot of this:


And it’s beautiful. All those blue slate roofs, the wrought iron railings, the pierre de taille… For a lot of people, that Haussmann look is the very definition of Paris.


It gets a little dull. After a couple of months of living here, all those grand vistas terminating in perfectly manicured parks and brilliantly illuminated fountains start to seem a little blah. And maybe it’s just an onslaught of the winter greys, but lately I find myself yearning for winding back streets and ramshackle, idiosyncratic structures.

Luckily, there are little pockets of “old Paris” hiding here and there throughout the city, if you know where to look. Here are a few of my favorite spots from the streets around my apartment:

rue Rataud

This is one of my favorite little streets — twisty and a bit creepy looking, especially at night.

Here, wood-beamed passageways hint at a medieval past:


And lead you unexpectedly into narrow, flower-filled back streets:

Square Vermen

Paris has about a million water fountains, and most of them look something like this:


But occasionally you turn a corner and come across something a bit more humble (and a lot more practical):


Do you have any favorite, Haussmann free corners of Paris? If so, please share a few — I’d love to have some new neighborhoods to explore.



  1. A read a book about the architecture once.

    An interesting first for Europe was also the considerale width of the streets. This was apparently because the French, ever the revolutionaries, were fond of blocking streets as their means of “striking”, effectively blocking commerce and just generally being a huge pain in the ass. Often these new, wide, impossible to effectively block, streets were designed straight… to the local police station which allowed the police to be dispatched quickly.

    I thought that was cool.

  2. JChevais —

    Yes, I’ve heard that story too. I’ve also heard that all the old cobblestone streets were replaced with pavement because the revolutionaries used to pull up the stones and hurl them at the police. But I still see plenty of cobble stones around, so I’m not sure about that one…

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