This is the sixth blog post in a series about a Grand Tour of Paris with Victor Hugo. Here we talk about the battlefields, graveyards, and bones of Paris after the revolutions in the mid 1800s. This includes the locations of the barricades seen in Les Miserables, the Catacombs of Paris, important cemeteries, and the burial site of many greats - and Victor Hugo - the Pantheon.
Image: Carnage on the streets of Paris. From Victor Hugo's Novels Illustrated, 2nd edition, a set in 5 volumes.
Paris 1850s renovations - The good, the bad, and the ugly
The self-styled Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann was ordered by Napoleon III to remake Paris into a gilded showpiece to impress the world. According to Victor Hugo in his work Napoleon the Little, the renovations meant that the destruction of Paris had begun. He wrote that the land where lay the corpses of those who fought for its freedom had become a dance floor for a select few.
Certainly Paris was in dire need of modernization. In the 1830s and 1840s, it was a stinking, filthy, disease-prone backwater. A rudimentary sewer system emptied into the Seine and its tributaries, causing cholera to spread and kill 20,000 Parisians in 1832 and 7,000 in 1849.
The health crisis that was Paris in the 1840s was indeed horrendous, but the reconstruction affected worse damage. At the end of Haussmann’s homogenization or modernization of Paris, nearly quarter of a million people had been uprooted from their homes.
Entire neighborhoods were reduced to rubble. This time, however, it was not because of the reactions of neighbors working together to create barricades from of their sideboards, paving stones, or tools to shield themselves from the will of the state. Instead, the city was consumed by the will of this self-declared Emperor and the speculative real estate bubble his state created.
The renovation project could have been spread out over a couple of decades, but, as Hugo discusses throughout his admonishment of the Second Empire Napoleon the Little, Louis-Napoleon’s agenda was not about the morals that France had been developing for hundreds of years. Especially not the ones that developed The Enlightenment or sparked a series of self-defining revolutions.
New Little Napoleon, a nephew brought into power on the laurels of the previous emperor’s name (nepotism, anyone?), brought about a golden age of profiteering and decadence. Most importantly, however, Napoleon III demanded the appearance of glory in time for the Industrial Exposition in Paris (L’Exposition Universelle des produits de l'Agriculture, de l'Industrie et des Beaux-Arts de Paris) in 1855. The world was coming to see a clean, modern Paris, not a half devastated, unnavigable shit-hole filled with hoodlums.
To the barricades!
In Les Misérables, Hugo describes in great detail nearly every action of the 1830s revolutions in the neighborhoods that would be forever changed by Haussmann: “...and the timber-yard in the Rue Transnonain was pillaged to make barricades. [ …] Two barricades at right angles extended one from the Rue Montorgeuil to the Grand Truanderie, the other from the Rue Geoffroy-Langevin tothe Rue Sainte-Avoye.”
Honore Daumier “Rue Transnonain, le 15 April 1834.” Originally published in Association Mensuelle. In the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession Number: 20.23.
Of course, from our previous blogs, we know what would happen in just a few years after the July Revolution on Rue Transnonain. To refresh your memory, during a Republican organized uprising, a shot was fired from the direction of a building, and a captain of the infantry watching over a barricade was wounded. The response was to kill every inhabitant of the building from which they assumed the offending bullet came. The political cartoonist Daumier ensured that the erasure of that name would be incomplete as it was absorbed by Rue Beaubourg - literally “beautiful town” - in 1851.
Rue Montorgueil - The street with many names
R. Comtesse d'Artois (rue Montorgueil). From Galignani's New Paris Guide (1832).
One particular street in old Paris, rue Comtesse-d'Artois, was named for Marguerite d'Avesnes, the last wife of Robert II d’Artois, who way back in the 1200s had a home there. It was a short street that extended rue Montorgueil - the street of the Mountain of Hubris - directly into Les Halles. The House of Artois had been abolished in 1790, and by 1792 the street name was changed. But the street name was reinstated as the Restitution Monarch Charles X, formerly the Comte d’Artois.
When the king was ousted by the revolutions described in Les Misérables, the street name was returned to the Republican preferred designation: rue Montorgueil. (The name is pronounced “roo Maaaant-or-guy-yye.” The French love vowels as much as they love irony.) See the link here for a photograph from the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Charles Marville of the tiny Impasse de la Bouteille - “Bottle Alley”, which was adjacent to rue Montorgueil. The photograph proves that the street survived at least until the 1860s, when this shot was taken. The alley is no longer there.
Screenshot of rue Montorgueil and rue Comte d'Artois. This is a map by Chez Jean (10, rue Saint-Jean-de-Beauvais) from 1810, from the University of Chicago Map Collection.
The University of Chicago Map Collection houses a high resolution map of Paris by Chez Jean (10, rue Saint Jean de Beauvais) with incredible zoom capabilities in which rue Montorgueil can be seen (See the link here to view). See the screenshot above. Between the numbers 12 and 17 there is a street highlighted pink and blue. This was the short street with many names in the Long Nineteenth Century.
This mere 400 foot long stretch of of pavement was at a crucial location to block access to the heart (well, stomach) of Paris. It still exists but is shortened and no longer connected to Grande-Truanderie, which translates to the street of the “big hoodlum hangout.” Much ado about nothing...
This important barricade location during the revolutions can now be honored by visiting the entrance tunnel to a parking lot under the 1970s shopping mall and transportation hub (Forum des Halles) that was built when the food market for Paris was relocated to Rungis.
The Burial Site of the Innocents
Stereoscope photograph of Fountain of the Innocents, c.1900
Near to this parking garage and mall is site involving something that remains from Paris’s earliest days - young innocents. The innocent Parisians in question, however, were the centuries of orphans and other young, lost souls that needed a final resting pit - um, place. They were indeed honored and cared for and given a proper burial paid for by the haute-bourgeois, like Nicolas Flamel, at the Cemetery of the Innocents.
Yes, we mean the real-life man who was said to have owned the Sorcerer’s Stone in Harry Potter. In the 15th century, Flamel lived twelve blocks away from the cemetery. The fourteen streets he would have passed on his way to visit this burial site no longer exist today, but when Hugo left Paris hundreds of years after Flamel lived, those fourteen streets still lived and breathed. Hugo and Flamel are separated by nearly 450 years. The rupture to Parisian life was severe when these streets were destroyed to make way for modernization.
Fontaine des Innocents. Detail from French Monuments of Paris game board, c.1830.
The contents of the cemetery were removed in the 18th century. And although the prominent 16th century Fountain of the Innocents stands over the location today, it was, of course, moved to the center of the new square and reconstructed a bit by Napoleon III. (See stereoscope slide above. We have this and other slides of Paris for sale at The Curio.)
In the 1780s, the limestone quarries in what would eventually become Paris’s 14th Arrondissement started to become unstable under the weight of the city. Paris was rapidly growing, which meant two things: the need to support the burgeoning traffic above the increasingly active mine tunnels and the need for more interment sites for the population.
A solution was found that killed two birds with one... skull: Both the quarry tunnels would be stabilized and the health concerns of having mass graves pits next to a food market and a water source would be solved by supporting the mines with bones and skulls.
By 1786, the last of the bones from the Cemetery of the Innocents were respectfully transferred from the ground, across the river, and up and into the hills to be arranged into structural art at The Catacombs of Paris. This two-year long religious procession across Paris, bone by bone, is forever memorialized in the name of area of the former graveyard: Le Marché des Innocents.
The original cemetery was improved to house the beautiful fountain mentioned above and a clean, organized market for the inhabitants of the least desirable parts of town. Today, the fountain is less grand but is still surrounded by quite a few quaint medieval buildings, interrupted by a smattering of couple of centuries of other architectural styles, not to mention a view of the modern art museum structure of Beaubourg-Centre Georges Pompidou.
The Catacombs of Paris are certainly macabre, but it is worth a trek to the Left Bank of Paris to visit them. The entrance is on Place Denfert-Rochereau in the 14th Arrondissement. Place Denfert-Rochereau was the new name given to this this huge square in 1879, named after a successful commander of the French army during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71. Before this, however, it was called the Place d’Enfer, “Place of Hell.” Appropriate and not ironic for once.
Visiting the Catacombs
The entrance to the catacombs was developed by Claude Nicolas Ledoux in the 1780s in his signature Neoclassical style as a rather grand tollbooth in the Farmers’ General Wall. The wall enclosed a newly-expanded Paris and generated revenue at its toll booths to keep the court of Louis XV in splendor.
It naturally also generated plenty of ill will, and during the revolutionary periods and some of the Haussmannian renovations, all but four of the original fifty-four toll booths were destroyed. As a toll booth that also served as an entrance to the catacombs, this gate was likely saved out of respect for the millenium of Parisians lying beneath it. That and fear for the aptly named Barrière d'Enfer, “Gates of Hell”…
To visit The Catacombs of Paris you pass through these gates. There is a guided tour that will explain the history, the placement of famous bones, special artwork created by those who ventured off tour (and eventually died), and the most romantic stories of the Resistance that used the tunnels to fight the Nazi occupation of Paris.
Although there are actually hundreds of miles of tunnels, the territory of adventurous cataphiles, the tour only shows you the best mile of it, and at the end you emerge in a normal Parisian neighborhood on the unassuming Boulevard Rene Coty, which is lined with typical stores and everyday restaurants.
With all of this reference to respect for the dead, we thought this would be a good place to talk about the mourning jewelry we sell at The Curio. Mourning jewelry was worn during this era by women who were not permitted to wear bright jewels or clothes after the death of a loved one out of fear of forgetting the dead. Mourners wore dark or black clothes and simple jewelry made from black materials such as onyx, jet, gutta percha, vulcanite, or black or smokey glass.
From Paris, we have a large Napoleon III era hat or collar fibula with black amethyst glass accents. The jewel cut glass accents are widely spaced apart and appear to be welded onto the pin. The unusual black painted wire safety pin would have held a scarf or hat in place.
The safety pin had been around for mechanical and decorative purposes since the medieval era, but the modern safety pin was officially invented as we know it today in 1846 by an American.
More to See in Montparnasse
If you care to visit more graves, walk back to entrance of the Catacombs and you will see the Cemetery of Montparnasse, which was built in 1824. Everyone goes to Père Lachaise Cemetery in the northeast of the city to visit Jim Morrison’s grave, but fewer tourists go to the beautiful tombs in the southern Cemetery of Montparnasse to see the graves of Charles Baudelaire, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Guy de Maupassant, and Charles Garnier.
Across from this cemetery and the Boulevard Raspail, there is an important museum: Fondation Cartier at 261, Boulevard Raspail in the 14th Arrondissement, designed by current Parisian architectural powerhouse Jean Nouvel. The exhibition on right now is a retrospective on the recently passed African artist Malick Sidibé, titled “Mali Twist.”
Where to Eat in the Area
Care for a bite in Montparnasse? Try La Closerie des Lilas, 171, boulevard du Montparnasse in the 6th Arrondissement. The establishment opened in 1847, before Hugo’s exile from Paris. The bone marrow gratin takes longer than most meals to prepare but is certainly worth the wait. This brasserie and restaurant was a center of American expat life in 1920s Paris (think Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry Miller, etc.), and it is still renowned for jazz.
If you prefer to eat where Hugo ate, take a little longer of a walk and earn some ice cream at Cremerie-Restaurant Polidor at 41, rue Monsieur le Prince in the 6th Arrondissement. This is where Hugo and other hungry theater-goers since 1845 would have their dessert after a performance at the nearby l’Odeon.
Theatre de l'Odeon. Detail from French Monuments of Paris game board, c.1830.
The Pantheon of Paris
This restaurant is within walking distance to Hugo’s final resting place. Burn off the ice cream and climb the Montagne Sainte-Geneviève to visit the Panthéon de Paris - another invention of the Long 19th Century. In 1744, Louis XV recovered from an illness and vowed to rebuild a proper sanctuary for the relics of Sainte Geneviève, patron saint of Paris.
Finished just in time for the revolution (and the anti-clerical fervor) on April 4, 1791, the words “AUX GRANDS HOMMES LA PATRIE RECONNAISSANTE” were chiseled into the façade, and the building henceforward became a secular mausoleum dedicated to the arts and sciences. This monument propelled France forward and away from the shackles of the old regime.
Ste. Genevieve (now Pantheon de Paris). Detail from French Monuments of Paris game board, c.1830.
For purpose of science in 1851, Foucault demonstrated the rotation of the Earth by erecting a pendulum from the center of the dome. After years of restoration work, the pendulum is finally installed again this year (2018)! This building has been stricken with problems since its conception.
The architect Jacques-Germain Soufflot made miscalculations, as described in this 1821 Scottish publication (See the link here), that led to a foundation unable to support the gothic-inspired open windows in a classical structure. The Scots call it like they see it (as does everyone else): The subsequent corrections to the building are obvious and ugly.
In the 1880s, the blank walls of the Pantheon were decorated with “The Pastoral Life of Sainte-Geneviève” by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes and “Scenes from the Legend of Joan of Arc” by Jules Eugène Lenepveu - who is related by blood to the previously discussed de Musset according to Nobiliaire Universel de France (pages 47 and 48, for easy reference).
The Pantheon is now a secular building, and although religious saints Joan and Geneviève are still on display, the crypt remains the burial ground for men (and a few women) of letters. Innovators, literary figures, renowned statesmen, and poets are interred side by side, except for Rene Descartes.
This is a link to a Blumenthal Lecture by Stéphane Van Damme at Cornell University on October 2, 2002, on the development of the Pantheon de Paris and an argument concerning the placement of Descartes’s remains (again) at the Pantheon. Of note, the official memorial to the author of Le Petit Prince and aviator hero of World War II, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, occupies a space in what was once the choir stall.
More to read about this tour of Paris
What writing or guides would be good for this tour of Paris? We recommend an old guide to Paris such as our Galignani’s New Paris Guide (1832). Or you can follow along with the monuments we mention in our unusual 1830 game board The French Monuments of Paris. Some images in this blog post come from these two items. (More about these two in our final blog!)
And we recommend a translation by Mitchell Abidor - and posted by marxists.org - of Maxime Vuillaume’s “The Pantheon’s About to Blow Up!,” a description of the taking of the Pantheon during the Commune of Paris in 1871. This will give more context for the tour of the Pantheon.
And he also wrote a good companion book for visiting the Catacombs under the pseudonym Maxime Hélène in 1876: Les galeries souterraines, or The Underground Galleries, published in Hachette’s collection La Bibliothèque des merveilles, or The Library of Wonders. The link above is to the original book in French with excellent images.
One more blog in this series to come! Check back here for the end of The Curio's Paris Tour with Victor Hugo...