06 Thursday Mar 2014
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How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City by Jean DeJean (March 4, 2014 release by Bloomsbury USA); excerpt from Bloomsbury.
At the start of the seventeenth century, Paris was known for a few monuments, but it had not yet put its brand on urban space. Like many European cities, it was still emerging from its medieval past. But within a century, Paris would be transformed into the modern and mythic city we now know.
Most people associate the signature characteristics of Paris with the nineteenth century. Joan DeJean demonstrates that the Parisian model for urban space was in fact invented two centuries earlier, when the first full design for the French capital was implemented. During this period, Paris saw many changes: it became the first city to tear down its fortifications. A large-scale urban plan was created and executed, with organized streets and boulevards, modern bridges, sidewalks, and public parks. Venues opened for urban entertainment, from opera and ballet to another pastime invented in Paris, recreational shopping. Parisians enjoyed the earliest street lighting and public transportation, even as theirs became Europe’s first great walking city.
A century of planned development made Paris beautiful and exciting. It gave people reasons to be out in public as never before and as nowhere else. It gave Paris its modern identity as a place that people dreamed of seeing. As Joan DeJean shows us in this compelling portrait of a city in transition, by 1700 Paris had become the capital that would transform forever our conception of the city and of urban life.
INTRODUCTION: “Capital of the Universe”
What makes a city great?
Prior to the seventeenth century, the most celebrated European city was one famous for its past. Visitors made pilgrimages to Rome to tour its ancient monuments or its historic churches: they were seeking artistic inspiration and indulgences rather than novelty and excitement. Then, in the seventeenth century, a new model for urban space and urban life was invented, a blueprint for all great cities to come. The modern city as it came to be defined was designed to hold a visitor’s attention with quite different splendors: contemporary residential architecture and unprecedented urban infrastructure rather than grand palaces and churches. And this remade the urban experience for both the city’s inhabitants and its visitors alike. The modern city was oriented to the future rather than the past: speed and movement were its hallmarks.
And, as many Europeans quickly recognized, only one city was truly modern: Paris. Continue reading »