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Cultural Paris

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"The visual ordering of space has become a vehicle for articulating cultural values." (Green, 12)

Paris shaped and was shaped by the ideals of its people. Culturally these ideals were seen everywhere in Paris, in the streets, the buildings and even in the layout of the city. As the ideals of the people changed, so too did the city. In Paris, the ideals of the people turned towards a sort of social liberalism. Practices that would have been outright taboo at the beginning of the century were becoming common occurrences, and to add to this, society was becoming more and more money based. Both of these things signaled the change to a modern Paris.

Building Names as Social Fad

Probably one of the first examples of how the peoples ideals were changing during the revolution was the renaming of the Notre Dame cathedral to the "Temple of reason" in November 1793. During this time People were rebelling from the Church as well as the government, mainly because both were symbols of the old regime and the old social order of France before the revolution. The name "temple of reason" meanwhile was referring back to ideas of the Enlightenment that were the driving force behind the revolution of 1789 and those that were to follow. As the Revolution progressed, however, many of these "enlightened ideal" were forgotten as the populous became enamored with their own success and material culture. This shift in ideals is well illustrated in the case of the church, Notre Dame de Lorette, on la Rue Lafitte. The church obtained its name from the lorettes of Paris, women who were kept by male members of the upper class. The church became known as the Notre Dame de Lorette because of the many women of this social standing who frequented this particular church. Lorettes were accepted members of society as well as commodities of wealthy men. The fact that a church was named after them mirrors their importance in the society as well as the acceptance of this social practice.

These changes were part of a general social revolution, that placed an emphasis on social status and economic status. The advancements in technology at the time in paving, gas lighting and glass allotted wealthy Parisians an opportunity to flaunt their niceties in a public manner by strolling down paved, lighted streets with their lorettes on streets named after themselves.

Map of la Rue Lafitte and the location of Notre Dame de Lorette. Map from Galignani's New Paris Guide, 1847

"A seat at Notre Dame de Lorette"
by A. Valentin, from the Dictionaire de Paris, 1964

Image analysis: This image depicts a woman kneeling at a pew in Notre Dame de Lorette on Rue Lafitte, during the mid to late nineteenth century. She appears to be reading her prayer book, but upon closer inspection, it can be seen that she is glancing at the men behind her. They in turn are more overtly looking at her. It is also important to notice the contrast between the coy lorette and the devout woman sitting behind her, head bowed in prayer. The lorette wears dark clothing, often a symbol of immorality, whereas the devout woman wears white, a clear symbol of her purity. The fact that the lorette is more prominent than the devout congregation symbolizes the artists contempt for the lack of devotion and morality in "modern" bourgeois society.

The Rue Lafitte became known as a place accepting of these type of immoral social practices. This is an example of how the social atmosphere was reflected in the physical geography of Paris.

Change of Address

Another sign of how evolving Parisian culture was mirrored in the physiognomy of Paris can be seen in the changing of street names in the northwest areas of Paris. Until the end of the 18th century streets were often named for members of the aristocracy. For example, la Rue d'Artois was named for the Comte d'Artois. However, with the overthrow of the monarchy came the throwing away of street titles. With the onset of the revolution members of the aristocracy became less popular and leaders of the Revolution, such as Abbe Cerutti the editor of a revolutionary newspaper, gained prominence in revolutionary Paris. Later in 1815 at the time of the Bourbon restoration, the street was again given the title of Rue d'Artois. Currently the street is named for Jacques Lafitte, a wealthy member of society, a politician and one of the patrons of the 1820s building boom. However when his political career toppled and his fortune depleted, he turned to cooperative financial investments (Green, 32).

This example illustrates how changing social ideals influenced the geographic organization of Paris. The shift from political importance to economic importance is also evident in those chosen to have a street named after them and reflects the growing importance of monetary values in Paris.

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