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Technological Advances in Paris

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Monet's Boulevard des Capucines

"By this boiling lava from volcanoes snatched,
Which flows and hardens with time's dispatch,
Our public places and our pavements
Once arid now become resplendent.
And he who compares the old and the new
May wonder indeed at Paris renew'd;
Thus, all is made grand for the honor of France:
This is our new era and our Louis has begun it."
(Green, 29)

The painting above is Monet's Boulevard des Capucines, painted in 1873. It shows the expansive boulevards of Post-Revolutionary Paris created by Baron Haussmann. Monet portrays this "New" Paris as the ideal cultural city. The boulevards are open, clean, and spacious, and the people on them seem to be conveying a new idea of movement. This painting conveys Monet's positive response to the modernity of Paris.

The quote is a poem which also reflects a Parisian's positive feelings regarding the modernization of Paris. Its tone has a sense of pride at "Paris renew'd", and the a feeling of nationalism is found in "all is made grand for the honor of France." These Post-Revolutionary changes give Paris a "fresh start".

Technological Advances in Paris

As Paris evolved, certain advancements in technology were made that changed the fabric of cultural life in the city. Specifically, changes occurred in three major areas: the use of glass in architecture, steam railways, and street renovations.

Industrialization in the 1840s brought a decline in the price of glass as an industrial material due to economic progress. Combining it with iron gave architects an opportunity to use this medium in a new, creative way (Sutcliffe, 96). In the 1860s, department stores such as the Belle Jardiniere and the Magasins Reunis began to use glass and metal in the construction of their exteriors. (For more on glass, click here)

As steam railways were introduced to Paris, railway terminals also employed metal and glass in their architecture. These terminals "brought a new world of iron, speed and technological modernity to the very edge of traditional Paris (96, Sutcliffe)." In 1859, J. I. Hittorff constructed an innovative railway station, the Gare du Nord, effectively manipulating glass and metal as his principle mediums. (For more on railways, click here) Below is a picture of the facade of the Gare du Nord:


The Gare du Nord

This photograph, although modern, depicts the use of glass and iron in industry, specifically railway station construction. The combination of these two mediums results in this grand facade, a testament to industrialization and technological modernity.

The streets of Paris also underwent remarkable changes in the 1820s. The existing cobblestones were covered with bitumen pavements to improve the overall aesthetics of the roads, make them easier to maintain, and prevent citizens from using the cobblestones to make blockades. Between 1822 and 1827, the amount of pavement in Paris rose from 267 to 6,145 meters. (For more on pavement, click here) In addition to pavement, gas lights were installed. They lined the streets, illuminating them throughout the night. (For more on gaslights, click here) Soon Paris developed a more diverse night culture.

"What a magnificent spectacle this fashionable boulevard presents when at dusk the cafe waiters light the gas-lamps and torrents of light instantly flood forth, pure and white as the moon!" (Green, 10)

Eugene Lami, Le Boulevard des Italiens, la Nuit, A L'Angle de la Rue Lafitte, 1842.

This image is of the intersection of the Boulevard Des Italiens and the Rue Lafitte drawn by Eugene Lami in 1842. It depicts members of the bourgeoisie class out on the streets of Paris during the evening. The light of the gas lamps enables them to socialize late at night. Gas lamps are one example of technology that revolutionized bourgeois culture.

Thus, through the technological advances in the areas of glass, railways, and street renovations, the city and culture of Paris continued its move into cultural modernization.


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