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Railway Transportation Comes to France!

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The above image is an 1877 painting by Monet of the a train station - the Gare St. Lazare. It shows not only the trains, but also the construction of the station. The ceiling of the train station was made using new glass and iron technology. It is a positive image of the technological revolution responsible for transforming the landscape of Paris.

The Industrial Revolution ushered Paris into the 19th century with the advent of railroad transportation.

"It was the influence of the railways, more than any other single agency, which gave the Victorian city its compact shape, which influenced the topography and character of its central and inner districts, the disposition of its dilapidated and waste areas, and of its suburbs, the direction and character of its growth; and which probably acted as the most potent new factor upon the urban land market in the nineteenth century." (Schivelbusch 170)

Railway tracks were built in a radial pattern, centered around Paris. This "reinforced the importance of the capital" and encouraged its rapid growth - it was nearly impossible to get from one spot to the next without passing through Paris. Railway transportation also made it much easier for residents from rural areas to move to Paris. The railways brought about an integration of rural France with up-and-coming Paris.


This diagram is entitled "The changing rail network of France". The maps are from a)1850 b)1860 c)1870 and d)1890 and show the rapid growth of the railway system in France.

Haussmann's reconstruction of Paris responded to the need for more efficient ways of dealing with an increased amount of traffic. In addition to the railway stations, Haussmann's drastic changes transformed Paris from an ancient medieval city to a 19th century industrial center. (For more on the streets, click here.) (For more on Haussmann's changes, click here.)

Railway technology affected not only the physical geography of Paris, but also the Parisian's conception of space and time. Calling the railroad a "providential event... which swings mankind in a new direction, and changes the color and shape of life," Heinrich Heine says, "What changes must now occur, in our way of looking at things, in our notions! Even the elementary concepts of time and space have begun to vacillate. Space is killed by the railways, and we are left with time alone..." (Schivelbusch 44). He remarks on how railways open up and present new opportunities for use of space, but in this way destroy existing space.

"[The railways] only serve the points of departure, the way stations, and the terminals, which are mostly at great distances from each other... they are of no use whatsoever for the intervening space, which they traverse with disdain and provide only with a useless spectacle." (Schivelbusch 45)

Above is an image of a vacant train station at Toulon. The quote below it perfectly articulates what the photographer is trying to convey - the emptiness of the station, and its awkwardness in relationship with the landscape. In contrast to the above image of Monet's idyllic representation of a similar station, this image is a bold, negative response to changing technology. Its bleak and lonesome feeling suggests those same feelings in the photographer's relationship with the technological revolution in France.


Responses to the new railway technology ranged from enthusiastic to pessimistic throughout Paris and all of France. Because of and in spite of the feelings of the people, advancements such as these changed the fabric of cultural life in the city.

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