Sights and Sounds of Revolutionary Paris

Main Street
Revolutionary Tradition and Les Mis
Revolution 1789
--The Monarchy
--Tennis Court Oath
--Fall of the Bastille
--October Days
--Declaration of War
--Palace Invaded
--Louis XVI
--Reign of Terror
-- Fall of Robespierre
--At war
1789 in Les Miserables
--The Terror
--The People
--The Students
--The Monarchy
--Place de Concord
--Notre Dame
Daily Sites
--Street Names
--Children's Names and Games
Works Consulted

Re-naming the streets

Street names in any city often appear to be insignificant and only present to guide lost travelers, however the history behind the names often reveals a past that reflects their true importance. A perfect example of these phenomena is found in eighteenth and nineteenth century Paris.


  • Street names give character and life to the space they occupy, often serving as historical markers for a city. Street names are the ultimate manifestation of a cities politics, culture and ideologies. Street names provide a common language for a city and its inhabitants; they are meters of change often reflecting dynamic struggles of power within the city limits.
    The streets of revolutionary Paris became the revolutionaries' way of starting over from the ground up. The centuries of monarchies had left their mark upon the streets of Paris with names dating back to the first Bourbon king Henri IV. Names like rue Christine named after Henri IV's daughter and Place Dauphine for the then prince Louis VIII were common street names of the era of monarchs. Eventually aristocrats close to the thrown would receive honorable mention and even prosperous merchants received their own rues.
    In an 1850 guide book to Paris the estimated number of streets was 1,688, with 32 boulevards, 21 places and about 105 carrefours.

Revolutionary Markings

  • In 1791 the revolutionaries started to lend the streets of Paris their interpretations. The original reforms were very well intended and often reflected the popular revolutionary attitude at the time.
    An example of how the revolutionary spirit manifested itself, is when the owner of the house that Voltaire died in partitioned the city of Paris to change the street name of his house from Theatin (named after a nearby religious order) to Voltaire. The man justified it with a bit of revolutionary enthusiasm: "We shall always have a Voltaire, and shall never again have Theatin monks!" (Ferguson 26).
    Similarly the occupants of Rousseau's old street were encouraged to change their street name from rue de Platrieres to something more fitting to the hero. This change too was supported with revolutionary theory:

"It is important for sensitive hearts and ardent
Souls crossing this street to know that Rousseau
Used to live here on the fourth floor, and what does it
Matters that plaster used to be made there?"(Ferguson 27)

This wave of enthusiasm swept all through out Paris leading to changes like: Monmarte to Montmarat, Hotel Dieu to Mirabeau-le-Patriote, and Sainte-Anne to Helvetius. These names not only reflected changing political ideologies but changing values and virtues within Parisian society as well.

Sometimes however the revolutionary spirit backfired as is the case when Mirabeau's counterrevolutionary activities were discovered and his street and place in the Pantheon became an embarrassment. The constant changing of names and places became confusing and eventually the Paris streets needed to become more reasonable and have a better method to their madness. However, no matter how disorganized Paris appeared to foreigners or visitors, the significance behind its street names was overly apparent to its inhabitants.

The revolutionaries had made their mark in the streets of Paris, a mark that displayed power and eagerness. The city that Gregoire had previously envisioned for the national assembly, one that "instituted reason and popular sovereignty each as a term of the other" had been created.

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