Art & Culture

Published on March 16th, 2016 | by Pascal Ordonneau

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Peace Street in Paris

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Photo by Pascal Ordonneau.

This street is in the administrative area of 1st and 2nd arrondissements (districts), in the Gaillon quartier (neighbourhood). It begins at “Place Vendôme” and finishes at “Place de l’Opera”. (the Opera theatre square).  

Here, it is advisable to recall a detail of the toponymy and the morphology of Parisian streets: when you indicate that a street begins in one place and finishes in another, while the opposite could be said as well, is justified only by the numbering of buildings. A street “begins” with the number 1 … (This is not a joke in Lewis Carroll style). In the case of the “rue de la Paix”, the number 1 corresponds to the entrance of the building which adjoins the “place Vendôme”. Then the question becomes: what is the reason why someone decided that the number 1 would be in this place, precisely? The answer is very simple: as regards the streets which are perpendicular to the Seine River, the numbering begins from the Seine. As far as the “rue de la Paix” is concerned, the number 1 corresponds to the building which is the closest to the Seine river. We shall also remember about the numbering of buildings along the streets in Paris, that the even numbers are on one side and the odd numbers on the other one.

The “rue de la Paix” is a medium-sized street of a length of 230 m and of a beautiful width of 22.5 m. The sidewalks are spacious without being very wide. They were shrunk in the 60s when the development of auto traffic urged the authorities to reduce the width of the pedestrian sidewalks. I remember protests of the inhabitants of the VIIIth and of XVIIth arrondissements on the occasion of the narrowing of the sidewalks of the Boulevard Malesherbes. “We are killing Paris and its elegance” was heard cried out in the “salons” of the munificent apartments of the “Plaine Monceau”. As regards the “rue de la Paix” the remark is relevant. They are very crowded. The street is one of the highest places of luxury and elegance in the World. Definitely, its sidewalks are too narrow!

Drilled in 1806, the “rue de la Paix” is a Napoleonic “creation”. We could wonder: Emperor Napoleon was more known for his wars than for his love of peace! The truth is that the Emperor decided to name the new street: “Napoleon street”! Thus, there were no contradictions! The street became the “rue de la Paix” in 1814 when, the Emperor having been defeated by a European coalition, had been constrained to abdicate for the first time. The new name celebrated the cessation of hostilities between France and Europe. This “Paix” name remained in spite of the so-called period of “les cent jours” (the hundred days) during which Napoleon returned to power until his final defeat in 1815.

When we say that the “rue de la Paix”, at its very beginning, when it was called Napoleon street, is a “creation” of the latter implies that up to its year of creation, there was no street in this location. Actually, the Street of “la Paix” was literally drilled, that is, it was installed after demolition of buildings which were in its path! In the Parisian urban vocabulary, the term “drill” or “drilling” is used very frequently. Paris had been ceaselessly the object of reorganizations with creation of squares, streets, religious buildings, sewers, boulevards, and new avenues. Ceaselessly Paris, since its election as the capital of France, had been remodelled, renovated, transformed, expanded. To drill a street, an avenue in Paris, meant destroying all that was in its location. In this way the restructuring of Paris organized by the Baron Haussmann, led to the destruction of tens of churches, palaces or mansions, not to mention houses and cemeteries.

The “rue de la Paix”, when it was drilled, was just a step from the center of power after the French revolution: the castle of the Tuileries, that is the imperial and royal residence until it was set on fire during the civil war of “la Commune” in 1871. It became the way taken by the foreign embassies as long as the castle of the Tuileries remained the residence of the French heads of state.

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Photo by Pascal Ordonneau.

Before the drilling of the “rue de la Paix”, thus, were numerous buildings: the center of Paris was covered with side streets, miserable buildings in cob and very beautiful palaces and convents including the convent of the “Capucines”. This one had already undergone the inconveniences of stree drilling and the installation of squares, because it had been partially destroyed to allow the construction of the Place Vendôme and the munificent mansions which surround it, among them the current Ministry of Justice and one of the most famous luxury hotels of Paris, “le Ritz”. Louis the 14th, who had wanted this place, had made a commitment to compensate for the destructions undergone by the conventual buildings. A century later, these new buildings were too, in whole or in part, destroyed to create the new street.

Macabre detail, in the convent were buried numerous personalities: the famous Ministers of Louis XIV, Colbert and Louvois and also the famous “Marquise de Pompadour” (the very beautiful favorite of Louis the 15th). It was necessary to dig up them and to transport them to other places. The remains of the founder of the convent, queen Louise of Lorraine was transported to the Père Lachaise Cemetery in 1806. Half a century later, Not all were: it is said that the coffin of the “Marquise de Pompadour” still remains in its original location! Certain authors give even the number of the building in cellars or basements from which the coffin should be retrieved provided people wished to dig a little bit in the soil.

It is the charm of the old cities, churches are built on churches which were built on chapels and so on; streets pass on cemeteries that people had difficulty emptying. An example: the street of the “Montagne Sainte Geneviève “ (street of the Saint Geneviève Mountain), climbs by following an abrupt slope drawn on rubble, the accumulation of which gradually buried surrounding cellars and underground passageways. Around thirty years ago, on the same street, I visited a vaulted cellar dating back to the 16th century. Its owner pointed out a paving stone on the ground endowed with an enormous iron ring. It gave access to another vaulted room. The owner had discovered three other levels. The first one that went back to the 11th century was more than 20 meters below the ground level!

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Photo by Pascal Ordonneau.

Today, the “rue de la Paix” is still the luxurious and elegant road that it had become during the reorganization of the district: construction of the Opéra theater and the opening of the “grand boulevards” such as le “boulevard de l’Opéra. The biggest brand names of jewelery, of watchmaking and of the hotel business, run by French and foreign investors, flock there. On leaving the Opera theatre and the “place de l’Opera”, the “rue de la Paix” also leads towards the shops of extreme luxury of “place Vendôme” and towards the most famous “boutiques de haute couture”, jewellery shops and leather shops which decorate the street of “the Faubourg Saint-Honoré.”

The street of “La Paix”, street of luxury with its sumptuous window displays and most famous hotels, well deserves its name: there is no trade without Peace. Nevertheless, beware: the “place Vendôme” where the street “de la Paix” begins, often changed name: for a while, under Louis the XIVth, it bore the glorious name of ” place des Conquêtes ” (Conquests Square). But, at that time, the “rue de la Paix” did not yet exist.


About the Author

40 ans de banque chez plusieurs établissements français et anglo-saxons ; il est l’auteur de plusieurs livres sur l’économie et la banque, d’un livre de voyage, d’un roman et d’un livre sur l’Allemagne. Il écrit pour les journaux et la radio, dont les Echos, le Figaro, Huffington Post, Radio France International.



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