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18th Century French History Historical Places History Lost Paris Paris Uncategorized

Lost Paris: A snapshot of 1730s Paris

This wonderful, 33 megapixel, zoomable marvel is known as the Turgot Map of Paris, and it’s a remarkable document in all sorts of ways. I like to imagine that were you to be offered the chance to drift above Paris in a hot air balloon in the 1730s (disregarding the fact that this was impossible, the Montgolfier brothers being still but a twinkle in their parents eyes) the scene before you would look very like this. Or maybe it’s more like what it would be like to be some all-powerful God, with the world laid at your feet and called to attention for your inspection. The map was commissioned Michel-Étienne Turgot, then prévôt des marchands de Paris (roughly equivalent to the city’s mayor) and created by Louis Bretez. And Turgot certainly got his money’s worth. The completed map was huge, filling 21 sheets and reproducing the city in incredible detail. I recommend you switch the widget to fullscreen mode, scroll and zoom around, and get lost inside it for a while. The map strikes us as odd in several respects. Firstly, it’s oriented very differently from any map of Paris we’re used to, with the viewer facing east. Then there’s the birdseye perspective, technically known as perspective cavaliere, this means that buildings of the same size are shown at the same size on the map, no matter how far away they are. Then there’s the fact that what we see is recognisably Paris, but not Paris as we know it. It’s a stark reminder of the scope and scale of the changes made to Paris under Haussmann and Napoleon III, which have changed so fundamentally the essence of the city. Mostly though, it’s the sheer detail of the thing that startles- enough to give you the slightly eerie sense that you’re looking at a city captured in some crystaline lava flow, and preserved for all time. Turgot set out to record the city as it was, without a window or a leaf out of place, and on one level he succeeded admirably. During his two years drafting the map, he was granted extraordinary access to the city, even being allowed inside the aristocratic hôtels, normally cut-off from public view by their fortress-like walls. As a result, the map is full of vivid and authentic detail, and examining it is as addictive as Where’s Wally (Waldo). There are views of sights such as the Louvre, then flanked by the Tuileries Palace, surrounded by a hodgepodge of medieval housing, and forming the western boundary of developed Paris, with nothing beyond but trees subjected to ever-decreasing levels of manicure, and then waves of green fields. Montmartre is still nothing more than a village, its windmills still real and none rouge. The massive, unforgiving Bastille dominates its neighbourhood. Individual boats are depicted on a river teeming with activity. And there’s a reminder that Haussmann was not the only man who ever dreamed of reshaping Paris – already Henry IV’s Place Royale and Louis XIV’s Place Vendôme stand out from the muddle of streets that surround them – harbingers of the orderly, picture-perfect Paris of the future. Perhaps the reason the map feels slightly disconcerting is because of what’s not there. There’s so much detail and reality in the buildings, and yet slicing through them are clean, white roads. Not only do these streets seem in many places far wider, straighter and clearer than they almost certainly were in real life, there’s also something lifeless and sterile about them. The streets of Paris in the 1730s were many things, but clean was not one of them. Turgot clearly had a political purpose in commissioning the map, and aimed to show Paris as a modern, well-governed, well-maintained city under the control of the authorities. Even the very act of completing such an extraordinary work was testament to the resources available to the city’s elite. Consequently, the Pont Neuf is recorded in exacting architectural detail, but we get no sense of the raucous street life that thrived there. Eagle eyes can spot the Cimetière des Innocents near Les Halles in the centre of the city, but there’s nothing to suggest the supreme squalor of the place, the ground so full of corpses that they frequently burst out into the cellars of nearby buildings. And only when you look at the banks of the Seine, with the streaks of mud that intrude onto the clean white paper of the riverside, do you get a hint of the dirt and filth, the all-pervading brown that would have been the colour of Paris, and the stench that would have ruined that anachronistic balloon ride. The map is at once a tantalising and rare glimpse of a lost Paris at a precise moment in its history, and a fantasy – a Paris that never, quite, was. Incidentally, you can buy huge reproductions of this map in the UK here and in the US here. Oh how I lust after these! And if big, zoomable, historical maps are your bag, you might just explode with happiness if you visit the BIG Map Blog.

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French History Historical Places History Lost Paris Paris Uncategorized

Lost Paris: A new series

Lost Paris. It’s one of those phrases that sounds so much more poetic in French: Paris Disparu. Listen, you can practically hear the sad wind whistling around those forgotten streets. البولو

Paris, it seems to me, has more than its fair share of lieux de mémoire – those places where history “crystallizes and secretes itself”, where it seeps into the very fabric of the world and it seems that all you’d have to do is pull up the right paving stones and you’d find it glitteringly waiting there for you. But if the Paris of today is defined and animated by visible badges and scars of history, it’s equally shaped by places that no longer exist, that have been wiped off the map, or had the life scrubbed out of them, or where people have simply forgotten the long and – this being Paris – frequently macabre stories that lurk in the shadows of the City of Light.

So today I begin a new series, Lost Paris, in which I’ll try to uncover some of these forgotten places, stroll around in them for a while and imagine what it might have been like to see them. Get on board the gaudy double-decker, time travelling history bus, and some of the sights we’ll be taking in over the next few weeks include… دانى الفيش

Do join me. You may want to bring a nose peg and a sturdy pair of Wellington boots… اللاعب جريزمان

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18th Century Biography French History History

Marie Antoinette and her Children: The mystery and the history of Louis Charles in the tower. Part 2

Marie Antoinette's Son Louis Charles: death and reappearance

In part 1 of this story, we followed the rapidly deteriorating fortunes of the young Louis Charles, son of Marie Antoinette, as his family faced imprisonment in the forbidding tower of the Temple, his father, Louis XVI, was sent to the guillotine, and he was wrenched away from his mother and placed under the tutelage of the bitter zealot, Simon.

The story of Louis Charles was already tainted by more suffering than most people will have to endure in a lifetime, but Louis Charles was, in 1793, not yet nine years old. In the two years that remained to him, more pain would enter into the tale, and even his death marked not the end of his story, but merely the end of one chapter in what would become an epic tragedy.

Since we left him languishing in his cell him at the end of part one, the story has already got considerably more complicated. As described in this post, Louis Charles had become the pawn of Jacques René Hébert, who, in order to strengthen the fairly flimsy case against Marie Antoinette, had concocted a vindictive story that Marie Antoinette had sexually abused her son.  Hébert had managed to persuade Louis Charles to sign a document supporting this allegation, and had even made the boy confront his sister and aunt with the tale. Hébert unveiled this accusation with showmanly flourish at Marie Antoinette’s trial, and though it had not had quite the galvanising impact he had hoped for, the Queen was inevitably found guilty anyway and went to her death in September 1792.

The situation had never been worse for Louis Charles. The deaths of his father and mother had established the clear precedent that royalty was to be totally purged from France. The very idea of royalty ran counter to everything the revolution stood for and was therefore extremely and actively dangerous. And at this moment the last vestige of royalty – of all its crimes and excesses , of its history and myth, of its awkwardly persistent mystery and power, and, most pressingly of all, of its ancient bloodline – resided in the increasingly frail and filthy body of the young Louis Charles. Yet, as we saw in part 1, things weren’t quite this simple. Revolutionary France suffered from something of a PR problem, with most of Europe deriding the revolution as obscene and bestial, and several key areas of France itself engaged in open and bitter revolt. It just wouldn’t do to add child-murder to the list of the revolution’s more unsavoury habits, especially when the child in question had in the past proved effortlessly but powerfully capable of winning the sympathy of the public.

There was, however, a clear justification for keeping this king-in-waiting under lock and key. Exiled monarchist sympathisers would flock to fight under the banner of the would-be Louis XVII if he was ever allowed to go abroad and the revolution would have another enemy to fight. No, the only option was to keep him in prison. And as everyone knew, the prisons of Paris were brutal, squalid holes, where death by natural causes deprived Madame Guillotine of many cherished appointments. Here then, was the plan. Louis Charles’ milk-pale body was made for mirrored palaces and manicured gardens, not prisons. There was no need for a messy murder. Left alone, purposefully neglected, Louis Charles would soon sicken. Nature would do the job herself.

Initially, the plan worked just as it was supposed to. Since Louis Charles was now of very little use to political manipulators such as Hébert, he was largely ignored. Even Simon, Louis Charles’ former guard and co-conspirator of Hébert, left the prison in early 1794 to focus on his post at the Commune. Now, even the project to ‘re-educate’ Louis Charles in revolutionary ideals was abandoned, and the sole priority was to prevent any escape or rescue. He was placed in solitary confinement, probably in the very room where he had last seen his father. The room had always been cold and dark, and was now modified with the addition of strong bars and grates. His sole contact with any human being was when his meagre food was shoved into the room through a small slot. There were no openings to allow Louis Charles to glimpse the world beyond the ten foot thick walls that surrounded him, and at night he was allowed no candle to break the darkness. In May 1794, Robespierre visited the prison to inspect conditions. Louis Charles’ sister Marie-Thérèse desperately handed him a note, begging to be allowed to look after her brother. The request was ignored.

Louis Charles was now to all intents and purposes forgotten, as events outside the prison reduced the Prince to an irrelevance. The Terror reached its chaotic pitch, as first Hébert. then Danton, then Robespierre himself were overtaken and sent to the guillotine. Lurking somewhere in the group of prisoners who climbed the scaffold with Robespierre was Simon, his revolutionary career having proven to be only the last in a long line of failures. Throughout these turbulent months, Louis Charles endured an animal existence in the shadows.

In the wake of Robespierre’s downfall, a flicker of humanity briefly illuminated the boy’s plight. General Barras, who was now placed in charge of the royal children, paid a visit to the Temple and was shocked by what he saw. In Louis Charles’ cell he found a truly broken child. His limbs were swollen with angry tumours and he was covered in sores. His eyes seemed empty and dead, he could not walk and would not speak. He spent his days huddled in a tiny cot, presumably to put some small distance between him and the filth that was piling up on the floor of his cell.

Barras seems to have been moved to help the boy, and eventually a new guardian, Jean-Jacques Christophe Laurent, was appointed. can you drink ivermectin injection orally Laurent was a young Creole from Martinique, whose compassion and kindness stands out in this otherwise inkily grim tale. He was determined to bring Louis Charles’ sufferings to light, at some risk to his own prospects, insisting the Commune examine his case and demanding the right to be allowed in to clean Louis Charles’ cell for the first time in many months. Louis Charles was also washed, and his lice-ridden hair and claw-like nails were cut. Though he was allowed very limited time with the boy, Laurent was kind to him, calling him ‘Monsieur Charles’, rather than the barrage of insults he had been used to. After so many months of cruelty and isolation, Louis Charles recoiled suspiciously at this treatment, asking him ‘Why are you taking care of me? I thought you didn’t like me’, before retreating once again into silence.

By February 1795, it was becoming clear that Louis Charles was dying, yet still it was three months before any doctor was permitted to see him. Finally, Dr Pierre Joseph Desault arrived at the Bastille on 6 May. Despite the danger of doing so (two journalists had recently been arrested for speaking out about Louis Charles’ treatment), Desault was from the start free in his condemnation.

I encountered a child who is mad, dying, a victim of the most abject misery and the greatest abandonment, a being who has been brutalised by the cruellest of treatments and whom it is impossible for me to bring back to life… revectina serve para pulgas What a crime!

He insisted that Louis Charles be allowed to take air and exercise, and provided him with toys. signs of ivermectin toxicity The pair seem quickly to have formed a trusting, even, in its muted way, affectionate relationship. Then, after a public dinner, Desault complained of severe stomach pains, and died three days later. Rumours rapidly circulated that he had been poisoned, which seemed all the more likely given that two of his assistants also died suddenly soon afterwards.

Though another doctor was appointed, it was too late for Louis Charles, who died in the night on 8 June 1795, at the age of ten. The story is a squalid one; a simple tale of neglect with all too much cruelty and all too little heroism. But, like the long lines of kings before him, the death of Louis Charles marked merely the passing of history into legend, and before long rumours began circulating that Louis Charles had not died at all, that he had somehow been smuggled out of the Temple and had not suffered that ignominious end. A far more palatable romance quickly took the place of the sordid reality, and before long, a string of claimants to the throne of Louis Charles would start to emerge in the unlikeliest of places. For that story, come back next time.

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20th Century French History Historical Places History Paris

Is Paris Burning: Did a German General save the City of Light?

How German General von Choltitz saved Paris

In February 1943, there was nothing in Stalingrad but the ghost of a city. The scale of the battle that had raged for the past seven months was so unimaginable that it is nearly impossible to talk about it without resorting to empty cliché. There are the figures, of course – 850,000 Axis casualties, 1.1 million Soviet – which make this a strong contender for the title of deadliest battle in human history. But such numbers are incomprehensible in any real sense. The further you sub-divide these overarching statistics, to reveal, for example,the 40,000 Soviet civilians killed in one week of bombing, or the 13,500 Soviet soldiers executed by their own leaders during the fighting, the more you seem to be able to glimpse the hell of the battle.

In November of 1943, a plane flew over Stalingrad carrying Soviet diplomats journeying to meet their British and American counterparts. One passenger, Valentin Berezhkov, recorded what he saw.

We pressed to the windows in silence… First individual houses scattered in the snow came into view, and then a kind of unbelievable chaos began: lumps of walls, boxes of half-ruined buildings, piles of rubble, isolated chimneys… Visible against the snow were the black figures of people…’

Flash forward to Paris on 25th August 1944. Anyone flying over this city on that day would have witnessed a very different scene. Paris is still there. Damaged, certainly, and neglected, but still quintessentially and recognisably herself. From the window of the plane, you can still see barricades, trenches dug into the streets, trees felled on the boulevards. Many buildings are riddled with bullet holes, and the elegant, graceful Grand Palais is smouldering. But the battle has been won in only six days, and though several thousand people died in the fiercest fighting, the contrast between the liberation of Paris and the battle for Stalingrad could hardly be more marked.

This, unsurprisingly, was not part of Hitler’s plan. The Führer had several times issued orders that Paris must not be abandoned without a fight to the death. On 23rd August, he commanded,

The city must not fall into the enemy’s hand except lying in complete debris.

Explosives had been primed in strategic and iconic locations around Paris, to ensure that if the Germans were forced to withdraw, they would leave nothing behind.

So why was this plan never carried out – who saved Paris? Since the day of liberation, two divergent versions of what happened in Paris that August have emerged, that go right to the heart of the many myths that flock around Paris and its liberation like moths around candlelight.

General Von Choltitz: Saviour of Paris?
General von Choltitz

The first is, at base, your classic Parisian love story, with an unlikely leading man in the shape of German General Dietrich von Choltitz. Von Choltitz became the governor of Paris on 7th August 1944, and was the man responsible for carrying out Hitler’s orders, even (according to legend) receiving a screaming phone call from the Führer, demanding ‘Brennt Paris?‘ (Is Paris Burning?). There was nothing in von Cholitz’s past to suggest that he would do anything other than follow these orders to the letter. In 1940 and 41 both Sevastopol and Rotterdam were destroyed on von Cholitz’s orders. He apparently had no qualms about executing Resistance fighters in Paris, and, in a conversation secretly recorded whilst he was being held as a prisoner of war, von Choltitz admitted “executing the most difficult order of my life in Russia, (…) liquidation of the Jews. I have executed this order in its entirety nonetheless…”. He also issued the order to burn the Grand Palais on 23rd August 1944.

But on 25th August, von Cholitz surrendered Paris to the Allies, in direct contravention of his orders. None of the explosives had been detonated. And when De Gaulle paraded down the Champs-Élysées, it was through a sea of smiling faces, not the blackened wasteland of Hitler’s directives. So can it be that, at some pivotal moment, von Choltitz simply could not bring himself to carry out his orders, deciding he’d rather betray his leaders and surrender than see Paris destroyed? This is the version of events suggested by von Choltitz’s son, who claimed that his father realised the war was lost, and decided to prevent unnecessary bloodshed and destruction to the city. This idea is tempting, romantic even, but surely wide of the mark. In von Choltitz’s own account, he stated simply

If for the first time I had disobeyed, it was because I knew that Hitler was insane

Moreover, an experienced military man like von Choltitz would have recognised how disastrous Stalingrad had been for all sides, and seen the value in avoiding a repeat of those events.

The alternative version of events refuses to give con Choltitz even this much credit. Resistance member Maurice Kriegel-Valrimont argued in 2004 that von Choltitz wrought us much death and destruction on Paris and its citizens as he could, “and when he ceased to kill them it was because he wasn’t able to do so any longer”. Kriegel-Valrimont shudders at any attempt to paint von Choltitz as the saviour of Paris, and insists that it was Pierre Taittinger, chairman of the municipal council, who convinced him not to detonate the explosives around the city.

Two very different stories then. In one, a hardened Nazi is struck all too late by the futility and insanity of the war he has fought, and adds his name to the long list of Parisian heroes. In the other, the Parisians themselves are solely responsible for throwing off the rule of their alien, resented occupiers, who sought nothing but their destruction right up to the end. The truth must inevitably be found somewhere between the two. Von Choltitz was certainly no romantic hero, and it seems highly unlikely that he sought to ‘save’ Paris for its own sake. More likely, this practical man genuinely did realise that Hitler’s time was coming to an end, and determined to get things over with as quietly and efficiently as possible. But despite the legitimate protestations of many French historians, the fact remains that there must, surely, have been a window of opportunity for von Choltitz to carry out his orders, press that button and set off explosions all over Paris. That button was never pressed – that’s the fact, cold and undeniable, and the legacy of some combination of the actions of both von Choltitz and those Parisians who fought for their city.

So the brilliant, uniform beauty of Paris remained, the City of Light apparently undimmed. But even as De Gaulle marched triumphantly down the Champs-Élysées, and the crackly sound of the Marseillaise once again echoed down the streets after four forbidden years, a process of soul-searching and recrimination was already beginning. There were some deeply unpleasant questions that needed to be asked about the last few years. Why had it taken so long for Paris to shake off its occupiers? Had life in Paris under the Germans been a bit too easy? Most troubling of all – who had collaborated? Deep down, had everyone collaborated? These questions were made all the more uncomfortable by the unavoidable comparisons between still-dazzling Paris and the scenes of devastation in many of the other cities of Europe. German occupation may have ended, but the damage and pain it could inflict on Paris and Parisians had not disappeared with von Choltitz.

I think I feel another post coming on…

Further Reading

Paris

  • Paris: Biography of a City by Colin Jones Superb, detailed and comprehensive history of the city, from before it was even Paris to modern times.
  • Paris: The Secret History by Andrew Hussey A more social take on the history of Paris, with plenty of evocative detail.

Stalingrad

  • Stalingrad by Antony Beevor As big, clever and moving as popular history gets.