Thursday, May 08, 2008

Plus c'est la meme chose...

My petit quiz for the day for non-Parisians -- what do the following names have in common: Marceau, Iéna, Kléber, Victor Hugo, Foch, Grande Armée, Carnot, Mac-Mahon, Wagram, Hoche, Friedland, Champs-Elysées?

Here's a hint. (Nice photo, n'est-ce pas? I'm rather proud of it.)

Answer: Yep, these are, clockwise, the twelve avenues that radiate from the Place de l'Etoile. After two years in Paris, I almost know them by heart -- in order, no less. Hmmm... next if I can memorize the names of the bridges of Paris, I'll be ready to win (or not lose too badly) the next nail-biting round of Trivial Pursuit Paris.

Today being a holiday, I decided to take an urban trek in this oh-so-familiar territory, and found myself walking in circles -- literally. I've long been intrigued by the Neoclassical buildings that ring the Arc de Triomphe, and the circular street behind them: rue de Tilsitt and rue Presbourg. For an aerial view, click here.

When they were designed in 1854 by Haussmann's architect, Hittorff, the mandate was to create twelve uniform hôtels particuliers (private homes) that would be an appropriate backdrop to Napoleon's majestic triumphal arch.

Evidently Hittorff did too good a job in the uniformity department -- Haussmann proclaimed the facades to be too ugly and too short, and ordered trees to be planted in front to obscure the view.

Today, each has its own personality. Some of the "backsides" of the buildings have been filled in or renovated, like this art nouveau entrance.

Mostly, however, I have been wondering about the urns perched on the Mansarded eaves of these buildings. Next time you're visitng the Arc de Triomphe, check them out.

Some urns have disappeared. But who got rid of them? Did they sell them to some architectural salvage company? Weren't those urns protected as architectural elements by historic preservation covenants? Were they ever planted with flowers, or were they always strictly ornamental? (I suspect the latter.) Ah, the mystery of the urns.

In any case, somewhere in the timeline of the past 150 years the uniformity seems to have been abandoned. Some of Hittorff's dozen buildings are now fancy corporate headquarters, and a few remain residential. You can't improve on real estate location-location-location than this address. And the view of the illuminated Arc de Triomphe from the windows is breathtaking at night.
To see how much change has taken place, compare some of the windows that used to be exactly the same, all on different buildings. Plus c'est la même chose, plus ça change?



Petrea Burchard said...

Oh, I love the window comparison, down to the cracking paint and the blue deux! (I was trying to see inside.) How did you ever find an street so close to l'Arc?

Polly-Vous Francais said...


click on the google map and you'll see where the side streets are. There were so many other shots of these "same" windows. Truly remarkable how they've changed, and only a sliver of how each building has changed in 150 years. A fun urban adventure if you're hanging out by the Arc de Triomphe.

Petrea Burchard said...

Oops. I should have proofread. My comment should have asked how you found an *empty* street in that vicinity! Perhaps because it was a holiday.

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