Paris...à pied, les yeux ouverts, le nez en l'air
ou l'architecture dans tous ses détails

PARIS from A to Z

 

         

Home 

from A to Z

Galleries

animals
caryatids
close-ups
domes
doors
entrances
façades
industrial buildings
plaques
shops
statues
 & sculptures

signatures
miscellaneous

Itineraries

Topics

Contact

Links

     

    Ardoises/Slates : Roofing slates in Paris are nearly always thin rectangles laid in horizontal rows, with only a few exceptions. These include large diamond-shaped slates, as well as rounded slates laid out in fish-scale patterns to cover domes. If you look carefully enough, you can even find some lozenge-diamond slates mixed in with rectangles to enliven the overall pattern (see also Toitures/Roofs).

 

    Ateliers d'artistes/Artists' studios : Paris probably has more artists’ studios with skylights and tall windows than any other city in the world, reflecting its place as a capital of the arts in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Not one arrondissement is entirely without them. (see also: Itineraries/Artists' studios in Montparnasse and Around the Park of Montsouris).

     

    Autobus/Bus lines : Before the Second World War, letters were used to identify Paris bus lines, with numbers used only for trams. After the trams were closed down, bus lines were numbered according to their connections with main railway stations or the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall). Changes to routes and the demands of traffic planning mean that the numbering system today is not completely consistent, but it is still true that:
       - all the buses with numbers starting with 20 leave from or stop at the Gare Saint Lazare;
       - all those with numbers starting with 30 leave from or go past the Gare de l’Est (the 38 now goes through to the Gare du Nord but the Gare de l’Est used to be the terminus for the line);
       - all those with numbers in the 40s go to the Gare du Nord (except the 47, which now stops at the Gare de l’Est but used to go through to the Gare du Nord) or have a  stop there;
       - all those with numbers in the 70s leave from or go past the Hôtel de Ville;
       - and all those with numbers in the 90s arrive at the Gare Montparnasse, except the 93  from Suresne, which now stops at Invalides.
    Other numbers are not quite so logical, since various changes to the lines have altered the original system:
       - among those with numbers in the 50s, only the 52 and the 53 have something in common – their terminus at Opéra — whereas all used to go through Place de la République.
       - among the lines with numbers in the 60s, the 61, the 63 and the 65 stop at the Gare de Lyon, whereas originally all the 60s were lines leaving from the Gare d’Austerlitz or taking bypass routes. (That said, it is hard to see the route taken by the 68 from Place de Clichy to Châtillon-Montrouge as a bypass.)
       - the 80s, the only full set of ten lines, now appear to be used for routes with absolutely nothing in common, but they all used to pass by Luxembourg or Les Gobelins. Finally, for those who wonder why numbering begins with the 20s, the explanation is simple: when bus lines changed from letters to numbers, metro lines were already numbered and it seemed wise not to have the same number for both a metro line and a bus line.
     

    Avenues ou boulevards : Avenue and boulevard are both words for wide streets, often with trees along the side. Avenues tend to cut across smaller streets to provide easy connections between two strategic points (avenue de l’Opéra between Opéra and Palais Royal) or branch out from a centre: all the main streets leading away from the Arc de Triomphe are avenues. Boulevard, derived from a 15th century Dutch word for rampart, is generally used for streets that follow on each other to enclose an area. Examples included the Boulevard Périphérique (ring road), the boulevards des Maréchaux, the Grands Boulevards built over the walls of Charles V (boulevard de la Madeleine, boulevard des Italiens, boulevard Montmartre, boulevard Poissonnière, boulevard de Bonne Nouvelle, boulevard Saint Martin, boulevard du Temple and boulevard Beaumarchais on the right bank or boulevard des Invalides, boulevard du Montparnasse, boulevard de Port Royal and boulevard Saint Marcel on the left bank). Similarly, other boulevards trace the walls of the Fermiers Généraux : boulevard de Grenelle, boulevard Garibaldi, boulevard Pasteur, boulevard de Vaugirard, boulevard Edgar Quinet, boulevard Raspail, boulevard Saint Jacques, boulevard Auguste Blanqui, boulevard de l’Hôpital, boulevard Vincent Auriol, boulevard de Bercy, boulevard de Reuilly, boulevard de Picpus, boulevard de Charonne, boulevard de Ménilmontant, boulevard de Belleville, boulevard de la Villette, boulevard de la Chapelle, boulevard de Rochechouart, boulevard de Clichy, boulevard des Batignolles and boulevard de Courcelles — then avenue de Wagram and avenue Kléber, remembering that the streets branching out from the Arc de Triomphe are all avenues. But, as with most rules, there also exceptions, the most obvious being the main north-south route made up of boulevards and not avenues (boulevard de Strasbourg, boulevard de Sébastopol, boulevard du Palais and boulevard Saint Michel.

    Balcons/Balconies : Apparently balconies running along the second and fifth floors (sometimes the sixth) became the rule for safety reasons: in the 19th century, the heavy wooden ladders that had to be carried by fire-fighters could not reach the top of the buildings.

    Bestiaire/Bestiary : There is no full inventory of the animals making up the bestiary of Paris, and for good reason — so many enliven the city’s buildings and monuments that listing them all would be impossibly long. Here we will make do with some examples taken from façades, decorations around and above doorways, balcony supports or friezes around the  floors. At first glance, lions appear the best represented, perhaps as a symbol of power or status, followed by rams (sacrificial animals associated with fecundity and abundance), then birds, which have more complex symbolic meanings. Feeding their offspring or represented with a nest, they stand for family, while owls of various kinds are a reference to Athena, the goddess of wisdom, and the cock a symbol of the French republic, but it is not always easy to see what ducks, storks, parrots and peacocks might represent.. Curiously dogs — the archetypal family pet — are only rarely represented; cats are hardly more frequent. Another surprise is that the animals displayed are not always everybody’s favourites, including as they do spiders, bats, octopuses, snakes, sharks, crocodiles and more. In addition to all these real animals, some of which were nonetheless very exotic at the time they were portrayed, there are hosts of mythical beasts such as dragons, sphinxes, sirens and gryphons.

    Boutiques/Shops : A number of bakers’ shops have kept decorations dating back 100 or 150 years, with pictures and texts painted on canvas behind a glass covering. The fact that many of them have remained in the same line of business has certainly helped to safeguard these decorations. Still, other shops have been preserved even when they have been turned over to different purposes. Examples include butcher’s shops, easy to identify from the gratings over the front. (see  shops in the photo gallery).

    Casse de grès/Ceramic : For a short period in the 1930s, some architects used glazed tile fragments to decorate façades (rue Degas, quai Louis Blériot, rond-point du pont Mirabeau, rue de Vaugirard, etc.). The technique was then abandoned before making a timid comeback as a variation on tiled and monochrome mosaic surfaces (rue Balard, rue Olivier de Serres, etc.). (see façades/ceramic façades).

    Couleur(s)/Colour(s) : Alongside a relatively small number of brick buildings, shops are a main source of colour in Paris, which otherwise tends to be monochromatic, almost monotonous. Light tones predominate (leaving aside blackening due to pollution): white plaster and dressed limestone, white shutters and black balcony railings. Only doors bring an occasional dash of brighter colour, although not at all on the same flamboyant scale as in London or Dublin. In Paris, of course, there are regulations to abide by and officials to enforce them. However...

 

 

 

 

 

    De/Of : What determines the name of an avenue, boulevard, rue “de X”, or avenue, boulevard, rue “X” with no “de”? When the name is that of a town, a country or a place (rue de l’abbaye, rue de Vaugirard) or a common noun (passage de l’ancre, cour de l’ameublement), the “de” is necessary. Conversely, when the name is that of a person, there should be no “de.” But things are not that easy. Some people take their names from a place: rue de Montmorency. Then again the “de” in a name may be a particle indicating that the family belongs to the aristocracy, something that a republic can find hard to digest. Properly, where this is the case the “de” is only used after the person’s title (president, count, general),  “Madame”, “Monsieur” or “Mademoiselle” or first name — thus François René de Chateaubriand, but Chateaubriand and not de Chateaubriand, Musset and not de Musset. Some street names abide by the rule: rue Lamartine (Alphonse de Lamartine), rue La Bruyère (Jean de La Bruyère), avenue Montaigne (Michel de Montaigne), rue and square La Fontaine (Jean de La Fontaine), avenue Mac-Mahon (Patrice de Mac-Mahon), etc. Others do not: rue de Richelieu, rue de La Rochefoucauld, etc. And in the 16th arrondissement, rue de l’Alboni is a stone’s throw away from square Alboni. There are a good number of other exceptions to the rules, perhaps because usage has prevailed or perhaps because the  clerk drawing up the resolution for the City Council did not know and the councillors had other things on their mind — either way, the name is rue Montmartre although it should be rue de Montmartre.

    Degrés (rue des)/Stairs street : the shortest street in Paris and where nobody can live since it has no number.

 

    Electricité/Electricity : Electrification led architects to leave more room for stairwells so that they could fit in a lift (see plaques). In 1889, the City of Paris granted an 18-year concession to six companies charged with installing and operating power grids. At the time, all power stations used coal and emission levels were very high. Some were inside Paris proper (rue des Dames, quai de Jemmappes) and others were on the outskirts (Ivry, Levallois) but the high-voltage current generated was carried to substations where it was transformed into low-voltage current. It was also transformed into continuous current for trams and the metro, since motors using alternating current came later and continuous current also has some advantages. In 1898, Compagnie parisienne du métropolitain, the metro operator of the time, built its own power station behind its headquarters at quai de Bercy. Over 20 power stations and substations were designed by architect Paul Friésé. (see industrial buildings). As in other countries, continuous current for domestic purposes was gradually replaced by alternating current — although a visitor and contributor to this site (thanks to D.Z.) remembers English homes using continuous current up to the end of the 1950s. Visitors may remember that Edison was for continuous current and his competitor Westinghouse for alternating current.

    Enceintes/City walls :  The first walls around Paris were built under Philippe II Auguste at the end of the 12th century and beginning of the 13th century. They were followed by the walls begun under Charles V and finished in 1383 under Charles VI, then Louis XIII walls built between 1633 and 1636. A century and half later, these were replaced by the walls of the Fermiers Généraux, completed in 1787. The latter were not for defence but for the collection of taxes due on goods coming into Paris — the Fermiers Généraux being tax collectors under royal franchise.  (Which is remembered in verses still familiar to many French people: “ce mur murant Paris rend Paris murmurant” and “Pour augmenter son numéraire / Et raccourcir notre horizon, / La Ferme a jugé nécessaire / De mettre Paris en prison”). They also marked the city’s administrative boundaries until 1860, when adjacent villages were incorporated into Paris. These villages had ended up in a sort of no-man’s land between the wall of the Fermiers Généraux and the fortifications  built between 1841 and 1844 under the aegis of Adolphe Thiers. Familiarly referred to “les fortifs”, the Thiers walls counted 94 bastions (no. 1 can still be seen in the middle of the Bercy interchange between the Paris ring-road and the A4 motorway) preceded by embankments. Paris was the only European capital still surrounded by walls in the 20th century. The Thiers fortifications were dismantled between 1919 and 1929 and the newly available land was used for subsidized housing, which deserves more detailed study. Today, the boulevard périphérique ringing Paris since 1973 marks a break between the city and adjacent areas as radical as any of the walls of the past.

     

    Famille/Family : Many of the buildings from the opening years of the 20th century are ornamented with statues to the glory of the family, mostly with several children, but not always with the father.

 

 

 

 

 

    Fenêtres/Windows : Frames on the front of some buildings are around masonry recesses rather than windows, which may be because the architect wanted to liven up the surface while maintaining overall balance. In other cases it is the result of the tax imposed on doors and windows under legislation dated 4 Frimaire an VII in the revolutionary calendar, which corresponds to 24 November 1798. Some taxpayers walled up windows to cut their bills and later cautious builders provided for windows at some future date if the law was abolished — as ultimately happened in 1915 with the introduction of income tax.

 

    Fontaines/Fountains :  Their primary purpose was to provide free water for the people of Paris, who otherwise had to go down to the Seine — which was more or less drinkable up to 1900, with some photos showing horses drinking in it — buy it from peddlers on the streets, or use the water from wells sunk in courtyards, which was very often polluted. Fountains were also used to water the huge number of horses (tens of thousands at the end of the 19th century) needed to transport people, merchandise and materials; a cart horse drinks anything from 15 to 60 litres a day. Fountains could also be a source of prestige for the people that paid for them and display their concern for the less fortunate — water and magnanimity as a sort of equivalent for the Roman Emperor’ panem et circenses (bread and circuses). Now that water comes out of a tap, fountains serve as decoration and little else.

    Fumier/Dung : Today many rightfully complain about the quantities of dog droppings that make Paris one of the western world’s filthiest capitals, but imagine what they would say about the piles of horse dung piling up each day at the end of the 19th century. With around 50,000 horses in the streets (15,000 for the omnibuses and tramways alone) the quantity was certainly impressive and the smell on a hot day must have been all the more suffocating as not all buildings were connected to sewers. Horse manure was a main source of tetanus infections.

    Garde-corps/Railings : Cast and wrought-iron balcony railings make a significant contribution to the visual impact of buildings in many parts of Paris, and architects paid close attention to their appearance. Two approaches can be distinguished. With the first, the pattern is the same for railings on all floors, ensuring complete unity of style, while with the second the pattern differs, either at each floor or at the upper floors (fifth, sixth and, sometimes, seventh) where the decoration is simpler, marking a difference in social standing. At the time, the higher floors were less in demand, and thus cheaper, if only because few buildings had lifts. With some rare exceptions, railings are painted black.

    Guillotine :  In the 19th century, executions were public and performed first at the barrière Saint Jacques and then outside the Prison de la Roquette near Bastille from 1850 until the prison was demolished in 1899 (five granite slabs that used to hold the scaffold can still be seen on the site). From 1899 to 1939, they were on boulevard Arago outside the prison de la Santé, and from then until the abolition of the death penalty in 1981 out of sight behind the walls of the prison.

    Guimard : Urban transport authority RATP has shamelessly destroyed a good number of stations designed in art nouveau style by architect Hector Guimard. More encouragingly, the city of Lisbon has recovered one for its Picoas station.

    Halls/Entrances : Today the entrance halls of most buildings in Paris have been sealed off with codes, intercoms and the like. All the more reason to make the most of what can be glimpsed through glass panes or when doors are left temporarily open.

    Immeubles industriels/Industrial buildings : Long ignored or looked down on, industrial architecture has all too often fallen victim to property promoters. (see Electricity).

    Jean de La Fontaine : At least two buildings in Paris pay homage to the author of France’s best known fables, one at 40 avenue Félix Faure with the crow and the fox over the entrance, and the other at 10 rue d’Assas with medallions on the fourth floor showing the fox and the stork, the lion and the rat, the fox and the grapes, the oak and the reed, and another fable that the webmaster is ashamed to admit he is unable to identify.

 

    Kilomètre zéro/Point zero :  A plaque near the main doors of Notre Dame marks the point of departure for the measurement of all distances from Paris to other parts of France. Signs along some motorways coming into Paris show distances to both Paris Notre Dame and Paris boulevard périphérique (ring road).

 

    Maréchaux (boulevards des)/Marshals boulevards : 18 of Napoleon’s 26 marshals have given their names to the boulevards that ring Paris just inside the boulevard périphérique: Berthier, Bessières, Brune, Davout, Gouvion-Saint-Cyr, Jourdan, Kellermann, Lannes, Lefebvre (the husband of Madame Sans-Gêne, the proverbially outspoken former canteen woman), Macdonald, Masséna, Mortier, Murat, Ney, Poniatowsky, Sérurier, Soult, Suchet, and Victor. Marshals Moncey and Oudinot have to make do with a street each and the rue Pérignon appears to honour a councillor of the Seine département and not the marshal (unless they are one and the same). Marshals Augereau, Bernadotte (who became King of Sweden) and Marmont miss out entirely. Finally, a section of boulevard Victor has been renamed boulevard du général Martial Valin, dealing an unfortunate blow to consistency. What a pity!

    Metro : Everyone knows that the metro network has not always been what it is today, that there have been extensions into the suburbs, new connections between line, and so on. The radical changes made to some lines are less familiar. Line 10 from Boulogne-Porte d’Auteuil to Gare d’Austerlitz simply did not exist as such in 1920: although the section between Porte d’Auteuil and La Motte Piquet was there, it went on to Opéra via Ecole Militaire, Latour-Maubourg, Invalides, Concorde and Madeleine (the latter section later became part of line 8 from Balard to Charenton Ecoles). A section of what was initially planned as a future line 14 — Invalides-Porte de Vanves — was under construction but instead of continuing on to Montparnasse after Invalides then Duroc, it veered off to Vaneau, boulevard Raspail (at Sèvres-Babylone), Croix-Rouge and Saint Germain des Près.

    Numéros 13/Number 13 : As with the floors and rooms in many hotels, some streets have no number 13 (most often replaced by 11bis), and in some cases no number 113 either. No doubt the promoters of the time did not want to discourage buyers. Streets with this kind of numbering gap include boulevard du Palais, rue Blomet, rue des Ursulines, avenue Elysée Reclus, rue Rousselet, rue Chasseloup Laubat, rue Louis Morard, rue Notre Dame des Champs (113) and no doubt many others. Rue Hégésippe Moreau,some superstitious managed to get their building re-numbered and were not afraid to proclam the fact.

     

    Numéros lumineux/Illuminated numbers : Instead of being attached to the wall, the numbers of some buildings appear as cut-outs on two sides of a triangular lamp above the door with an electric or gas light inside. Unfortunately, these lamps (which were compulsory at the end of the 19th century) have been out of operation for a long time. A shame. In the 1960s, the City began installing illuminated numbers on lamp-posts but gave up before the job was finished.

 

    Numérotation des rues/Street numering : The principle of placing even numbers on one side of the street and odd numbers on the other is far from universal. In Venice, for example, the numbers follow each other in an uninterrupted series winding through each of the six historical districts or sestieri like Ariadne’s thread through the labyrinth: the postal address is the number plus the name of the sestiere, which is enough to get a letter to its destination without the name of the street, but a pedestrian not knowing the name of the street would have a very wearying walk ahead. In London some streets have odd and even numbers following each other on the same side whereas others have only even numbers on one side and only odd numbers of the other, as in Paris. The situation is similar in Berlin, where, however, the preference appears to be for the hair-pin pattern, with odd and even numbers following each other down one side of the street and the series then continued in the opposite direction on the other side when the end of the street is reached,with the result that the first number is opposite the last. Many American cities have a grid lay-out with streets meeting at right-angles; to pinpoint a building on a map you just take away the last two figures from the house number: for example, 2150 Rockwell Avenue, Cleveland is located above 21st Street on the block between 21st and 22nd Streets. In Tokyo, there aresimply no building numbers at all, which is very confusing for visitors but apparently no problem for the Japanese.

    In Paris, the numbering of streets parallel to the Seine starts in the east and ends in the west, with even numbers on the right (north) and odd numbers on the left (south). Numbering of streets perpendicular to the Seine start at the river with even numbers of the right (east on the right back and west on the left bank) and odd numbers on the left (west on the right bank and east on the left bank). Which explains why the quais running along the left bank have only odd numbers and those running along the right bank have only even numbers. The numbering on the Ile de la Cité is that applying on the left bank although from the administrative point of view it is partly in the 1st and partly in the 4th arrondissement, both otherwise on the right bank. Numbering on the Ile Saint Louis is instead the same as on the right bank. More surprising still is that N°10 rue des Baigneurs "presumably" here; rue Dorian, which is perpendicular to the Seine, was originally numbered correctly (i.e. starting from the river): the numbering nowadays starts furthest from the river and finishes nearest - the exact opposite of the general rule! ("ancien" means "previous").

    The numbers on rue de Rennes are a special case, beginning as they do with no. 44. This is because the new main street cutting through older neighbourhoods was initially supposed to go from Montparnasse to the Seine but finally stopped at boulevard Saint Germain.

    Octroi/Tax :  Under the ancien régime, the octroi was a tax that some cities levied on incoming goods for local consumption. To prevent evasion, the Fermiers Généraux, members of the corporation charged with tax collection up to the Revolution, had a wall built around Paris, with access only through gates referred to as barrières. Some of the pavilions built at the gateways by the architect Claude-Nicolas Ledoux can still be seen. The wall was pulled down in 1860 when areas on the outskirts were incorporated into the city and the boundary for the octroi was pushed back to Thiers’ fortifications. Probably not many people realize that despite this the octroi itself was not abolished until 1943. The painter Henri Rousseau owes his name as “le douanier” (customs official) to his job with the octroi; old postcards of the "Porte d'Allemagne" (today "Porte de Pantin") and of the "Porte de la Chapelle".

 

    Odeurs/Odours : Today’s Parisians complain about the air, but they can count themselves lucky that they do not have to live with the smells of the past – from horse droppings, latrines, coal fires giving off sulphur dioxide fumes (which lasted through into the 1960s), steam locomotives and an array of factories and other industrial sites. Which added up to a powerful mixture.

    Ornements/Ornamentation : Ornamentation of buildings in the style associated with the name of Haussmann (Prefect of the Seine from 1853 to 1870) and those that followed was not meant just to please the eye — a result that could equally well be achieved with elegant simplicity and restraint. It also played an economic and social role, signalling the status of the occupants. Many of these buildings were designed to generate income and investors could charge higher rents for buildings with ornaments such as caryatids.

    Pavés/Paving : King Philippe II, better known as Philippe Auguste, was the first to pave a few Paris streets as early as 1186. Many Paris streets were long paved with wood, and some of these wooden pavings survived until after the Second World War. They had the advantage of being relatively quiet, especially as horses’ hooves made much less noise than on stone, but they were slippery when it rained and also very unhygienic, since they were steeped in horse dung and urine. For the sake of hygiene, and because of the horses, streets were washed every day by municipal watering carts (one of these is illustrated in a Babar book), which continued operation into the 1950s. In the 1930s, there were some experiments with tarred metal surfacing, but they did not lead to anything. While stone paving looks attractive and lasts indefinitely, it has also become very expensive. Since May 1968, it has been phased out for a combination of political reasons (asphalting makes it harder to rip up paving stones in case of social unrest and leaves marks on the hands of those who try) and environmental considerations (modern surfacing cuts traffic noise by around 15/20 decibels, whereas stone paving increases it).

    Plaques et inscriptions : Alongside the memorial plaques honouring historical figures and heroes, there are many others that people no longer pay any attention to, as, for example, “EAU à tous les étages” (water on all floors) but which are forceful reminders of changes in the life of the people of Paris. The series begins with “EAU dans la maison” (water inside the building), highlighting an exception worth notice, followed by “EAU à tous les étages” (water on all floors) then “EAU dans les appartements” (water in the apartments), which is better than a tap on the landing, and ending with “tout-à-l’égout” (connection to the city sewers). “GAZ à tous les étages” (gas on all floors) is common but “lumière électrique” (electric light) and “électricité” are much rarer, as is “ascenseur” (lift).

    Portes/Doors : Seen from outside, the doors of buildings are barriers protecting the privacy of occupants, but they also say something about those people and their status, depending on whether they are simple or double doors for people only, or double doors high enough to accommodate a carriage and driver — called a porte cochère from the word cocher or driver. In simpler buildings, doors are not much more than a wooden panel in a frame with a few ornamental carvings, while at the other end of the scale there are the weighty portals with elaborate decorations and artfully wrought knockers and handles. Some with transparent panes put the wealth of decoration and the size of the entrance hall on display, making passers-by all the more aware of the what they have not got and how much separates them from the people living there.

    Quand : it makes you wonder if some people can read a map of Paris or count properly.

 

    Rois/Sovereigns : Clovis is the only Merovingian with a street in Paris named after him and Charlemagne the only Carolingian. The later kings and emperors of France fare little better, with those remembered including only Philippe II (Philippe Auguste), Louis IX (saint Louis), Charles V, François 1, Henri IV, Louis XIII, Louis XVI (the garden around the expiatory chapel off boulevard Haussmann), Louis-Philippe and Napoleon III.  Louis XIV had a place before the Revolution, the Place Vendôme with his tatue on foot, and has now only a small street named rue Louis le Grand (Louis the Great); Louis XV at one time had a place (now Place de la Concorde) and a statue, but neither lasted. Napoleon I is directly represented only with the rue Bonaparte, but there are many streets and other sites recalling the events of his reign (Austerlitz, Tilsitt, Presbourg, Iena, Lodi, Pyramides and even Aboukir, (the site of one victory but also of two defeats), and the boulevards ringing the city carry the names of his marshals. Only seven sovereigns have their statues on public show in Paris: Charlemagne in front of Notre-Dame, Philippe Auguste and saint Louis at the beginning of cours de Vincennes, Henri IV on the Pont Neuf, Louis XIII in the place des Vosges, Louis XIV in the place des Victoires and Napoleon 1 at the top of the column on the place Vendôme. The Presidents of France’s successive Republics have been much better treated, being practically sure of having their names on a blue street sign almost as soon as they were buried, whatever the role in the history of France or Paris: de Gaulle, Pompidou and Mitterand for the fifth Republic; Auriol and Coty, who, as de Gaulle famously said, did little more than inaugurate chrysanthemums, for the fourth Republic; Thiers (who was only head of the executive of a third Republic not yet proclaimed, who put the Commune under siege and was forced to resign); Mac-Mahon, who also resigned; Sadi-Carnot, who was assassinated; Casimir-Perier, who resigned; Félix Faure (who gave his name to an avenue, to a place, to a street and a metro station, yet is remembered only because he died in the company of his mistress in the Elysée palace); Emile Loubet, otherwise totally forgotten just like his successor Armand Fallières; Raymond Poincaré and Paul Doumer, who was assassinated for the third Republic. The only Presidents to miss out are Jules Grévy, who resigned amid a scandal over corruption in the award of decorations; Alexandre Millerand, who resigned and is now forgotten; Paul Deschanel, forced to resign after a few months because of mental disorder; and Albert Lebrun, who “withdrew” after Pétain had declared himself chief of state. However, there are no statues of presidents with the sole exception of the statue of de Gaulle at the lower end of the Champs Elysées, but even then he is represented more as the general marching down the avenue on the evening of the liberation of Paris than as president. 

    Signatures : The practice of inscribing the name of the architect and/or builder, generally together with the date of construction, on the front of new buildings emerged in the 1830s and 1840s. Sometimes the inscription also gives the name of the sculptor who did the decorative work, and the date may be in a cartouche to give it pride of place. While never an absolute rule, signatures of this kind were very common from 1870 on. Some architects even adapted lettering to the style of the building. The practice faded out of use after the Liberation and was completely abandoned in the 1960s, when architects were apparently not interested in making themselves known to posterity, but it made a timid comeback in the 1990s. Some of the oldest buildings with dates and signatures are at 110 rue de Richelieu (1840, by J. J. Navarre); 30 rue Bonaparte (1846, by L. Desrousseaux); 18 rue de Liège (1846, by Mortier); 27 rue Cassette (1847, by P. Jacot); 71 rue du Bac (1848, by Francis Ecquer); and 12 rue Montmartre (1848, by G. Boye).

    Toitures/Roofs :  Light, cheap and easy to work, zinc is used for between two-thirds and three-quarters of roofing in Paris. It is often combined with slate, a material in high repute (possible because of its use for châteaux), but expensive and heavy, requiring a stronger roof frame and thus entailing added costs. Where roofing combines zinc and slate, the former is used for the higher, less visible sections. Tiles are much rarer and in some cases are also combined with zinc or slate. Copper roofs, recognizable by a green layer of oxidation, are almost exclusively used for public buildings (the Opéra, the Palais de la Bourse, the UNESCO Conference Hall) since the cost makes them very much the exception for residential construction (96 rue Notre Dame des Champs). Finally, concrete made its appearance in the 20th century.

    Tramway/Trams : The first horse-drawn trams began running in 1855 and the first steam-driven trams in 1876, then the first with electric engines in 1900. Horse-drawn services nonetheless continued up until 1913. In 1925, the metro had only 11 lines, while there were some 50 bus lines and 100 tram lines. Trams were decommissioned in 1937 in Paris and in 1938 in the suburbs. In many cases, the rails were simply asphalted over and they sometimes come to light during road works, as on the boulevard de Port Royal in 2005, when separate lanes were being put in for buses.

    Vigne/Vines : Grapevines are certainly the plants best represented in the ornamentation of Paris buildings.

    Volets/Shutters : Up to the time of the Revolution, shutters, if they existed at all, were inside. The introduction of wooden shutters opening out to an attachment on the outside wall and metal shutters with several panels folding up at the side of the window brought big changes to the appearance of buildings and with them the city as a whole. With some rare exceptions, they are always painted white or beige.

    Wallace : Sir Richard Wallace, the heir to a large fortune who lived for much of his life in Paris and died there in 1890, paid for the installation of some 100 of the fountains that now bear his name. Made after a model by the sculptor Charles Lebourg (1872), these provided drinking water for Parisians who were all the more grateful as most housing at the time had no water at all, drinkable or not, and they thus had to go to a fountain or buy water from peddlers in the street. The fountains, made out of cast iron, have a steady trickle of water coming from the inside of a dome held up by four caryatids symbolizing Simplicity, Goodness, Sobriety and Charity. A second and cheaper version was created later. Sir Richard Wallace also had an exceptional art collection, with 18th century French furniture and porcelain particularly well represented. Bequeathed to the British Nation, a part of this is now on show at the Wallace Collection museum in London.  Wallace has not given his name to any streets in Paris but there is a boulevard Wallace in Neuilly and there are copies of his fountains on Las Ramblas, Barcelona’s most famous avenue.

 

    Yeux/Eyes : You have to raise your eyes to see the decorations on buildings and lower them for other things. But whatever you do, keep them wide open.

    Zinc : see toitures/roofs.