The History of Paris, Part II

Paris under Philippe-Auguste

New Fortifications

Under Philippe II (“Philippe-Auguste” – 1180-1223), Paris maintained its stature as Francia’s capital. Its continuing prosperity drew the political and demographical elements that would cement it into its role.

Philippe-Auguste’s reign was also a time of unrest, as even in his first years as young regent he was in open conflict with the English and Norman kings. Periods of peace and war alternated until Philippe-Auguste agreed to join King Richard (the Lionhearted) in the Third Crusade against Jerusalem – but fearing intrigue in his absence by Norman and English lords and their allies, he had all cities of any strategic value fortified.

Paris was still young in its role as Capital of France, but its new defences were worthy of a town of that rank. The Norman raids of the 9th and 10th century were still fresh in Paris’ memory then, and it seems that its walls were built with these in mind: Placed far from the city centre, they enclosed the abbeys that in years before had served as exchange for Viking ransom. This may not be the only reason that the walls were placed such: Paris’ rapid demographical growth then (its population would double under Philippe-Auguste) may have been a motivation; another possibility may have been that they were placed around enough farmland to allow the Capital to sit out a siege long enough for the return of the King’s armies.

The Wall Itself

The Rive Droite portion of Philippe-Auguste’s wall was under construction from 1190, a work financed in its majority by the merchant guild of Paris. The Crown took financial charge for the Rive Gauche portion begun from around 1200, as the slow growth and little industry there was not enough to pay for its construction. The whole would be completed by around 1220.

The wall was an average of nine metres in height, and measured 2 796 metres in length on Paris’ Right Bank, and 2 569 metres on its lesser populated opposite shore. Where the river broke its passage from Left to Right Bank, its ends were capped by four large towers whose foundations dropped directly into the Seine. Aside from its gates (numbering only six in its first years), its length was broken roughly every sixty metres by a tower that extended an additional five metres above the wall; in three stories, it is thought that the lower floor of these was roofed in stone and the floors above roofed in wooden beams. With the exception of the four large towers, ladders were used as communication between their different levels. Both the towers and walls were topped with rampart-protected walkways.

The new fortifications extended in an arc to the north height enough to enclose the Saint-Opportune and Saint-Merri churches, and to the south enough to protect the Royal Sainte-Genevieve Abbey. All other monasteries and abbeys too far from the city centre had to build walls of their own: the Left Bank’s Abbey Saint-Germain-des-Prés was doted (and this possibly from the early 12th century) with thick walls reinforced by towers and a moat; Also on Paris’ Left Bank just outside Paris’ walls (to the eastern end of the street that bears its name today) was the Saint-Victor Abbey. To the other side of the Seine to Paris’ north along today’s rue Saint-Martin was the Abbey for which the street was named: 1140 walls were rebuilt into a stronger version from 1273. Finally, the Templar Abbey, itself built from 1240, became a fully fortified enclosure (and almost town in itself) from 1265, centred around a dungeon that stood on the rue du Temple to the southern end of the square of the same name.

Detail: Paris’s 1220 Gates and Roadways

Philippe-Auguste’s wall concretised Paris’ then few main roadways. It had initially six on the Right Bank, and these were: the porte Saint-Honoré, on the street of the same name at the rue Marengo; the porte Montmartre, on the street of the same name between the rue du Jour and the rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau; the porte Saint-Denis, on the street of the same name at the level of the impasse des Peintres (itself below the rue de Turbigo); the porte Saint-Martin, on the street of the same name at the level of the rue Grenier Saint-Lazare; le porte du Temple on the street of the same name at the level of the passage Sainte-Avoye; finally the porte Saint-Antoine on the street of the same name between the rue de Sevigné and the rue Malher. The Rive gauche’s gates were, from west to east: le porte Saint-Germain (also Buci), at the corner of today’s rue Mazet and rue St André des Arts; le porte des Cordeliers, to the south-eastern end of the Carrefour; le porte Saint-Michel (also Gibard), around 50m into the north-eastern block made by the corner of the rue Soufflot and the Boulevard Saint-Michel (as le rue de la Harpe extending south to this point was the city’s main street then); le porte Saint-Jacques, to the southern side of the rue Soufflot at its corner with the rue Saint-Jacques; the porte Papale, on today’s rue d'Ulm just to the north of le rue de l’Estrapade; le porte Bordelles (or Saint-Marcel), which straddled the rue Descartes just above the rue Thouin; finally the porte Saint-Victor stood across today’s rue des Écoles just to the east of the rue d’Arras.

Many of these gates defended Paris principal roadway connections with France’s coastal regions and the other main cities of Europe. Paris’ oldest and most evident roadway was its former Roman Cardo north-south axis along the rue Saint-Jacques and rue Saint-Martin: to the north through the former gate, the road led as far south as coastal Spain, and its northern opposite led to Calais, Belgium and Germany. The parallel secondary road from the same period, or the “via inferior”, followed the rue Saint-Denis and (today’s) boulevard Saint-Michel to go through their gates of the same name; the former was most important as it opened onto a route that led northward to its Royal abbey. Another important ‘international’ gateway was the porte Bordelles, as, following today’s rue Mouffetard and Avenue des Gobelins, its roadway was a direct connection to Italy. Lastly but perhaps most importantly for the map of the city itself were the roles played by the Rive droite’s porte Saint-Honoré (to the north of the Louvre fortress) and porte Saint-Antoine: these fixed Paris’ Rive droite west-east axis.

The other doorways led for the most part to the abbeys too far from the city centre to profit from the wall’s protection: the porte Montmartre opened onto a road which led to the 11th century abbey of the same name on the mountain to the north of the city, itself an antenna of a road that led to France’s coastal fishing villages (today’s rue Poissonière). The porte des Cordeliers opened towards the Coventry it was named for, as did the gates Saint-Germain, du Temple, de Saint-Victor and Saint-Martin.

Paris’ growth and subsequent traffic saturation through its few gateways necessitated the opening of new ones in later years. On the rive droite these would be, from west to east: Coquillière, Comtesse d’Artois, Bourg l’Abbé. Nicolas Huydelon, Chaume, Barbette, Saint-Paul and Barrées. Only three new gates would be needed on the slower-expanding Rive gauche: Nesles, Dauphine and Saint-Bernard.

Paris’ Map, Drawn

The above fortifications and enclosures were important for more than their defensive capabilities: They would dictate the path of growth that was haphazard until then, and motivate, through a general land re-distribution according to the new city boundaries, a wave of speculation and building on the more valued properties towards the city centre. Although Philippe-Auguste had given the Rive droite and Rive Gauche almost equal enclosures of land in attempt to spread growth evenly between them both, the Rive droite turned out to be a stronger magnet of growth.

It is thought that the Parisian immigration to the Right bank had begun as early as the 9th century with the stables of butchers carrying their often unhygienic trade outside the city walls. In any case it is certain that they were well established there by the early 12th century, with their stables and slaughter pens lining the river to the east of the Grand-Pont (pont au Change) and a wall of the Grand-Châtelet; the Seine was Paris’ only sewer then, and the above location made evacuating the bloody wastes of the butchery trade an easier task.

The Place de la Grève’s creation from 1141 of course only added to the above activity, and after this in turn was joined by Louis VI (“le Gros” – 1108-1137) with the île de la Cité market (le marché Palus) in barren land to the north of the Chatelet, “Les Champeaux” (little fields – also “petits-Champs”), the rive Droite became Paris’ principal centre of commercial activity. Philippe-Auguste further added to the importance of the new marketplace when he joined to it, in 1181, the “foire Saincte-Ladre” (Saint-Lazare) from the monetary hospital further north along the road that it today’s rue Saint-Denis. Two years later the same king decided to enclose the whole in two enclosed squares, or “Hallas”, to at once protect the merchant’s wares (in an upper floor) and to separate them from the just-adjacent Les Innocents cemetery. The rue de la Ferronerie and rue de la Lingerie still bear memory to the halls of then and later years, and “les Halles” is still the quarter’s name today.

Also on the initiative of Philippe-Auguste, Paris’ main streets would be paved for the first time (since Roman times) from around 1186. These were the east-west axis between Les Halles and the Saint-Antoine gate (roughly today’s rue Saint-Honoré, rue des Lombards, rue de la Verrerie and rue Saint-Antoine), and north-south axis along the rue Saint-Jacques and Saint-Martin.

This period was the most important for forming the nucleus of Paris still visible in its present-day map. The Louvre fortress and city defences that confirmed the city’s main roadways, the newly defined and growing Rive droite market; From these points, all of Philippe-Auguste’s creation, Paris would grow into the city we know today.

– Charles V through La Pax Borbonica