The Paris of Les Mis in Photographs

The invention of photography coincided almost exactly with the very first steps in the great mid-19th-century urban renewal of Paris–around the end of the 1830s. Given Victor Hugo’s fascination with lost places, and his penchant for filling his novels with settings that had already been destroyed, this doesn’t make it easy to find photographs of the places mentioned in Les Mis as they would have existed at the time. The elephant of the Bastille and the Rue de la Chanverrerie had both been destroyed by the time Daguerre perfected his invention, replaced by the July Column and the Rue Rambuteau. The old Paris prisons were demolished and the main thoroughfares of the Latin Quarter were gutted under Haussmann in the 1850s and 60s. Fortunately, pre-demolition photos were commissioned of the streets lost to Haussmannization; and even photos from later in the 19th century, though not exact, still give a better idea of the Rue Mondétour and the Faubourg Saint-Marcel as they were before 20th-century urban planning rendered them completely unrecognizable.

Rue Mondétour, de la rue Rambuteau (Charles Marville): Photograph of the site of the barricade circa 1865, after the Rue de la Chanverrerie had been demolished to make way for the Rue Rambuteau but before further urban improvements widened the Rue Mondétour. 2028 x 2265. From; hat tip to pesquetet on Tumblr for screencapping and piecing together the image.

Rue Mondétour, vue prise de la rue Rambuteau (Eugène Atget): A photograph of the site of the barricade as it existed in 1907. 512 x 728. From

Rue Mondétour, entre la rue de la Grande Truanderie et la rue Pirouette (Eugène Atget): Another segment of the rue Mondétour near where the barricade would have been. It might be helpful to consult the closeup map of the area to visualize where this is. 728 x 512. From

More to come!

Charles Marville’s Pre-Haussmann Photos

Charles Marville was the photographer hired by the Second Empire to document the sites about to be destroyed by Haussmannization in the 1860s. The 500 or so photographs in the galleries listed below are images of a Paris that, for the most part, no longer exists. These are medium-resolution versions downloaded from the City of Paris municipal museums collection; to access the high-res versions as in the photo of the Rue Mondétour above, you’ll have to search for them by ‘marville’ + street name on and use their clunky zoom tool, since there’s no easy way to download them.  (The divisions by arrondissement in the galleries below are according to the familiar modern numbering system for the Paris arrondissements, btw, not the one used up through the mid-19th century. A distinction that’s probably only useful for nitpicky enthusiasts, but I got thrown for a loop on the Paris collections website trying to figure out which one was being used in the captions, and figured I’d spare any fellow nitpicky enthusiasts the same trouble.)

  • Les Halles (the central market neighborhood of Paris where the barricade portions of Les Mis are set)
  • Île de la Cité (the labyrinth of tiny, ancient streets here was one of Haussmann’s primary targets)
  • 1st and 2nd arrondissements (excluding Les Halles; mostly swanky old neighborhoods around the Louvre and the Bourse)
  • 3rd arrondissement (Temple area, including some pictures of Les Madelonnettes mid-demolition)
  • 4th arrondissement (excluding the Île de la Cité; mostly around the Hôtel de Ville)
  • 5th arrondissement (Latin Quarter and parts of the Faubourg Saint-Marcel)
  • 6th arrondissement (mostly the parts of the Faubourg Saint-Germain that would be destroyed by the Boulevard Saint-Germain)
  • 7th arrondissement (again, mostly streets in the path of the Boulevard Saint-Germain)
  • 8th and 9th arrondissements (newer neighborhoods around Notre-Dame-de-Lorette/Saint-Georges/Trinité/Saint-Lazare)
  • 13th arrondissement (Faubourg Saint-Marcel, the Bièvre and the Lourcine neighborhood near the Field of the Lark, demolitions for the Rue de Tolbiac)
  • 14th arrondissement (mostly demolitions for the Rue d’Alésia)
  • 18th, 19th, and 20th arrondissements (mostly quarries and demolitions for the Ceinture railways around the circumference of Paris)

Non-Photographic Images

Paris and its environs, displayed in a series of two hundred picturesque views: Google Books scan of an 1831 guide to Paris for English tourists. PDF, 20mb.

More to come!

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