A Journey Back in Time Down the Avenue des Champs Élysées

The Avenue des Champs Élysées is a boulevard in Paris 1.9 km (1.2 mi) long and 70 m (76 yds) wide, which runs between the Obelisk of Luxur at Place de la Concorde, and the Arc de Triomphe at Place Charles de Gaulle.

Champs Élysées means “Elysian Fields”—the final resting place for heroes from Greek Mythology.

In France, they call it la plus belle avenue du monde “the world’s most beautiful avenue”.

1200px-Avenue_des_Champs-Élysées,_street_sign

Listen to Gabriel Fauré as we travel back in time down the Avenue des Champs Élysées.

The Avenue in 2011:

The Champs Élysées as seen from the Arc de Triomphe 2011.
The Champs Élysées as seen from the Arc de Triomphe 2011.

The Avenue in 1900:

The Champs-Élysées as seen from the Arc de Triomphe in 1900.
Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile. Credit Hansueli Krapf
Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile. Credit Hansueli Krapf

From the Place de la Concorde to the Rond-Point, we travel through the Jardin des Champs Élysées (Gardens of Champs Élysées), a park which has the Grand Palais, the Petit Palais, the Théâtre Marigny, and several restaurants, gardens and monuments.

The Champs-Elysees by Jean-François Raffaëlli c1880.
The Champs-Elysees by Jean-François Raffaëlli c1880.

Before Louis XIV, the area of the Champs Élysées was fields and kitchen gardens.

In 1667, French landscape architect André Le Nôtre, who had designed the gardens of Versailles, extended the Tuileries Garden to form the Champs Élysées gardens—together, a place where Parisians celebrated, met, promenaded, and relaxed.

At the Champs Elysees Gardens by Victor Gabriel Gilbert - 1897.
At the Champs Elysees Gardens by Victor Gabriel Gilbert – 1897.

By the late 18th century, the Champs Élysées had become a fashionable avenue.  Trees on either side formed elegant rectangular groves.

Lane of Trees on the Champs-Elysees by Jean-François Raffaëlli - circa 1893.
Lane of Trees on the Champs-Elysees by Jean-François Raffaëlli – circa 1893.

Gardens of townhouses belonging to the nobility backed onto the formal gardens of the Champs Élysée. The grandest of these was the Élysée Palace, which became the official residence of the Presidents of France during the Third French Republic.

The Promenade on the Champs-Elysees by Jean-Georges Béraud.
The Promenade on the Champs-Elysees by Jean-Georges Béraud.

Le Nôtre planned a wide promenade, lined with two rows of elm trees on either side and flowerbeds in the symmetrical style of the French formal garden.

View of the Champs-Elysées from the Place de l'Etoile by Edmond-Georges Grandjean - 1878.
View of the Champs-Elysées from the Place de l’Etoile by Edmond-Georges Grandjean – 1878.
Scene on the Champs-Élysées by Jean-Georges Béraud
Scene on the Champs-Élysées by Jean-Georges Béraud

In 1828, footpaths and fountains were added, then later gas lighting.

Evening, Champs-Elysees by Frederick Childe Hassam - c. 1898.
Evening, Champs-Elysees by Frederick Childe Hassam – c. 1898.
Parisienne Au Rond-Point Des Champs-Elysees by Jean-Georges Béraud.
Parisienne Au Rond-Point Des Champs-Elysees by Jean-Georges Béraud.

In 1834, under King Louis Philippe, the architect Jacques Ignace Hittorff was commissioned to redesign the Place de la Concorde and the gardens of the Champs-Élysées.

April Showers, Champs Elysees Paris by Frederick Childe Hassam - 1888.
April Showers, Champs Elysees Paris by Frederick Childe Hassam – 1888.

The main monument of the Boulevard, the Arc de Triomphe, was commissioned by Napoleon after his victory at the Battle of Austerlitz.

After Napoleon’s fall from power in 1815, the Arc de Triomphe remained unfinished—eventually being completed by King Louis Philippe in 1836.

The Champs-Elysees, The Arc de Triomphe by Jean-François Raffaëlli.
The Champs-Elysees, The Arc de Triomphe by Jean-François Raffaëlli.
L'Arc de Triomphe, Paris by Eugène Galien-Laloue
L’Arc de Triomphe, Paris by Eugène Galien-Laloue

Emperor Napoleon III selected the park as the site of the first Paris international exposition—the Exposition Universelle of 1855.

Covering 322,000 sq ft, a giant exhibit hall once stood where the Grand Palais is today.

Exposition Universelle 1855.
Exposition Universelle 1855.
Detail of the engraving 'Paris in 1860. Bird's eye view, taken above the Champs-Elysees roundabout' representing the Palais de l'Industrie
Detail of the engraving ‘Paris in 1860. Bird’s eye view, taken above the Champs-Elysees roundabout’ representing the Palais de l’Industrie
Grand Palais des Champs-Élysées. Credit Eric Pouhier
Grand Palais des Champs-Élysées. Credit Eric Pouhier

Following the Exposition, in 1858, the gardens were transformed from a formal French design into a picturesque English-style garden, with groves of trees, flower beds and winding paths.

Beautiful rows of chestnut trees replaced the old tired elms.

The Champs-Elysees during the Paris Fair of 1867 by Pierre Auguste Renoir - 1867.
The Champs-Elysees during the Paris Fair of 1867 by Pierre Auguste Renoir – 1867.

In 1860, merchants along the Avenue joined together to form a syndicate—the oldest standing committee in Paris—to promote commercial interests along the Champs Élysées.

La Patisserie Gloppe au Champs Elyssées by Jean-Georges Béraud - 1889.
La Patisserie Gloppe au Champs Elyssées by Jean-Georges Béraud – 1889.
Portrait of a Lady on the Champs Elysees by George Vaughan Curtis - 1893.
Portrait of a Lady on the Champs Elysees by George Vaughan Curtis – 1893.

Traditionally home to luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, Hugo Boss, Lancel, Guerlain, Lacoste, Hôtel de la Païva, Élysée Palace and Fouquet’s, the Champs Élysées now also hosts popular chain stores.

Woman at the Champs-Élysées by night by Louis Anquetin.
Woman at the Champs-Élysées by night by Louis Anquetin.

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David James

David James

I'm an Englishman in Boston. History is a joy—it binds us, it connects us, it guides us. I'm interested in making history more accessible and more fun. Join me on this fantastic voyage through time.

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