Paris,  Paris News

And Then There Were 17?

After 160 years of 20 administratively independent arrondissements in Paris, this week marks the reduction to 17!

Paris Centre is born

April 6, 2020, marked a change in the administration of central Paris: the first four arrondissements (or districts) were combined into one. There will be one town hall for all four. They will vote as one unit and have one mayor. Administratively, they will be one district–the appropriately named “Paris Centre.” This reduces the number of administrative districts to 17.

But, geographically, there will still be 20 arrondissements and 20 zip codes. Citizens will not lose their coveted addresses. The major monuments remain in the first. Chatelet-Les Halles will remain a transit gauntlet. A little confused? Let’s look at the history!

Before 1859

1705 Map by Nicolas de La Mare, Antoine Coquart, Nicolas de Fer

The story of the arrondissements begins with quartiers or quarters. Under the Ancien Régime (pre-Revolution monarchy), Paris had 20* administrative quartiers for taxes and police precincts. To ward off the coming storm, King Louis XVI reconvened the Estates-General (États généraux, their Congress or Parliament) in 1789. To prepare for the representative elections, Paris was briefly broken up into 60 districts in 16 larger quartiers based on church locations.

To make things slightly less bureaucratic, everything was reorganized again into 48 quartiers (called sections) in 1790. In a span of about a year you potentially had to keep up with three different administrative changes plus avoid being arrested and guillotined by zealous revolutionaries. This makes me feel a bit better about quarantine. 😐

These divisions held until 1795, when the 48 quartiers were combined into the original 12 arrondissements by le Directoire (the government du jour in that turbulent time).

The Original 12, with surrounding areas
©Michel Huard

Modern Paris

The 12 held on for awhile, until Emperor Napoleon III and the hard-working Baron Haussmann decided that they needed to incorporate the ever-growing faubourgs (suburbs) into Paris in 1859. Effective in 1860, the new law expanded the map and reconfigured the original boundaries into the 20 arrondissements we know and love today. History does repeat itself: 20 quatiers under the Ancien Régime, 20 arrondissements under the new!

A Few Maps to Reflect on the Change

1860 Map, now with 20 arrondissements
Old Arrondissements in Blue. Note how some of the suburbs were split by the new boundaries.
The Pre-Paris Centre map, with the addition of the major parks
by Hernan Maglione (see below)

Why change what worked for so long? Population patterns, in a very big way. In the mid-19th century, the central districts of Paris were the most populated. By the late 20th, people had moved out of the congested (and insanely touristy) center for the more comfortable and–in some areas–more affordable outer districts.

A quick overview of population change in Paris over 154 years, between the 1st and 15th arrondissements. ©Mairie de Paris

Each arrondissement, in a rather complex arrangement, is its own administrative district, including voting. The central districts, with fewer people, automatically had less of a voice in this system. This is similar to how the U.S. House of Representatives is based on a state’s population, giving a larger representation or voice to places like California over sparsely populated Wyoming. This created an unfair disadvantage to those remaining in the central districts and change was needed.

Updating Paris for the New Century

To address this and other issues, current Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo began looking into reconsidering the arrondissement system in 2015. Two years later, a formal bill was passed by the National Assembly that included the administrative consolidation of the first four districts into one more numerically competitive district. The deadline for this consolidation was Spring 2020, which brings us to this week and the official launch of the Paris Centre.

An interesting side note was some of the possible names for the new district:

Choose your new name!

Secteur Lutèce and Étienne Marcel were rejected because their influence or history extended beyond the first four arrondissements. The Marais was rejected because it already related to a specific geographic area. In the end, the residents of the four districts voted on four names: Cœur de Paris, Paris Centre, Paris 1 2 3 4, and Premiers arrondissements de Paris. Paris Centre won by a 25% margin over Cœur de Paris. Personally, Cœur de Paris has my heart (pun intended) but Paris Centre does have more of an administrative feel to it. Vive le bureaucracy!

All of this shuffling also meant four city halls had to be reduced to one. Interestingly, the halls for the first and second arrondissements were too small which meant one of the Marais halls had to be used. The one in the third has been selected. Don’t worry, the City of Paris has promised to keep the other halls for public use. More details coming soon, of course.

Meet the Paris Centre Town Hall
©Google 2020

Lastly, for those wondering what happened to the quartiers, they have held on. The one constant in all of the arrondissement shuffling is the existence of quartiers within each district. Quartier Saint-Germain-des-Prés for example is both a desired area for tourists and history buffs and an official quartier. You can see the full breakdown here in English (even better in French).

The Quatiers of Paris
by Hernan Maglione (see below)

Where is the Latin Quarter (Quartier Latin), you ask? As with most things Paris, it is not what it seems. The “quarter” takes up the bulk of the 5th arrondissement and part of the 6th, centered around the venerable Sorbonne Université. The name comes from the historic tradition of teaching in Latin, so the area was filled with sounds of the Latin language. This however did not translate into an official quartier despite the name!

Admittedly, for the tourist, these changes mean very little. Our hotel addresses will remain the same and how we navigate the city doesn’t change. However, for the people of Paris Centre it means their frequent interactions with the highly bureaucratic government have changed, as has their voting power. When we visit Paris, we can’t forget that it is home to millions of people who are going about their daily lives. And who knows, those old town halls could become the next trendy gallery or cool little musée. The collective People of the Centre may make major changes to their district that will impact us as they flex their new voting power. The more we understand about the places we visit, the deeper and more meaningful our experiences and hopefully the more connected we all feel.

Have you ever had to deal with changes in your local administrative boundaries? Let me know you felt about it in the comments below! Merci!

Want to keep up on all things Centre? They have their own newsletter (in French). Weirdly, right now the main website is just a place holder, but you can check out the first five issues here: 1 2 3 4 5.


* Some (mostly English) sources state 21 quartiers by the end of the Ancien Régime. After spending way too much time down that rabbit hole, the confusion seems to stem from how some of the maps are drawn. The Faubourg St. Antoine is sometimes shown in two pieces, one inside the old city wall and one outside. Administratively, this seems to have been considered the same quartier. Nearly all French sources state 20 quartiers, backed up by extant period maps, so we’re going with the evidence on this one.

PS: Apologies for so many French language links in this post. Since it is mostly a local issue, most of the good info was in French. Your web browser should be able to provide in-line translations

PPS: Yes, I love maps.


Image Credits:
Paris Centre Gif: Gif from HuffPost France article “Voici à quoi ressemblera la carte de Paris en 2020.”
1705 Map: Plan de la ville de Paris – 8. Huitieme Plan de Paris, Divise en Ses Vingt Quartiers, from Wikimedia Commons, provided by the David Rumsey Map Collection, public domain.
12 Arrondissements Map: by Michel Huard, from article, “Les quartiers de Paris” on Atlas Historique de Paris.
1860 Map: 1860 Andriveau Goujon Case Map of Paris, France, from Wikimedia Commons, provided by Geographicus Rare Antique Maps, public domain.
Old vs New Arrondissements: from the blog Le Quatier BelAirSud, the article “Le cent-cinquantenaire du 12e
Pre-Paris Centre Map: Les arrondissements de paris, from Wikimedia Commons, created by Hernan Magliano (Hmaglione10), under Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 4.0 International license.
Population Graph: Mairie de Paris, from “Arrondissements du centre : découvrez le nom et l’emplacement de la mairie“, accessed April 5, 2020 (last page update Feb. 7, 2019).
Voting Graphic: Mairie de Paris, from “Le futur nom du regroupement des 1er, 2e, 3e et 4e arrondissements de Paris“.
New Town Hall: Google Maps Street View
The Quatiers of Paris: Les quartiers de paris, from Wikimedia Commons, created by Hernan Magliano (Hmaglione10), under Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 4.0 International license.

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