Quick Trip to the 1890s

Bonjour from quarantine! We’ve explored how to visit modern Paris remotely. Now let’s explore historic Paris through the magic of moving pictures!

Notre Dame a la 1896

The intrepid creator Guy Jones passionately puts together historic video footage to bring us the past, complete with “sound.” It is tasteful, realistic, and really adds depth to these already fascinating film shorts.*

Our video today looks back at Paris from 1896-1900, including some footage from the Exposition Universelle in 1900. How incredible it is to have these images and this opportunity to view and reflect on the past! As we are experiencing now, we have a lot to learn from history. Who hasn’t tried a Depression-era recipe or two at this point? Let’s see what we can discover in this video, about the past and about now.

To begin, sit back and enjoy the charm of turn-of-the-last-century Paris:

Fantastic, isn’t it? Let’s break it down a bit:

0:08 Notre-Dame Cathedral (1896)

Here we have the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris before the fire and the many events of the 20th century. I think I’ll take the tourist hordes over having to compete with the carriages! I’ll be going in depth on Notre Dame herself in later posts and podcasts, but a few highlights found in the video:

  • The parvis (the square in front of the cathedral) is not only full of traffic, the paving is quite different. Today it is cobbled and in the video it appears to be regular pavement. In the 1960’s, the parvis was torn up to become an underground parking garage. The garage idea was abandoned when 2,000 years of history were discovered in the ground. The expansive archaeology was excavated and is now preserved in the Crypte Archaeologique du Parvis Notre-Dame museum (closed after the fire but hopefully re-opening in 2020).

  • The lack of long lines of tourists. While I have been able to walk in once or twice without a very long line in the last 25 years, there was still a short queue to get in. The lack is so noticeable, I did some internet sleuthing to see if the entrance was on a different side in 1896. According to the Baedecker guides from the 1868 to at least 1907, visitors entered through the left portal, the Porte de la Veirge (Virgin). This is the opposite of what we do now, entering through the Porte de Ste. Anne on the right side. Toward the very end of the video clip, you can see some people aiming for/congregating at the Porte de la Vierge as the traffic clears. What that must have been like!

  • Ever the curious researcher, I was intrigued by the very prominent Vichy transport carriage that prevents us from getting a good look at the tourists until the end.  Vichy, now famous as the headquarters of the “collaborative” (with the Nazis) government during WWII, was historically a famous home of thermal hot springs. The Etablissement Thermal de Vichy bottled the (supposedly medicinal) mineral waters and sold them to the public. And probably used well-marked carriages as advertisement. Fancy bottled water is not new, though at least glass bottles were better for the environment!

0:58 Pont de l’Alma [Station?] (1900).  

The section label may be a little misleading. The wooden structure and festive atmosphere suggests this is a stairwell leading to the temporary Pont de l’Alma moving walkway station during the Exposition Universelle (see the moving walkway section below).

This map is presented with South on the top, to add to the confusion.

It could also be stairs leading to the passerelle (pedestrian bridge) on the north side of the river that crossed the Seine to get to the station. A map shows that this would have been near several tram lines (the metro before there was a metro), which could also explain the steady stream of people.  

Before the Metro there were trams

Regardless, it is a charming scene filled with Parisians enjoying a day out. And don’t get me started on the fashion! 😉

1:37 Avenue des Champs-Élysées (1899).

The first time I watched the video, I had not yet looked at the location notes. But for this one, you don’t really need to. The Champs-Élysées is just as a chaotic now as it was then! Though at least now we have crosswalks. I was entertained watching the pedestrians attempt to cross the avenue. Surely there was an easier way?

2:33 Place de la Concorde (1897)

We have moved to the base of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées at the place de la Concorde. While this scene is less chaotic than the Champs-Élysées, you certainly must time your crossing right. You can either sprint or stroll leisurely with your buddy and your stylish canes.

Originally the Place Louis XV, it was given the more peaceful name of Concorde after being a primary location for the guillotine during the Revolution. Regardless of the name or purpose, it has been a traffic hub since its creation. All that traffic streaming in from the left is from the Champs-Élysées. In front of you is the Fontaine des Mers. Then the ancient obelisk that was a gift from Egypt in 1833. Behind that (to the left) you can see the other fountain, the Fontaine des Fleuves.

In the distance you can see the imposing twin buildings along the Rue Royal. Both were built pre-Revolution by Louis XV. On the right was the ministry of the Navy (until 2015, now under renovation for new uses) and the left now houses the historic Hotel de Crillon. The Crillon building was also the site of the first treaties between France and the newly formed United States of America. Lastly, in the hazy distance, you can see the neoclassical beauty of L’église de la Madeleine (looking a bit different than the sketch–it wasn’t actually started until Napoleon’s reign).

Before everyone lost their heads

3:24 Passing of a Fire Brigade (1897)

Get out of the way! Guy Jones has added warning bells to the soundtrack, but I can’t see any as they fly past. Can you? However, the sound of the running horses and the heavy wagons probably were warning enough! It’s nice to see the technology of the day and feel grateful that we now have a little more horsepower and pump power in our fire engines.

This vignette is sadly not labelled with a location. The left side reminds me of the wall around the Jardin du Luxembourg, but the rest of the buildings are not familiar. Can anyone place it? And can anyone name the horse breed? They are magnificent.

3:58 Tuileries Garden (1896)

When we see a pond with children and small boats, we tend to think of the pond in the Jardin du Luxembourg. But this is a different jardin. The long gravel lanes and the west facade of the Louvre in the distant background let us know that we are actually at the Tuileries. I love when the assistant shoos away the kid blocking the shot. 😄

In a somber thought, these children would have been young men in their 20’s at the outbreak of World War I. I wonder if they thought of these carefree afternoons while on the front?

4:48 Moving Walkway at the Exposition Universelle (1900)

This part of the video made me the most excited. I was not aware of the moving walkways (trattoir roulant), known as the “rue de l’Avenir”, at the 1900 Expo. As you can see, there are three tiers: the stationary sidewalk (trattoir fixe), a slow moving middle track (petite vitesse), and the fast moving outside track (grande vitesse). I had to know how this worked! The internet of course had answers.

It is straightforward in concept but impressive in scale. It appears each level runs on its own track, pulled along by a geared pulley system. Simple, until you consider temporarily building three kilometers of curved moving walkway!

Easy, non?

The moving sidewalk was elevated 30 feet above the street level and ran in a single-direction loop on the left bank, connecting the major sites of the expo. It was a crowd favorite in its own right, giving attendees a rare “aerial” view of their city. And was a foot saver in this huge expo!

Just a petite expo…

Here’s another example of the stations, the Pont de l’Alma–with the station entrance that is most likely featured in the video. If my guess is correct, this is where you emerged after climbing the stairs. If you have more info or my assumption is wrong (these things happen!), please let me know in the comments!

Looking dapper on the moving walkway

5:24 The Eiffel Tower from the Rives de la Seine à Paris (1897)

A nice little denouement to the video, a quick boat ride along the banks of the Seine beside the Eiffel Tower, heading south (west).  Google Maps confirms all the buildings are gone now. I believe the pretty glass structure is the late 19th century version of the Gare du Champs de Mars train station (now almost entirely underground). The little beaches where you can see people and a horse are now completely paved over.  You can stroll (ok, battle fellow tourists) along this area on your way to and from the RER Station Champs De Mars-Tour Eiffel or the Bir Hakim Metro station, should you choose.   

Paris Now

What can you still see as tourist?  Nearly all of these places are still available to the modern visitor (as soon as we can return to Paris):

  • Of course, Notre Dame is closed for the foreseeable future, but you can visit her exterior and see the ongoing reconstruction.

  • The Pont de l’Alma has been re-worked over the years but remains a major transit hub on both sides of the river. However, sadly without a moving walkway or pedestrian-only “passerelle” bridge.  If the name seems familiar, the tunnel near the bridge is where Princess Diana tragically died in 1997

  • Home of high-end shopping and endless traffic, the Avenue des Champs-Élysées remains a gauntlet with monuments on either end: the Arc de Triomphe to the west and the place de la Concorde (and then the Tuileries and the Louvre) to the east.

  • The place de la Concorde is still a busy intersection.  The fountains, obelisk, and imposing buildings are all accounted for.  From here, you can stroll up the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, into the Tuileries (and onto the Louvre), or stroll along the arcades of Rue de Rivoli to grab hot chocolate at Angelina or browse English-language books at WH Smith (complete with a tea room!).  

  • Assuming that the wall actually is the Jardin du Luxembourg, it is still there and still amazing. Check out the pond in front of the palace (now the home of the French Senate),  the beautiful landscaping, the museum. And then wander around a truly incredible neighborhood.

  • The Tuileries are available for your leisure and a nice break after overdoing it at the Louvre.

  • While the moving walkway was taken down shortly after the exposition, you can follow the route using the original map. Wear comfy shoes.

  • The Tour Eiffel remains standing and will hopefully soon be available again for public access. There are several options for boating down the Seine, including the guided tourist boats (see below) and the hop-on hop-off boats (a slow but pleasant way to get from Notre Dame to the Eiffel Tower).

I hope a little time travel provided a brief distraction in these difficult times. We can’t get much further away than the past!

Let me know what you thought in the comments and bonne journée!

*Full disclosure: it appears Guy has had some intellectual property challenges with some of his videos (from his own university!) but I believe this content was sourced from different locations and is currently “safe”.

Seine Tourist Boat Options
Here are the biggies:
With pre-recorded narration
Bateaux Mouches: The one we all think of, with the big boats and rowdy crowds.
Bateaux Parisiens: Smaller boats than the Mouches.

With live English speaking guides:
Vedettes du Pont Neuf With the glass-topped boats.
Caneauxrama (also does Canal St. Martin cruises)

Image Credits
Notre Dame 1896: Still taken from the video “Late 1890s – A Trip Through Paris, France (speed corrected w/ added sound)“, compiled and edited by Guy Jones.
Place Louis XV Sketch:Place Louis XV – Projet de Gabriel“. From Wikimedia Commons. By Ange-Jacques Gabriel, 1758. Credited to Bibliothèque nationale de France.
Paris Tram:Tramway à air comprimé CGO type 1900“. From Wikimedia Commons. Comments state the image is from outside the Gare de l’Est.
Moving Walkway Mechanism: Mécanisme du trottoir roulant de l’Exposition universelle de 1900. From Wikimedia Commons. Illustration ; L. Joly , Sonderausgabe der Zeitschrift “Illustration” zur Weltausstellung vom 14. April 1900.
Expo Map and Pont de l’Alma extract: Exposition universelle de 1900 – plan général. From Wikimedia Commons. Author: P. Bineteau.
Pont de l’Alma Station: From: Collection. Paris. Universal Exhibition of 1900. Photographs by Neurdein, Photo 7. Photo taken by the Neurdein brothers in 1900. Source / Bibliothèque nationale de France.

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