The information website about the Champs-Elysees Avenue
Wednesday November 14th 2018

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A bit of history

The Champs-Elysées Avenue is said to be the most beautiful avenue in the world. It is not difficult to believe it when you know that hundreds thousands of people pass on it every day. We are going to tell you the history of this famous avenue.

Champs-Elysées Avenue in 1871

Champs-Elysées Avenue in 1871

History

At the very beginning of the history of the Champs-Elysées Avenue, there is Colbert, the French minister of finance under King Louis XIV, and that had the idea in 1667 to create the famous avenue. Before taking its actual name, the avenue was first called “grande allée du Roule” (1670), “avenue des Thuileries” (1680), “avenue de la Grille-Royale” (1778), and was finally renamed “avenue des Champs-Elysées” in 1789. Since then some people wanted to rename it again, but they failed to do so.

Before becoming the avenue like we know it today, the Champs-Elysées Avenue was planted with corn, oat and trees.
The aim of Colbert was to embellish the palais des Tuileries (Tuileries Palace) which is situated in direct continuation with the Avenue.

The achievement of Colbert’s idea was started by Le Nôtre who in the years following 1667, undertook the plantation of tree rows leaving in the axis a broad path.

The section between place de la Concorde and the rond-point des Champs-Elysées (Champs-Elysées rotary) was called « avenue des Tuileries » (or also Grand Cours) and the section between the rond-point and the place de l’Etoile (before called la butte de Chaillot) was called « avenue de Neuilly » (and later “route de Saint Germain en Laye” or “route de Normandie”). We have to wait until the French Revolution for the avenue to take its definitive name Champs-Elysées on its whole-length. Few people know but in the past, we wrote “Champs-Elisées”.

During the French Revolution, the Champs-Elysées Avenue did not change much.
Until the middle of the 19th century, the Avenue will keep a countryside aspect.
The Champs-Elysées Avenue was completely transformed between 1836 and 1840, thanks to the architect Hittorff. The Avenue becomes popular.

In 1858, the aspect of the promenade of the Champs-Elysées is modified by baron Hausmann.
Money aristocracy composed of industrialists and bankers speculate during the second Empire. This period of prosperity causes the forming of residences, hôtels particuliers (private mansions) and palaces.
During the 19th century, many coffee bars and restaurants open.

French Army parade on the Champs-Elysées Avenue for the first on the 14th of July 1915 on the occasion of the transfer of the ashes of Rouget de Lisle (composer of la Marseillaise, the French national hymn) to Invalides.
The most spectacular parade happened on the 14th of July 1919, parade for Victory, with at its head, marshals Foch, Joffre and Pétain.
The day after liberation of Paris, the 26th of August 1944, general de Gaulle walked on the avenue accompanied with members of the provisional government.

At the origin of the Champs-Elysées Avenue, life was not situated between the actual Rond-Point des Champs Elysées and place de l’Etoile, like today, but between place de la Concorde and the Rond-Point.
In that part of the avenue, were edified circuses, theaters, cabarets, restaurants, fun houses. Until 1940, hundreds of chairs were installed on the Avenue for walkers to rest and to watch life on the Champs-Elysées.
Later, when shops and businesses arrived, activities were transposed in the section Etoile and Rond-Point.

Architecture

The form of the Champs-Elysées Avenue in the 18th century is far away from what we know today.

Champs-Elysées Avenue at the beginning of the 20th century

Champs-Elysées Avenue at the beginning of the 20th century

The architect who is responsible for the actual form of the Champs-Elysées is Jacques Hittorff. He is appointed architect of the Champs-Elysées Avenue in 1833 by Louis-Philippe ; his carrier is then consecrated to the embellishment of the Avenue.
In 1834, he is designated to embellish place de l’Etoile and place de la Concorde.

Louis-Philippe and Napoléon III, amateurs of art, will act for the architectural development of the Champs-Elysées. Their projects will almost all been carried out by Hittorff.


The accession of Napoléon III will be the starting point of an era of an architectural modernization notably through Universal Exhibitions.
Economic prosperity under Napoléon III as well as great works of urbanization under Hausmann will attract high-society on the Avenue. The district of the Champs-Elysées is invested by aristocrats, bankers, industrialists that will impose their taste for luxury and eccentricity. Private mansions pop up.
Many styles are mixed : la Régence, Renaissance, Louis XIII, moresque style.

In 1853, the first urbanism regulations appear in order to establish architectural harmony.
A bit before the 20th century, begins construction of luxurious apartments with gas, electricity, telephone, bow-windows, bathrooms.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the first great hotels and palaces are built (the Elysée-Palace, the Mercedes Hotel, the Majestic-Palace Hotel, the Astoria, the Claridge). After WWII, some of them are convertedd to apartments, and some others disappear after bankruptcy.

Did you know ?

Twinning
Japan – Nagoya : Central Avenue in 1989
Russia – Saint-Petersburg : Perspective Nevski in 1997
China – Beijing : Wangfujing in 2002

Indecency on the Avenue ?
The newspaper « Le Jour », of the 24th of August 1934, criticized in an article tourists « that adopted to walk on our avenue a Lacoste short-sleeved shirt and trousers excessively short. ». What would we say today ?

To which famous people Champs-Elysées Avenue was fatal ?

  • Lebon, inventor of city gas, was stabbed 13 times in an evening of 1804, while walking in a garden near the Champs-Elysées.
  • In 1938, the dramatist Odon von Horvath was hit by a branch on the head and died.
  • Napoléon III escaped from a terrorist attack in front 101 avenue des Champs-Elysées.



Is it possible to open any kind of business on the Avenue ?
No, any project not suiting with the prestige of the Avenue is discussed by residents.

The Champs-Elysées Avenue at prehistoric time
During Tertiary era (65 million years ago), the Champs-Elysées Avenue was under the sea. Marine fossils were found underground.

Etymology of Champs-Elysées
Allusion to the place where heroes and blessed people live in Greek and Roman mythologies. Elysées was written Elisées in the 18th century. It was the paradise for heroes and virtuous souls.

What happens only once every year, when you look at the Avenue since place de la Concorde ?
You can see, if the sky is sufficiently clear, the sunset on the Champs-Elysées. The day of summer solstice (20th or 21st of June), the sun sets exactly inside the « door » of the Arc de Triomphe.

Who ownes the Champs-Elysées ?
In 1913, 264 families lived on the Avenue. In 1950, only 32 numbers of the Avenue are owned by individuals. Today, there are only 7 left.
The main owners now are companies or institutions: AGF, GAN, Crédit Lyonnais, Air France, Swedish and Danish States…

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