The ever-changing story of Paris


For some people France's capital city nowadays resembles a giant museum. But in his superbly-illustrated book L'Invention de Paris, author Éric Hazan argues that the story of Paris is in fact one of constant change and motion. The work also describes how the city has always outgrown the historical and geographical boundaries that have been imposed upon it - a process that is continuing to this day. Dominique Conil sifts through this compelling volume.

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If you had to choose just one image from Éric Hazan's book L'Invention de Paris ('The Invention of Paris') it would be this one, left, captured by an unknown photographer. The main part of the Palais Garnier opera house appears to have been completed, tonnes of stone and paving stones are lying near horse-drawn carts and a wheelbarrow has been tipped over. The photograph depicts the Paris of Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann  – the man who oversaw much of the rebuilding of Paris in the mid-nineteenth century during the rule of Napoleon III  – as it was being constructed. The shadows in the photo are short and the workmen are in shirts, so we can suppose that it was a hot day. And in the middle there is a shadowy, transparent silhouette. Without doubt that person did not stay still long enough for the exposure time of this unknown photographer, a man who on that particular day looked out on both the museum-like Paris we know today and the disorder of change, while also being able to remember what had gone before.