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Henri IV - An unfinished reign

Paris transformed

Section 1/2

Henri IV's interest in urban planning should be seen in the light of his desire to reorganise the kingdom once peace had been restored. Concurrent with his agricultural reform efforts, the king wanted to breathe new life into France's cities by launching major urban policy projects, and embellish them by building public monuments.

Although he was a Gascon by birth, Henri IV was particularly interested in Paris. As early as 1590, he did not hesitate to say: "I love my city of Paris like my eldest daughter." In 1601, he announced a sort of programme for the capital city, in which he wanted to "spend the years […] and dwell there […]" and furthermore to "render this city beautiful and full of as many goods and ornaments as possible […]." Henri wanted to modernise Paris, stripping it of its medieval trappings by laying out roads and building new neighbourhoods. It should be pointed out that his Valois predecessors had started down this path, even though circumstances made it so that many of their projects were left unfinished.

This is particularly the case with the Pont Neuf, the first stones of which were laid under the reign of Henri III in 1578, and whose construction was halted in 1588. Henri IV, in letters patent dated 2 March 1598, decided to "finish the Pont Neuf." By 1603, the work was well underway and Henri IV was able to cross the bridge on foot. It took another three years for the bridge to be definitively completed (8 July 1606).
The final years of Henri's reign were marked by a whole series of projects, for which, nonetheless, there was no master plan.

In the winter of 1604–05, Henri IV conceived his first large-scale project. He wanted to create a square on the site of the park of the former Hôtel Royal des Tournelles. The building of the Place Royale (now the Place des Vosges) was launched by letters patent published in July 1605. They called for the construction of a vast, mostly enclosed square (135 x 140 metres) bordered by tall, identical townhouses.

Related multimedia

Title: The Pont Neuf today

The Pont Neuf in Paris
© Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication / Martine Hourcadette, 2009
Caption:
The Pont Neuf today

Title: View and perspective of the Pont Neuf in Paris

View and perspective of the Pont Neuf in Paris, engraving, 18th c.
© Musée national du château de Pau / Jean-Yves Chermeux
Caption:
View and perspective of the Pont Neuf in Paris, print, 18th c. Musée national du château de Pau, P.54.4.55

Title: The Pont Royal and the Pavillon de Flore

The Pont Royal and the Pavillon de Flore, drawing
© BnF
Comment:
Anxious to preserve the view of the Louvre, Henri forbade houses to be built on the roadway of the bridge. This was a first for Paris.
Caption:
The Pont Royal and the Pavillon de Flore, pen and wash drawing in brown ink, 1814. Département des estampes et de la photographie de la Bibliothèque nationale de France

Title: Hôpital Saint-Louis

Hôpital Saint-Louis
© Ministère de la Culture / Martine Hourcadette, 2009
Comment:
Henri IV laid the first stone for the Hôpital Saint-Louis in 1607. It was completed in 1612.
Caption:
Hôpital Saint-Louis

Title: Hôtel d’Alméras, façade

Hôtel d’Alméras, façade
© Ministère de la Culture / Martine Hourcadette, 2009
Comment:
Pierre d’Alméras's good standing at the court of Henri IV allowed him to purchase a plot of land in Paris's Marais district, where he built a townhouse in 1611–12.
Caption:
Hôtel d’Alméras, façade

Title: The "Roman des chevaliers de la gloire"

Place Royale (Place des Vosges today)
© RMN / Agence Bulloz
Comment:
The square is bordered by tall, identical townhouses built of brick, with freestone quoins and embrasures. All had two stories four bays on the ground floor, which formed a continuous peristyle around the entire square.
Caption:
The "Roman des chevaliers de la gloire", a large-scale equestrian spectacle given at the Place Royale, from 5 to 7 April 1612, on the occasion of the marriage of Louis XIII to Anne of Austria, anonymous painting. Musée Carnavalet, Paris

Title: Place Royale

Place Royale (Place des Vosges today)
© Musée national du château de Pau / Jean-Yves Chermeux
Comment:
The central area of the Place Royale (now the Place des Vosges) was covered in sand, and was used for equestrian shows and tilting contests. The work, which began in 1605, was finally completed in 1612, after the death of Henri IV.
Caption:
The Place Royale (Claude Chastillon, Dessins des Pompes et magnificiences du caroussel faict en la place royalle de Paris, les V, VI, VII of April 1612, engraving). Musée national du château de Pau, Inv. P. 1344

Title: The Place des Vosges, December 2009

The Place des Vosges, December 2009
© Ministère de la Culture / Thomas Sagory, 2009
Caption:
The Place des Vosges, December 2009

Title: The Place des Vosges today

The Place des Vosges today
© Ministère de la Culture / Martine Hourcadette, 2009
Caption:
The Place des Vosges today

Title: The Place des Vosges today, covered gallery

The Place des Vosges today, covered gallery
© Ministère de la Culture / Martine Hourcadette, 2009
Caption:
The Place des Vosges today, covered gallery

Section 2/2

The completion of the Pont Neuf opened the way to another urban planning project. The idea – given the bridge's location at the tip of the Ile de la Cité – was to link the new structure with the network of streets on either side of the Seine. The project called for creating two streets – quais, really – that would overhang the Seine on its north and south banks, and that would meet at the tip of the island at the level of the bridge. The triangular space thus created would be used for a new square, around which would be built houses of brick and stone, but they would be simpler and not as high as those on the Place Royale. Work on the Place Dauphine – named in honour of the Dauphin Louis, born in 1601 – began in 1607. Despite the difficulties associated with the massive earthworks that were required, the square was completed in only four years (1611). Like the Place Royale, Henri IV died before he was able to admire the result.

The Pont Neuf was well connected to the right bank, and on the left bank it ended at the kitchen gardens of the Augustinian convent. Concurrent with the construction of the Place Dauphine, Henri IV decided to build a monumental street that would extend the magnificence of the Pont Neuf. The ten-metre-wide Rue Dauphine led into the left bank towards the gate that led to the Faubourg Saint-Germain. The accompanying real estate transaction was so successful that Henri IV was overtaken by events. Every plot was sold and built on before the king could establish an architectural unity. His regret about this can be seen in a remark made in May 1607, when he said that it could have been "a handsome thing to see at the end of the bridge this street lined with similar facades."

The idea was not abandoned, and was taken up again for what can be considered to be Henri's final project. It was launched in 1608, and was even more ambitious. This time, the idea was to create an entirely new district in the Marais quarter, which at the time consisted of agricultural land located within the walls built by Charles IV. The king was clearly fond of both public squares and geometry; this time, he left aside the rectangle (Place Royale) and the triangle (Place Dauphine) in favour of the semi-circle. Flanked by homogenous townhouses, this amphitheatre-shaped space was to have been built at the corner of what are today the Rue Vieille-du-Temple and Rue de Turenne, up against the city walls. To symbolise the new union of his subjects under the aegis of their peacemaking sovereign, the streets that radiated outward from this new space would bear the names of French provinces. The "Place de France" did not survive the king's death, and was never built. Today, only the Rue de Normandie, Rue de Bretagne, Rue de Saintonge, Rue de Beauce, Rue de Picardie and the odd, arc-shaped Rue Debelleyme serve as reminders of Henri IV's final urban project.

Related multimedia

Title: The Place Dauphine, built in the city of Paris

The Place Dauphine, engraving
© Musée national du château de Pau / Jean-Yves Chermeux
Caption:
The Place Dauphine, built in the city of Paris under the reign of Henri le Grand, engraving by Claude Chastillon. Musée national du château de Pau, Inv. P. 1345.

Title: Perspective view of the Place Dauphine

Place Dauphine, print with watercolour
© Musée national du château de Pau / Jean-Yves Chermeux
Caption:
Perspective view of the Place Dauphine, print with watercolour, 18th c. Musée national du château de Pau, Inv. P. 67.3.25.

Title: One of the few surviving houses on the Place Dauphine

One of the few surviving houses on the Place Dauphine
© Ministère de la Culture / Martine Hourcadette, 2009
Caption:
One of the few surviving houses on the Place Dauphine from the time of Henri IV

Title: Château de Saint-Hilaire

Château de Saint-Hilaire, facade
© Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication / Franck Richard
Comment:
Outside of Paris, one finds structures modeled on townhouses in the Place des Vosges and the Place Dauphine
Caption:
Château de Saint-Hilaire (Orne)

Title: Église Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protais

Église Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protais, facade
© Ministère de la Culture / Martine Hourcadette, 2009
Comment:
Just behind the Hôtel de Ville in the Marais district, the church of Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protais has one of the finest Baroque facades in the city. It was designed by architects Salomon de Brosse and Clément Métezeau, who completed it in 1621.
Caption:
Église Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protais

Title: Letter from Henri IV

Henri IV ordering the demolition and reconstruction
© Archives nationales
Caption:
Letter from Henri IV ordering the demolition and reconstruction of ruined and dilapidated houses of Paris (Paris, 16 July 1609, parchment signed by the king), Paris, Archives nationales K 108, n° 107

Title: Procession of the League

Procession of the League in Paris, in 1590 or 1593
© Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet
Caption:
Procession of the League, emerging from the arcade Saint-Jean of the Hôtel de Ville, in 1590 or 1593. Anonymous. Oil on canvas. Musée Carnavalet

Title: Attempt to assassinate king Henri IV

Paris, engraving, 1605
© Archives départementales de Tarn-et-Garonne
Caption:
Attempt to assassinate king Henri IV, 1605, engraving. Cote: F. Serr IX/10/1
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