The Grands Boulevards replace Paris’ ramparts
The Grand Boulevards are among the busiest streets in Paris and are the Mecca of Parisian entertainment.
This is indeed where you’ll find the highest concentration of theatres, music halls and cinemas, but also the original seats of the major French banks and insurance companies and the picturesque covered shopping galleries built in the 19th century.
By the mid 17th century, Paris had indeed grown beyond the rampart King Charles V erected 3 centuries earlier.
King Louis XIII reinforced the eastern section of the old rampart, but demolished its western section to erect a new wall that encompassed the Tuileries Palace and the newly developed Quartier St-Honoré by the Louvre.
This wall started at Porte St-Honoré, a monumental gate that stood where Rue Royale and Rue St-Honoré today meet.
It then followed the layout of the 14th century wall from Porte St-Denis to Porte St-Antoine by the Bastille Fortress.
By the late 17th century, Louis XIV had established his authority over Europe.
France was no longer threatened, and as a result Paris didn’t need its ramparts anymore.
Louis XIV’s Grand Cours
The Sun King demolished and replaced them with a wide avenue free of buildings where Parisians could enjoy a walk.
He landscaped the Nouveau Cours, as it became known, with several rows of trees, side paths and resting areas with benches.
However, the semi-deserted Nouveau Cours initially was the haunt of vagrants and thieves, a quite insecure place at night!
It didn’t become trendy before the mid 18th century when the surrounding areas was developed.
The western end of the Nouveau Cours, close to the Louvre, attracted the nobility and the affluent classes who built prestigious mansions.
The lower classes settled along the eastern section, where open-air cafes, stalls and street theaters appeared.
Le Nouveau Cours has become our Grands Boulevards: Boulevards des Capucines, des Italiens, Montmartre, Bonne Nouvelle, St-Denis, St-Martin, du Temple and Beaumarchais.
There’s a polemic about Boulevard Haussmann, as it doesn’t follow the layout of the old ramparts.
It’s however attached to the Grands Boulevards, as this is where you’ll find the Printemps and Galeries Lafayette department stores.
The Grands Boulevards, the Mecca of Parisian entertainment
Boulevard des Capucines
Traditionally, the Grands Boulevards start at the Boulevard des Capucines, which was opened through the the former Couvent des Capucines.
You’ll find the Cinéma Gaumont Opéra at no2 and L’Olympia, one of Paris’ oldest music-halls at no28.
The Fragonard Museum at no39, traces the history of perfume from antiquity to the present time.
The neo-classic Théâtre Edouard VII on Place Edouard VII and Théâtre Mogador at no25 Rue Mogador were built in the early 20th century.
You’ll find this iconic music-hall at no28.
Boulevard des Italiens
The mansions that lined the Boulevard de Gand, as it was initially called, turned the surrounding district into one of the most exclusive and trendiest in Paris.
The Opéra Comique (no1 Place Boieldieu, off the boulevard) replaces the theatre the Duke of Choiseul built in 1782 for the Compagnie des Italiens, his private Opéra Comique Company.
The Théâtre des Variétés, at no 7, was inaugurated in 1807 and specialises in light comedy and operetta.
The staff entrance is in the next-door trendy Passage des Panoramas.
Considered a masterpiece of Empire architectural style, it was listed Historical Monument in 1975.
Farther along you’ll find the Musée Grévin founded in 1882 by the caricaturist Grévin; the wax museum exits in the picturesque Passage Jouffroy.
The current Théâtre des Nouveautés at no24 was inaugurated in 1921 and specializes in operettas and comedies.
Le Grand Rex was erected in 1931 at the corner of Rue and Boulevard Poissonnière; You can’t miss its imposing Art Deco façade.
You’ll find the elaborate blue-green gates of the Théâtre du Gymnase Marie Bell (inaugurated in 1820 as Gymnase-Dramatique) at no38.
The Théâtre de la Porte St-Martin was built in 1781 at no18 to host the company of the Palais-Royal Opera House.
The original building burned during the Paris Commune of 1871, but was rebuilt 2 years later.
As you stroll along the boulevard, you’ll notice that the south pavement stands a few meters above street level as it corrects the natural slope of the land.
Boulevard du Temple
The Boulevard du Temple was the easternmost of the Grands Boulevards.
Common people flocked there to watch dancers, acrobats and various street artists perform.
It was indeed lined with countless booths, barrows, cafés, inns, cabarets, restaurants, circuses, music halls and open theatres specialised in popular and violent drama that led it to be nicknamed Boulevard du Crime.
Only a short section of this Boulevard remains as it was mostly demolished to build the Place de la République.
Finally, Boulevard Beaumarchais that runs south towards the river Seine to link Boulevard du Temple to Place de la Bastille, where the old fortress once stood and where you’ll find the Opera Bastille.
No music halls on the avenue, but Haussmann style and early 20th century buildings that boast a wealth of architectural features.
Metro stations: Opéra, Richelieu-Drouot, Grands Boulevards, Bonne-Nouvelle, Strasbourg-St-Denis, République, Filles du Calvaire, St-Sebastien Froissard, Chemin Vert, Bastille on Line 8
Coordinates: Station Grands Boulevards Lat 48.871221 – Long 2.344514