La rue des Colonnes (The Street of the Columns)

Tucked away in between the Paris Stock Exchange and the Garnier Opera House in the heart of the 2nd arrondissement is the Rue des Colonnes, the Street of the Columns.  Built in 1795, this street is often (and injustly) overlooked : not only is it the only significant bit of Paris built during the revolution still visible today, but it is also the street that inspired the great projects for the urbanisation of Paris under Napoleon Bonaparte, and Napoleon the 3rd.  

La Rue des Colonnes was originally a private street, leading directly to a theater (long since torn down), until the Revolutionary Government passed a decree mandating that it be open to the public - and in order to make this happen, it was necessary to make several modifications.  And this is where it gets interesting.  

The French Revolution was, at least in part, propelled forward by ideas and notions from the Philosophers of the the Enlightenment, which is to say that they valued reason and logic over all other things.  With that in mind, a lot of the plans and laws implemented during the Revolution were done so in the name of logic and rationality.  This is includes many changes made to Paris in the name of hygiene - for the first time ever.  It was during the Revolution, for example, that the houses and buildings were torn down from the bridges of Paris in order to improve air circulation in otherwise stifling neighborhoods.  

With the rue des Colonnes, we see for the first time in Paris, a street lined with arcades - which means a distinction between street and sidewalk - in a time before any major roads were paved, and far before the introduction of the grands boulevards as well! The model of the rue des Colonnes was deemed so impressive, so hygienic, and so progressive, that it served as the model for the famous rue de Rivoli, built under Napoleon Bonaparte! 

Beyond its hygienic advantages, the rue des Colonnes is a textbook example of design and decor under the Revolutionary government.  We see arcades composed of doric columns, crowned with palmettes, balconies for the noble floors, and roofs topped with slate.  The repetition of horizontal forms was extremely important for Revolutionary architects like Ledoux and Boullé, who hoped to inspire the same sense of grandeur and ennoblement through repetition of horizontal forms and purified geometric shapes that Gothic architecture inspired through its high, soaring ceilings.  Beyond that, the palmette motif finds its origins in the discovery of Pompeii and Herculaneum, discovered some 50 years prior, and was very popular in the neoclassical design under Louis XVI.  It most likely would have been implemented here to set a tone for the street, as being something that was very dignified.  

To book a tour of Revolutionary Paris, of the Decorative Arts Museum, or an Architectural Walking Tour, please email :