The Champs-Élysées attracts more than 300,000 visitors every day, and is one of the most visited places in the capital. But has that always been the case ?
A reference to Greek mythology
Swamps, wastelands and crops. This is what the Champs-Elysées looked like almost four centuries ago. In 1670, Louis XIV asked Le Nôtre, the gardener behind the gardens of the Palace of Versailles, to develop this uninhabited area. The king’s gardener then traced, in the extension of the Tuileries, a large alley lined with trees and lawns which goes from the future place de la Concorde to the current roundabout of the Champs-Elysées. The construction of the avenue began in 1765, when Louis XV authorized the construction of buildings on either side of the Champs. Five years later, the Marquis de Marigny had the alleys laid out which would become the avenues de Marigny and Matignon as well as the allée des Veuves, the future avenue Montaigne. It widens and extends the Champs Elysées to the current Neuilly bridge. Originally, the name « Champs-Elysées » (officially granted in 1698) designated the Ledoyen square, a vast expanse of greenery located at the bottom of the avenue, then, by extension, after the Revolution, it designated the the whole way. This name is actually a reference to Greek mythology: the Champs Elysées was the eternal resting place of deceased heroes. Also, by allusion, it was chosen to signify to walkers that they had the privilege of being able to rest in the king’s gardens.
A bad reputation
“Les Champs” remained gardens until 1833 before the prefects Rambuteau and Haussmann gave it its current configuration. However, despite all these investments, the avenue remains unloved… Its population, made up of bandits and prostitutes, attracted by the low-end guinguettes, discourages the bourgeoisie from coming to stroll under the elms or to frequent the new places in the district. For example, the Colosseum, a sumptuous leisure park intended to host prestigious parties and shows, opened in 1771… but went bankrupt in just 9 years due to lack of attendance.
A very fashionable place
The Avenue des Champs-Élysées will only really gain in importance after the French Revolution. On June 25, 1791, the king and his family were taken there after the flight to Varennes. Under the Directory, the avenue was widened and the guinguettes were closed. They will be replaced by luxurious restaurants and cafes like that of Dupe. It is the first restaurant on the avenue that will attract all the celebrities of the moment. During the 18th Century grand houses and buildings were erected along the avenue and the Elysée Palace, now the official residence of the French President, was built nearby. The area had been the location of palaces and fabulous buildings of the wealthy and aristocratic since the 1600s but, in the 1800s, it became a very fashionable place. In 1828, the Champs-Elysées was officially declared civic property of Paris, and the council commissioned fountains and gas lamps and cleared paths.
The Arc de Triomphe
In 1836, the Arc de Triomphe, commissioned by Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte to celebrate his war victories, was completed at the western end of the Champs-Elysées. Ever since Marie de Medici decided to create a tree-lined passage from her Parisian park, the avenue has gone from strength to strength. One of the first universal exhibitions – the French industrial exhibition of 1844, as well as the Paris universal exhibition of 1855 were held here.
The Champs-Élysées nowadays
The Champs-Élysées are, nowadays, an emblematic artery and an unmissable tourist site, with its shops, cinemas and theatres, cafés and restaurants, famous monuments such as the Grand Palais or the Arc de Triomphe, its gardens. The avenue is also a place dear to the hearts of the French for having hosted large popular gatherings, on the occasion of historical or sporting events. Every July 14 takes place the military parade of the French National Day. The Champs-Elysées is also the place of arrival of the last stage of the Tour de France cyclist and the place of departure of the Marathon de Paris. For the end-of-year celebrations, since 1980, commercial brands have offered the world magical Christmas illuminations, over more than 2 kilometers long, organized by the Champs-Elysées Committee. Since 2007, these Illuminations have been complemented by an imposing Christmas Market, set up between the Rond-Point and the Place de la Concorde. Every December 31, like a springboard to the future, during the night of New Year’s Eve the Champs-Elysées are offered to nearly a million people who come to dive into the hope of a happy new year.