All maps from the David Rumsey Map Collection

Paris, 1739

The use of maps in teaching and research.

Dan Edelstein, the William H. Bonsall Professor of French and a scholar of 18th-century France, offers a view into how maps from the new David Rumsey Map Center at Stanford Libraries provide a window into the past for students, faculty and — because the collection is digitized — the public. Case in point: this 20-panel map of Paris, commissioned by municipal chief Michel-Etienne Turgot and published in 1739. Stitched together, the pages of the map offer a grand perspective of the city. But zoom in closer and you’ll find the lessons.

On the right bank (above, left), stretching up from the Seine at the edge of the city, we see the fairly new, tree-lined boulevards that replaced walls built during the reign of Louis XIII. The boulevards offered Parisians a novel experience — that of walking on designated sidewalks (albeit unpaved until the late 18th century), protected from the bustle of carriages.

The Turgot map reminds us of the central role the Seine played in the daily activity and commerce of Paris. There was a “port au blé” (wheat port) around the corner from the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall). Upstream from that was the “port au foin” (hay port). Just outside the city limits, lumber is loaded onto boats. The banks of the river were not the paved, dreamy quais that we know today, but active, often rough spaces, populated by workers.

Perhaps the most noticeable difference between 18th-century Paris and the Paris of today can be seen on the bridges, a number of which supported buildings. As on Florence’s Ponte Vecchio today, these buildings typically had stores on the ground floor, with the owners’ living quarters in the floors above. They remind us, too, of the commercial activity that revolved around the Seine. Buildings on all Parisian bridges were demolished later in the 18th century.

For centuries, French monarchies dreamed of connecting the “Vieux Louvre” (the original square edifice, whose foundations were laid by Philippe Auguste, in the 12th century) with the Palais des Tuileries, erected by Catherine de Medici in the 16th century. When the Turgot map was commissioned, a long gallery (the “Grande Gallerie”) ran between the two palaces; but the space in between was filled by a variety of other buildings and streets. This neighborhood would be demolished during the baron Haussmann’s reconstruction of Paris in the 19th century, at which point the northern connection between the Louvre and Tuileries would finally be completed. Shortly thereafter, in 1871, the Paris Communards would burn down the Tuileries Palace. •