Napoleon in Paris, Episode 58


Ariane Villette

Today we discuss Napoleon in Paris. Specifically how Napoleon changed Paris physically and how he left his mark on all French institutions.  Under Napoleon France transformed itself from the "Ancien Régime" to a "modern" society. We don't discuss the Napoleonic conquests, but rather his long-lasting influence on France.

Ariane Villette has been a tour guide for 5 years, she's originally from the Champagne region, but she went to Paris to study art history at the Louvre and Nanterre and has been working there ever since.

Napoleon in Paris

Paolo Veronese Wedding at Cana
Paolo Veronese Wedding at Cana

Napoleon was born and died on an island. He was born on the island of Corsica, in Ajaccio. You can visit the house where he was born which has been turned into a pretty nice small museum. Napoleon spoke French with an accent  because his first language (Corsican) was closer to Italian than to French.

Napoleon went to the officer's school Ecole Militaire southeast of the Champ de Mars.  He was not well-known or well-regarded because he came from a modest noble family, but by age 24 he had reached the rank of General. In those days most men didn't make it to General until their 40s.

Old Paris Map
Palais du Louvre Area

He was elected Emperor in 1804 and he was extremely popular with the people. Napoleon made major changes to Paris. Back then, Paris only had mostly small streets and Napoleon decided to create major boulevards such as rue de Rivoli.  And to keep it a safe and beautiful street he didn't want any bakers or butchers to establish their business there. And this is still true to this day, no butchers or bakers on rue de Rivoli!

Napoleon also instituted odd and even street numbers on opposite sides of the street. Finding specific places along a street used to be very difficult because there were no numbers, this was a major advance.

Napoleon also insisted on cobblestone pavements to separate where horses and carriages went and where people went. Putting in pavement was expensive and time-consuming, so they started in the center of Paris and branched out as far as possible. Custom dating back from the middle ages said that the poor had to walk in the middle of the street and the rich could walk along the building. This was to protect the poor from being hit by garbage that was thrown in the middle of the street. The French expression "tenir le haut du pavé" has to do with this custom. In English you can say you "take the wall".

Madeleine_Paris photo Jebulon
Madeleine Paris photo Jebulon

Paris sewers were started under Napoleon I, you can even visit, and children usually find that place creepy and wonderful! Listen to Episode 125 for more information on the Paris Sewer.

Napoleon expanded on the Louvre building and made it beautiful, and he turned it into a museum.  He wanted to make Paris the world capital of the arts. Napoleon either bought or stole art from all over the world.

There are two Arc de Triomphe in Paris, one near the Louvre (Arc de Triomphe du Carousel) and the other at the top of the Champs Elysées. It was build almost overnight.

Napoleon was concerned about bringing water close to people's home so he commissioned many fountains to be built-in neighborhoods to bring drinking water closer to the people.

Napoleon also created French High Schools, Lycées and Baccalaureate which French students still take. It is 200 years old in France.

The Légion d'Honneur was also instigated by Napoleon. There is a small museum near the Orsay museum that has to do with military orders, medals, honors.

Vendome Column, photo Benh LIEU SONG
Vendome Column, photo Benh LIEU SONG

Napoleonic Monuments in Paris

  • Colonne Vandôme
  • La Madeleine church
  • Arc de Triomphe
  • Arc de Triomphe du Carousel
  • Modernized the Louvre

Napoleon is buried at Les Invalides, his body was marched under the Arc de Triomphe.

Napoleon was exiled to the island of Elba, then he came back to France during the 100 days. There is a great movie from 1970 called and it's a great movie to learn about Napoleon and his battles. is another great movie about Napoleon, especially if you're interested in what happened in Saint Helena.

The British never recognized Napoleon as an Emperor, they always called him General. After his loss at Waterloo, the British exiled Napoleon on the island of Saint Helena which is in the middle of nowhere.

Napoleon may have been poisoned, but it's more likely that he died of stomach cancer just like his father. He accomplished a lot for someone who died at age 56.

Old Paris Map
Champ de Mars Area

Paris Restaurant Recommendation

Ariane loves the restaurant called Auberge Pyrénées Cévennes
106, rue de la Folie Méricourt 75011 Paris which was featured in the Jean Dujardin movie . It's traditional French food and it's very good.

How to Book a Tour with Ariane

You can reach Ariane by writing to or go to Viator Guides, select Paris, Ariane is one of the guides there.


Paris Jardin des Tuileries Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, photo Thesupermat
Paris Jardin des Tuileries Arc de Triomphe du Carousel, photo Thesupermat

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