Visiting Place Napoléon III, formerly Place de Roubaix, Paris, France: honouring a controversial French Emperor again
For many years, the area close to the main façade of the Gare du Nord, Paris, France, was known as Place de Roubaix.
This also made much sense; since Roubaix is a leading city in the north of France which is served by the nearby station.
Intererstingly, during the 1977 - 1993 Paris Mayoralty of Jacques Chirac — later President of the Republic 1995 - 2007 — plans were drawn up, approved and implemented to call the former Place de Roubaix by a new name: Place Napoléon III.
The fact that this prominent area by Europe's busiest rail terminus is named for a man whose Second Empire régime came to power by a coup-d'état, may seem somewhat curious. While some enthusiasts would emphasize the images of gradeur which his system evoked, yet essentially his Imperial régime was a military dictatorship, identified with rule by decree.
Napoleon III would regularly be photographed in somewhat flamboyant military uniform; today, such photos evoke the typical, Latin American military dictators of the past.
Rule by decree alive and well
In fact, under France's 5th Republic, introduced by President Charles de Gaulle in 1959, rule by decree, while not preponderant, is very much part of the system: the powers of the Presidency — albeit elected — were greatly strengthened at the expense of the National Assembly (French: Assemblée nationale). Within French republicanism there has long been an element of what is sometimes called 'Bonapartism' or even 'Caesarism' and at times of crisis there has been a recurring tendency to revert to rule by decree rather than by laws debated in a parliamentary setting: this may be an over-simplification, but it is undoubted that the legacy of two Empire systems has provided for a latent constitutional model of strong central rule.
Thus to the leadership of the Gaullist party in France, the idea of honouring Napoleon III, is not necessarily something to which they would be hostile.
An added dimension is that Napoleon's III's urban planner, Baron Haussman, was responsible for changing and beautifying the face of the city of Paris, having been given great powers to appropriate and demolish whole swaths of its Downtown area. The Second Empire was a period of grandiose building schemes, and work on several of the great Paris landmarks were initiated during the reign of Napoleon III.
Indeed, one of those lanmarks — and a very functional one — was the main façade of the Gare du Nord (1), opposite the public square now named for Napoleon III.
Thus, when Jacques Chirac was Mayor of Paris, it came about that the rationale give this public square a new name seemed strong to the Gaullist municipal leadership — even though in many ways Napoleon III was a dictator.
July 1, 2013
(1) Also at Place Napoléon III is the Gare du Nord Metro station, with entrance iron workings by Hector Guimard (1867-1942) in Art Nouveau style (see main photo, above).
Also worth seeing
The hugely diverse visitor attractions of Paris cannot properly be expressed in a few phrases, but these include: the Eiffel Tower; Sacré-Cœur church on Montmartre,the Arc de Triomphe; the French National Assembly in the Bourbon Palace; place de la Concorde ; the Madeleine church; the Paris Opera; and many others.
How to get there: United Airlines flies from New York Newark to Paris (Aéroport Paris-Charles de Gaulle), from where car rental is available; however, visitors to Paris may wish to explore the city via its public transport system, which is excellent. The Place Napoléon III's proximity to the Gare du Nord and to the similarly names Paris Métro station make it easily accessible; Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport has a rail link to the Gare du Nord. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
Other of my hubpagaes may also be of interest
- Visiting the Gare du Nord, Paris, France: Beaux-Arts Neoclassicism by Jacques Ignace Hittorff, 1864
- Visiting Paris, France, and viewing the Eiffel Tower from the Chaillot Palace: impressive views
- Visiting Montmartre, Paris, France: shadows of history
- Visiting the Arc de Triomphe, Paris, France: remembering the French fallen — and some avia
- Visiting the Paris Opera, France: amazingly opulent architecture