The history of the Champs-Élysées Paris

Written by on December 28, 2013 in French Icons, Paris

champs elysee from above

The Champs-Elysées in Paris is one of the most famous roads in the world. A grand boulevard, an avenue of trees, the most chic boutiques, gastronomic restaurants, iconic bars, department stores and a magnet for tourists – but how did it all start? Known in France as “La Plus Belle Avenue du Monde” (the most beautiful avenue in the world), the Champs-Elysées is worthy of its reputation as one of the world’s most elegant and famous streets. What’s the history of the Avenue des Champs-Elysées Paris?

The history of the Champs-Élysées Paris

Well the area was originally fields (champs in French). Although Paris has been a city for many centuries it wasn’t as spread out as it is now and the area where the Champs-Elysées is now was a place where vegetables were grown. The merchants who grew here sold their goods in the Paris markets – not too far to travel with perishables.

In the early 17th Century, French Queen Marie de Medici (the wife of Henri IV) who loved her Tuileries Garden decided to create an avenue of trees where these fields lie and so the change began. In the late 17th Century the great French gardener André Le Nôtre was called upon to update the area even more.

history of the champs elyseesLouis XIV commissioned Le Nôtre to extend and transform the “Grand Cours” as it was known into the “Avenue des Tuilleries”.  Over the years, this corridor of trees which was part of the Tuileries Gardens grew and in the early 18th Century (1709) it was given the name “Avenues des Champs-Elysées”. The name translates as Elysian fields – where Greek Gods and heroes went after death according to Greek mythology.

During the 18th Century grand houses and buildings were erected along the avenue and the Elysée Palace, now official home of the French president, was built close by. The area had been the location for palaces and fabulous buildings of the rich and aristocrats since the 1600s but, by the 1800s, it became a very fashionable spot.  In 1828 the Champs-Elysées was officially declared the civic property of Paris, and the council commissioned fountains and gas lamps and cleared footpaths.

history of the champs elysees

In 1836 the Arc de Triomphe, commissioned by Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte to celebrate his victories in war was completed at the west end of the Champs-Elysées.

Since Marie de Medici decided to create a tree lined passage from her Paris park, the avenue has gone from strength to strength. One of the first World Fairs – the French Industrial Exposition of 1844, as well as the Paris Exposition Universelle 1855 were held there. Every year Bastille Day is celebrated on the avenue with a large military parade. Since 1975 the Tour de France has finished with a fast and furious sprint in the Champs-Elysées and the winner is greeted by huge crowds. The Champs-Elysées Christmas lights attract yet more visitors and on New Year’s Eve it is the site of a massive public gathering.

Home to luxury shops and businesses, restaurants, cafés, theatres and museums, the Champs-Elysées  is 70 meters wide and 1910 meters long. It stretches from the Place de la Concorde to the Place Charles de Gaulle and attracts millions of visitors every year.

Metro stations on the Champs-Elysées

Paris Métro Line 1 runs under the Champs-Elysées. Station Charles de Gaulle – Étoile is at the west end of the street.  Stations with entrances directly onto the street are gare George V by the Hôtel George-V; gare Franklin D. Roosevelt at the rond-point des Champs-Elysées and gare Champs-Elysées – Clemenceau at place Clemenceau. Gare Concorde (Paris Métro) is at the southern end of the avenue, where the Place de la Concorde is located.

More Paris features:

Visit Paris on a budget - a Paris trip doesn’t have to break the bank, check out our top tips to save money – you can even eat out for free in Paris if you know where to go!
Paris by armchair – fabulous photos of the most visited city in the world
The vineyards of Paris – still producing wine in Paris
Paris by video as you’ve never seen it before – the city of light positively shimmers

The Champs-Elysées in photos accompanied by the song “Champs-Elysées” by Joe Dassin:

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