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The Paris we know today, with its grand boulevards, its bridges and parks, its monumental beauty, was essentially built in only seventeen years, in the middle of the nineteenth century. In this brief period, whole neighborhoods of medieval and revolutionary Pais - overcrowded, dangerous, and filthy - were razed, and from the rubble a modern city of light and air emerged. This triumphant rebuilding was chiefly the work of one man, Baron Georges Haussmann, Napoleon III's Prefect of the Seine.
It was Haussmann's task to assert, in stone, the power and permanence of Paris, to show the world that it was the seat of an empire of mythic proportions. To this end, he imposed grand visual perspectives, as when he transformed Napoleon I's Arc de Triomphe into a magnificent twelve-armed star from which radiated the broadest boulevards of Europe. Below ground, his modern sewer system became one of the wonders of the civilized world, eagerly toured by royalty and commoners alike.
Haussmann's mandate was not only to create an impression of grandeur, but to secure the city for better control by government. By creating formal spaces where there had previously been a maze of chaotic streets, Haussmann opened Paris to effective police control and thwarted the recurrent demonstration of its well-known revolutionary fervor. The determined and autocratic Haussmann imprinted rational order and bourgeois civility on the unruly city which had for so long simmered with riot and insurrection.