The abundance of stonework in the facades and monuments of Paris makes for an irresistible part of the city appeal. Ever since it became an urban conglomerate, the ground of the city was mined for rich and yellow stone, the famous “pierre de taille”, resulting in a decorative bounty that through centuries provided employment to generations of artisans and embellished the designs of architects and builders.
Paris lies on a network of excavated galleries that crisscross its underground, a geological treasure and a happy coincidence for the handsome growth of the capital. Many of those abandoned tunnels assisted the city to solve crucial sanitation issues: in the late 18th century, the Cemetery of the Holy Innocents, located in the present area of les Halles, was so overpopulated that on one occasion its walls collapsed onto the animated rooms of an adjoining tavern to the consternation of the revelers. As a result of this and similar incidents, the remains of more than 6 million people were transferred to an underground cemetery using the emptied caverns left behind when the quarries were exhausted. The Catacombs of Paris, as this relocated ossuary is known, attracts visitors undaunted by its macabre nature.
But it is to the stone and its makers that the city must be grateful. The ambitious planning of Baron Haussman imposed its use in the homogeneous facades of the buildings erected along the tree-lined boulevards. New techniques facilitated the cutting of larger lumps and ornamentation and reliefs provided magnificence to the constructions.
This stone-carving art reached a pinnacle in the neoclassical churches that emerged in the new residential quarters during the 19th. century: St. Vincent de Paul and Notre Dame de Lorette around the newly opened Rue de Lafayette, and St. Denis du Saint Sacrement in the older Marais district. Less grandiose and intimidating than the Pantheon or the Madeleine, they symbolize in their solid colonnades and pediments the triumphs and ambitions of the bourgeoisie of the capital.
The omnipresent stone of Paris, a modest protagonist of this beautiful urban choreography.