FROM THE COURS LA REINE TO THE CHAMPS ELYSEES
The site now occupied by the Champs-Élysées was originally nothing more than an expanse of marshy and uninhabited land. Then Marie de Médicis decided to have a long alley created, extending from the Palais des Tuileries along the Seine, lined with elm and linden trees: the Cours la Reine, modeled on the promenade of Florence’s Cascine Park, was opened in 1615.
Around 1670, André Le Nôtre, landscape architect to Louis XIV, was given the task of further developing the area. He designed a splendid avenue, running in a line from the central pavilion of the Palais des Tuileries, from what is now Place de la Concorde to the present Rond-Point des Champs-Élysées-Marcel-Dassault roundabout, in the direction of what was then known as the montagne du Roule — the eminence on which the Place de l’Etoile now stands – lined by plots of land planted with alleys of elms and green lawns.
To distinguish it from the Cours la Reine, the new alley was initially known as the Grand-Cours, and later the Grande Allée du Roule, the Avenue de la Grille Royale (1678), the Avenue du Palais des Tuileries (1680). The first coinage of the name it now bears, "Champs-Élysées", appeared in 1694, but the name was not formally adopted until 1709, as mentioned in the royal accounts.
The name was borrowed from classical mythology, the Elysian Fields being the ancient Greeks’ equivalent of paradise, probably to point the contrast with the avenue’s marshy origins.
19TH CENTURY DEVELOPMENTS
On 2 April 1810, Marie-Louise of Austria, the new Empress of the French, made her entrance into the capital via the avenue, decorated for the occasion with a fake triumphal arch.
Later, Tsar Alexander I of Russia, King Frederick William III of Prussia, and Prince Schwarzenberg took their places in a stand erected close to the Elysée Palace to watch the parade of allied troops. The soldiers were bivouacked in the gardens, and supposedly left them in a deplorable state.
Louis XVIII had the gardens restored and opened the Avenue Gabriel. To ensure that the development continued, the Prefect of the Seine oversaw the transfer of the entire gardens to the City of Paris, under a law passed in August 1828: “Hereby granted, by transfer of title, to the City of Paris are the Place Louis XVI and the promenade known as the Champs-Elysées, as designated on the plan appended to this act, including those constructions falling under the ownership of the State and with the exception of the two ditches on the Place Louis XVI bordering the Tuileries Garden. Said grant is made subject to the City of Paris:
- bearing the costs of the supervision and maintenance of the areas designated above;
- carrying out, within five years, embellishment work to the sum of at least two million two hundred and thirty thousand francs;
- retaining the current purpose of the land so granted, which land may not be disposed of either wholly or in part”.
THE PRESENT DAY
The Champs-Élysées today is an iconic main artery of the city and a tourist attraction not to be missed, with its shops, cinemas and theatres, cafés and restaurants, famous monuments such as the Grand Palais or the Arc de Triomphe, and its gardens. The avenue is also close to the hearts of the French people as the scene of huge gatherings marking key historic and sporting events.
Every year, on July 14, France’s military forces parade the length of the avenue to mark the national holiday, Bastille Day. The Champs-Elysées marks the finishing line for the final stage of the Tour de France, and the start of the Paris Marathon.
Celebrating the festive season, since 1980 the avenue’s retailers have treated the world to over 2 kilometers of spectacular Christmas illuminations, organized by the Comité Champs-Elysées.
Since 2007, the illuminations have been accompanied by an impressive Christmas Market, running between the Rond-Point and Place de la Concorde.
Every New Year’s Eve, the Champs-Elysées attracts close on a million revelers eager to usher in the future and share hopes and wishes for a happy New Year.
A wide array of leisure opportunities attracts crowds from every nation. Deft in keeping pace with the times, the Champs-Elysées is now the jewel in Paris’ crown and a splendid, example of perfectly managed modernization.
The mission of the Comité Champs-Elysées is to protect and preserve the influence and appeal of this unique site that, more than any other, mirrors the movement of life and time.