The Streets That Made The Century: 19: Champs Elysees

The Independent Traveller is counting down to the end of the year by featuring the 20 greatest streets of the 20th century. Today, the most celebrated thoroughfare in Paris.

PARIS IS studded with icons that register on everyone's world map. Yet only one street makes the grade: an avenue that seems almost as broad as it is long stretching barely a mile from the Place de la Concorde up to the Arc de Triomphe.

On the map, the Champs-Elysees appears to form a crucial artery. It feels like one of the busiest streets in Paris but it was originally merely a service road for the mansions that scattered along its length.

The Champs-Elysees owes its existence to Andre le Notre, the 17th-century genius who formalised the French garden. After he had refreshed the Tuileries, he prescribed the course of a street that was ultimately to become part of the Triumphal Way that now stretches from the Louvre to La Defense.

Initially, it ran for only half a mile between the Tuileries (Concorde not yet having been laid out) and the Rond-Point, the circle that these days temporarily subdues the traffic. The avenue, and more particularly the Elysian lawns that flank it, became a venue for socialising.

In 1724, it was extended up to Etoile, where a century later the Arc de Triomphe was imposed as magnificent punctuation.

The image of the street has been most vivid this century. The sight of German troops marching along it on 14 June 1940, signified the French capitulation to the invaders. The same summer, Jewish-owned shops on the Champs-Elysees were attacked by French thugs in collaboration with the Nazis. This was the first stage of a spiral of intimidation and violence that for many French Jews led to the death camps.

The liberation of France was symbolised in August 1944 by the recapture of the Champs-Elysees; Robert Cole notes the hysteria of relief among the citizenry in A Traveller's History of Paris. "It was a common sight," he writes, "to see soldiers fighting from street to street with lipstick smeared over their faces."

For all its celebrity, the Champs-Elysees kept a low profile during the revolutionary skirmishes of 1968, though Gaullists would say that it was their mass demonstration on the street that settled the matter in favour of the status quo.

In a sense, it is once again a service road. Few great buildings actually face on to the Champs-Elysees. The Grand Palais, which lends gravitas to the south-east corner, shows only a shoulder while the Elysee Palace, the President's official residence, is a quarter of a mile north. Instead, it is lined with the utilitarian (the Paris tourist office, and a Prisunic supermarket); the quotidian (Virgin Records and assorted airline offices); and just a scattering of the sort of clubs and restaurants where, if you have to ask le prix, the staff will treat you with the contempt you probably deserve.

Back outside, it is the busiest street in the French capital this month, but populated almost entirely by tourists. As the sun sinks contentedly behind the Arc de Triomphe and the lights begin to sparkle like a convention of crazed fireflies, you will be glad to be among them.

Simon Calder paid pounds 49 for a return ticket from London Waterloo to Paris on Eurostar (0990 186 186).

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Retail Supervisor

    £17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fragrance store are lookin...

    Langley James : Desktop Support Analyst; 1st Line; Moorgate up to £23k

    £20000 - £23000 per annum: Langley James : Desktop Support Analyst; 1st Line; ...

    Recruitment Genius: Retail Sales Assistant

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This fragrance store are looking for enthusias...

    Recruitment Genius: Project Manager

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting and rewarding role ...

    Day In a Page

    In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

    Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

    Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
    The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

    The young are the new poor

    Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
    Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

    Greens on the march

    ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

    Through the stories of his accusers
    Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

    The Meaning of Mongol

    Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible