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).

Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Club legend Paul Scholes is scared United could disappear into 'the wilderness'
Life and Style
food + drink
Malky Mackay salutes the Cardiff fans after the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday
footballFormer Cardiff boss accused of sending homophobic, racist and messages
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Service Delivery Manager - ITIL / ServiceNow / Derivatives

    £60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading Financial Services orga...

    Senior Quantitative Developer

    £700 per day: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Developer C++, Python, STL, R, PD...

    CCNP Network Engineer - Farnborough, £250 pd

    £250 per day: Orgtel: Network Engineer (CCNP), Cisco Gold Partner, Farnborough...

    Technical Consultant Configuration, SQL, SQL Server

    £55000 - £65000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: Technical Cons...

    Day In a Page

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
    Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

    Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

    After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
    Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

    Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

    After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
    Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

    Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

    Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home