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Napoleon III: Father of Paris


Napoleon Bonaparte may be the most famous Frenchman entombed in Paris, but it is his namesake nephew, Napoleon III, who is responsible for converting a squalid medieval capital into the most romantic city in the world.

After establishing the Second Empire in 1852, the new Emperor made it a priority to modernize Paris. Back then, the city was overcrowded, its architectural marvels obscured by wretched slums. Sewage oozed directly into the Seine. The roads were a tortuous mess, rendering travel difficult. There were few parks or green spaces.

At the Emperor’s command, Baron Haussmann utterly transformed Paris into a brighter, cleaner, healthier city. The slums were torn down, particularly around Notre Dame, and parks installed. The sewers were rebuilt, and new aqueducts and reservoirs constructed. Broad, tree-lined replaced the twisted, narrow roads. Haussmann imposed stringent guidelines concerning the appearance of new construction; all buildings had to be of uniform height, style, and color—this aesthetic is readily apparent to this day.

Napoleon III continued his modernization of Paris until his ignominious capture by the Prussians in 1870. The Second Empire collapsed, and the city he made great was held by the radical Paris Commune for most of 1871. He died in exile in England two years later, and is buried there and not in Paris.

Certificate of Authenticity

This bronze 5 centimes coin was issued by the French Second Empire and features the portrait of Napoleon III, left facing. The reverse shows an eagle.