There’s nothing quite like the feeling of digging through a vintage box of postcards. So welcome to my digital box of old snaps… Here’s a selection of vintage Paris postcards showing your favourite Parisian monuments from aeons ago and the history behind the photo:
Arc de Triomphe de L’Étoile Circa 1920
As you probably know by now, the Arc de Triomphe sits at one end of the Champs Élysées and is just one of two triumphal arches in Paris (the other, smaller arch, is located by the Louvre and is known as the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel). And while construction of the Arc de Triomphe began in 1806, the inauguration and completion of the arch wasn’t until thirty years later, in 1836.
The Arc was commissioned by Napoleon at the height of his victories, following the battle of Austerlitz. It was intended to be reminiscent of the Roman era, and is modelled on the original Arc de Triomphe in Orange, Provence! The postcard you see below was taken in around 1920. Just one year earlier, in 1919, Charles Godefroy managed to fly his biplane under the arc. Today, you can visit the Arc de Triomphe, snap photos of it, and even climb to the top. The viewing platform at the top offers what is easily one of the best views of Paris!
Rue Lepic, Montmartre in 1925
Ah, Montmartre. If there’s one district that feels like you’re strolling through the Paris of old, it’s this time warp in central Paris. The following postcard was captured in Montmartre in 1925 on Rue Lepic. Located in the 18e arrondissement of the city, Rue Lepic is easily one of the most iconic streets in the area and has been the filming locations for films such as Amélie. Vincent Van Gogh and his brother Theo also lived here for a time at No. 54, prior to their move to the nearby town of Auvers-Sur-Oise.
Hôtel de Ville in 1858
Hôtel de Ville (otherwise known as the ‘Paris town hall’ in English) was built at some point durig the 1500s. This is one of my favourite vintage Paris Postcards because of the sheer age of the photograph in question. Dating all the way back to 1858, it shows how Hôtel de Ville appeared prior to the Franco Prussian war.
During the Franco-Prussian war of the 1870s, the Paris Commune– a radical socialist and revolutionary government which seized control of the city shortly after the defeat of Napoleon- chose Hôtel de Ville as its headquarters. Many French people protested the Commune’s power, however, and took to protesting. During one particularly violent protest in 1871, as anti-Commune troops approached the building, Commune troops took the decision to set fire to the building.
Only the outer shell was left and centuries worth of history and documents were enveloped in flames. The building was reconstructed between 1873 and 1892, using the remaining Renaissance style shell as the exterior façade. This means that while the exterior of the building looks 17th century, the interior rooms are decorated in exquisite 1880s style.
Notre Dame circa 1865
Sitting in pride of place at the very heart of Île de la Cité, Notre Dame is one of those ‘must see’ Paris attractions. Construction of Notre Dame started as early as 1163, although completion wasn’t until 1345. The following postcard of Notre Dame was produced using the technique of albumen print. which was developed by Frenchman Louis Désiré Blanquart-Evrard in 1847. The technique involves the albumen (white of an egg), silver and a variety of other chemicals.
Eiffel Tower on 20th March 1888
The Eiffel Tower has come to be known as a symbol not only for France but for freedom, love, respect and pretty much everything else France stands for. The following photo was taken during the construction of the Iron Lady, and completion from start to finish took just two years.
Although the Eiffel Tower was only ever meant to be a temporary construction (it was built as a showpiece for the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris), the tower proved too useful for things like communications and so it stayed. During its lifetime the Eiffel Tower once served as the Largest Advertisement in the World and was once painted yellow.
Other spots where you’ll find a touch of Vintage Paris:
L’Objet Qui Parle, 86 Rue des Martyrs, 75018 Paris, France. This quirky little vintage shop is filled with treasures from manuscripts, to long lost dolls. A visit to L’Objet Qui Parle (Emglish translation is literally ‘the talking object’) can easily be combined with a trip to Montmartre.
Marché Aux Puces de Saint-Ouen,6 Rue Jean-Henri Fabre, 75018 Paris, France. Often cited as the largest flea market of its kind in the world, head to Marché aux Puces for some good deals and a quirky day trip from the city centre. Last time I was at the Marché aux Puces, I managed to pick up vintage postcards of the city for as little as €1 each!
Kilo Shop, 125 Boulevard Saint-Germain, 75006 Paris, France & 69-71 Rue de la Verrerie, 75004 Paris, France. If you want to purchase some vintage wear while in Paris, then head to one of the Kilo Shop locations spread throughout the city.
Shakespeare and Company, 37 Rue de la Bûcherie, 75005 Paris, France. Located on the oh so chic, left Bank of the Seine, Shakespeare and Company has been around in some form or another for decades. The two independent bookstores (as well as the newly opened café next door) are easily one of the best spots to find vintage in Paris… Not to mention that you could spend hours getting lost in the winding passageways of the store!
Fancy experiencing some of old Paris for yourself? Here’s a vintage Paris walking tour: a self-guided walk through the oldest parts of the city. (Île de la Cité, the Latin Quarter and Le Marais are all included in the walking tour).