Last Updated on 26th June 2019 by Sophie Nadeau
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! Buy tickets for the Arc de Triomphe here in advance.
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. Other highlights of the street include some of the last Parisian windmills, as well as the birthplace of the Renault car.
Yes, really! The story goes that in 1998, Renault built his first ‘Voiturette’ along rue Lepic. He made a bet with his friends that the car would be able to make it up the steep rue Lepic hill… The car did, and Renault secured twelve confirmed car orders, thus founding the Renault car company.
Hôtel de Ville in 1858
Hôtel de Ville (otherwise known as the ‘Paris town hall’ in English) was built at some point during 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 to be from the 17th century, the interior rooms are decorated in exquisite 1880s style. For a more in-depth look at the district of Paris where Hôtel de Ville is found, check out this self-guided Le Marais walking tour.
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. As I’m sure you’re well aware, there was a terrible fire at Notre Dame in the spring of 2019, which resulted in the destruction of much of the ecclesiastical building’s roof, as well as the loss of its spire. As such, Notre Dame Cathedral no longer looks quite like this vintage Paris postcard!
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.
Today, the most visited monument in Paris is easily that of the Eiffel Tower. Though the iron structure doesn’t necessarily offer the best view of the city (indeed this can be found from the top of the Arc de Triomphe), ascending the massive landmark likely still tops your French bucket list. So as to avoid the queues and save time, be sure to book your Eiffel Tower ticket in advance here.
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 (English translation is literally ‘the talking object’) can easily be combined with a trip to Montmartre and you may well come away with an unusual souvenir!
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, Franc
If you want to purchase some vintage wear while in Paris, then head to one of the Kilo Shop locations spread throughout the city, though bear in mind that depending on what you buy, these stores can be a little overpriced! Some of the best other vintage shopping in Paris can be found in Le Marais and around the Latin Quarter.
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! Nearby, the Abbey Bookshop stocks all manner of vintage and second-hand books!
Prins Patrick, 50 Passage des Panoramas, 75002 Paris, France
Throughout Paris, particularly in the second arrondissement, there’s a smattering of covered passages known collectively as Les Passages Couverts. These are essentially early shopping arcades and while there were once 150 such walkways in the city, today only a few dozen survive.
One of the most beautiful of the covered passages is the Passage des Panoramas, where you’ll find Prins Patrick. The store can be found in the very heart of the passageway and sells vintage postcards for as little as €2 each. Close by, you’ll soon spy NOGLU, which serves some of the best gluten-free food in the city.
Fancy experiencing some of old Paris for yourself?
One of the best ways to discover the French capital of old is simply to stroll around an get a little lost. 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).