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Paris, France
Paris, 18th Century
Public DomainParis, 18th Century
From the storming of the Bastille Prison in July 1789, Paris entered a decade of destruction as successive Revolutionary governments declared war on what constituted the fabric of everyday life--renaming the streets, the months and seasons, instituting a 10-day working week, with different weekday names, of course. All of which led to a sense of disorientation, instability and paranoia.

Paris was still a mediaeval and Renaissance city of narrow, overcrowded streets with pillow-sized paving stones all coated in a stinking acidic black mud--the coagulating mess of refuse left to rot on streetcorners and stable sweepings--through which carts and carriages drove wildly without regard for pedestrians or tradesmen.

The many noble residences--majestic, ornamented stone buildings some 6-7 stories high--in the Faubourg St. Honore, along the Champs Elysees, and in the Faubourg St. Germain, had been appropriated by the state, their interiors looted, and stood either empty or rented out, floor by floor--the richer living on the lower floors and the poorer at the top.

Paris, 1791
Public DomainParis, 1791 - Credit: Pierre-Antoine Demachy
Street lighting was provided by oil lamps hung on ropes suspended between buildings.

Political clubs and coffeehouses abounded.

The mob ruled, attacking private houses, burning books, smashing statuary, meting out murderous summary justice.

The city's churches, convents and monasteries were an early casualty of Revolutionary zeal. Ancient stone churches were demolished or turned into armaments factories or warehouses, their bells melted down for cannon, their clergy turned out into the street. On the Left Bank, the many walled cloisters and convents were turned into prisons or abandoned.

In 1789 there was one prison in Paris with 9 prisoners; by 1796, there were over 60 prisons, all filled, with only one sentence handed down.

At the centre loomed La Guillotine, in the Place de la Republique, where at the height of the Terror some 40 individuals were guillotined each day while les tricoteuses, knitting and singing, looked on in glee.

by M.M. Bennetts