Thursday, March 19, 2009

The streets of Paris (I)

I love Paris. I was born in Paris and I have lived almost my complete life up to know in Paris. Well, this is true that I currently don’t live in Paris, strictly speaking. I live in Montrouge, a small city located in the south suburb of Paris. But this is only because prices of flats are too high in Paris.
Whenever the weather allows it, I like walking in the streets of Paris. When I do so, I also like checking the names of the streets where I am, trying to figure out all the information I know about the person (or the event or the place) who is behind the name of the street. And very often I realize that I do not know much.
I recently had the idea to check if I could associate the name of the streets with stamps. And naturally came the idea to share this with you on my blog. So this is the first of a series of articles about streets of Paris and related stamps. On purpose I will not necessarily speak about very famous streets or streets located in very touristic areas. And to start I will choose some streets located in the area of Paris where I have spent my youth: the 5th, the 13th and the 14th “arrondissements” (if you don’t know it, Paris is divided into 20 administrative districts called arrondissement. They are numbered from 1 to 20, starting from the very center of Paris and going out in a spiral).

The picture of the stamps used in this article are coming from the excellent website phila echange.

Boulevard François Arago

For the first article I have selected a street, well actually this is a boulevard, that I have crossed every day during several years to go to school when I was a kid. This is boulevard Arago, located in the 13th and 14th arrondissement. It is named after François Arago (1786-1853) who has lived in this boulevard during twenty five years.

Who is François Arago?

François Jean Dominique Arago was a French mathematician, physicist, astronomer and politician. He was born in 1786 at Estragel, a small village located near Perpignan. He was the eldest of a family of four brothers, the other three being Jean, Jacques and Etienne.

François Arago quickly showed deep interest in mathematics and science. At the end of the year 1803 he entered the Ecole Polythechnique (one of the most prestigious French high school, which is also a military school). The year after, he received the appointment of secretary to the Paris Observatory. He received the mission to complete the measurement of the Paris meridian. For this purpose he travelled to Spain. Arago stayed there until 1809 to complete the measurements. His trip back to France was disturbed by various adventures: he was sent to jail because he was mistaken with a spy, he was also captured by a Spanish corsair…
Once back in France, he was elected a member of the French Academy of Sciences, which was exceptional for such a young man (he was 23 at this time). He was later named one of the astronomers of the Royal Observatory.
His scientific works cover several different areas such as astronomy, optics, thermodynamic.
In parallel with his scientific career, François Arago also played some political roles. In 1830 he was elected a member of the chamber of deputies. He focused a lot his activity on public education, reward of the inventors and all sort of encouragement of sciences. For instance, he is the one who officially announced the discovery of photography.
After having played some other political roles he retired from the public life in 1852 and died in 1853. His grave is located in the Père Lachaise, one of the cemeteries of Paris.
Several places have been named Arago in tribute to him, the most original ones surely being a crater on the Moon, and a crater on Mars!

The street

One of the plates indicating the name of the street

It is a large boulevard, planted with chestnut trees, which gives a very specific view at the beginning of the fall.

It is the last place in Paris where public executions (using the guillotine) were held, until the middle of the 20th century (I know, I know, not a very attractive characteristic…).
To stay on the not-so-positive side, a jail, called Prison de la Santé, is located in this boulevard (but the entry to the jail is located in a small street, rue de la Santé, which is perpendicular to the boulevard).
Hopefully some more positive places can be seen on Boulevard Arago. For instance there is the flowered city, a set of villas that were originally ateliers for artists. Famous painters have worked there as Gauguin or Modigliani.
Also located on this boulevard is the Paris observatory, where François Arago has lived and worked from more than 25 years. There is no actual entry to he observatory from the boulevard, you can only access to the very nice gardens. The main entry of the observatory is located in another street.
Also on this boulevard has been erected a statue of François Arago. But if you have the opportunity to walk down the boulevard you will have a surprise: the bronze bust has disappeared; only the pedestal remains!

The pedestal of the statue

This is because the bronze bust has been melted in 1942 by the German soldiers to build weapons. It was decided not to replace the statue.
In 1994, a Dutch artist, Jan Dibbets, realized a very original work of art in tribute to François Aragp. This piece of art is a set of 135 bronze medallions. Each medallion is inscribed with the name ARAGO and the indication of the north and south. The 135 medallions are spread all over Paris, following the line of the Paris meridian, the one that was measured by Arago.
You can see one of these medallions in the pedestal of the statue as shown on this picture.

One of the Arago medallions

If you have read The DaVinci Code, written by Dan Brown, you may remember that at the end of the book, the hero, Langdon, find bronze medallions that are 12 centimeters wide and that lead him to the right direction. Well in fact those medallions are the ones of the tribute to Arago and they have not the meaning and the origin that Brown uses in his novel.

The stamp(s)

The stamp that I have used at the beginning of this article has been issued on the 24th of February 1986 in the famous people set. It pictures a portrait of François Arago. The X located on the left border is the symbol of the Ecole Polytechnique where Arago has studied and was a teacher (the Ecole Polytehchnique is commonly called l’X).
On the left bottom corner of the stamp you can see the Cygnus constellation.
François Arago is pictured on two other stamps from France. Here is a stamp issued on the 13th of June 1949 where Arago is pictured together with Ampère.

Arago is also pictured on a stamp issued on the 24th of April 1939 commemorating the 100th anniversary of the invention of photography.

Arago is pictured announcing officially the invention of photography. The stamp also pictured Niepce and Daguerre, the two pioneers of photography.
As I said François Arago had a brother called Etienne, who was a dramatist and politician. He is somewhere linked to philately since he is the one who officialized the usage of postage stamps. He is pictured on a stamp issued on the 6th of March 1948 to commemorate the stamp day.


Eric from Jura said...

salut Eric !
quelle super idée de traiter des rues de Paris de façon philatélique !
ton article est très intéressant et j'attends avec impatience ton prochain article :-)
bon séjour à Rome !

Adrian said...

I can well imagine your love affair with Paris! I've only been a couple of times and it always leaves me wanting to come back for more. Imagine having spent most of your life there! You lucky devil!This is a brilliant idea! Will you do Rue Tholozé as well, please? One day maybe?

Mansoor.B said...

Hello Eric,
Hope you are having a nice time at Rome.
I heard that the Hotels in Paris do not have room No.13 even today! Is it true???