Why are the boulevards on the edge of Paris (where the Tramway and PC bus run) referred to as “Les maréchaux“? This ring of roads, which totals 39 kilometres and connects the 52 portes de Paris, has different sections each named after a French field marshal. Lannes, Brune, Kellerman… Les boulevards des Maréchaux were originally the military route that gave access to the ramparts, built by Thiers in 1840, which circled Paris protecting it from invaders and sieges. In 1860 Paris annexed the towns on the periphery as well as the ramparts and glacis. A glacis is the open grassy slope on the outside of the ramparts – As with many military terms we use the same word in English, but it comes from Old French glacier ‘to slip’, from glace ‘ice’, based on Latin glacies. The glacis created a wide gap in the expanded urban landscape. The gap was gradually filled in by the ramshackle housing of the less fortunate. In the 1920s and 30s the ramparts were removed and the shanty area called «la zone» was rebuilt with low cost brick housing and sport facilities. The former military road was turned into boulevards and named for the field marshals such as Maréchal Brune.
Bonus #1: Did you notice that all but three of these field marshals for whom the “maréchaux” are named are from the same time period? The naming was done under Napoleon III’s reign, thus gives homage to the First Empire 1804-1814 which is under Napoléon the first. Of all the twenty six field marshals from the First Empire period, nineteen have a boulevard named after them. Amongst the seven without a boulevard four have a Parisian street, leaving only three without a tribute: Bernadotte and Marmont are considered traitors and Grouchy has been blamed for the defeat at Waterloo. It is probably just as well there is no Boulevard Grouchy! Imagine that for your address. There is however a Grouchy village in Normandy… oh my!
Bonus #2: There is one piece of the Thiers ramparts of 1840 remaining at the Poterne des Peupliers in the 13th arrondissement. A poterne is a passageway through the ramparts in this case allowing the River Bièvre to flow into Paris. Today the Bièvre is underground and traffic flows through the poterne.