Napoleon and urbanism in the 19th century

Unfinished projects

The example of Aachen

In many cities around Europe, only a few buildings could be realised during the relatively short Napoleonic imperial period. However, an architectural language emerged in the first decade of the 19th century known as the 'Empire Style’. Many architects who became active after 1815 had studied at the 'Ecole centrale des Travaux publics' or 'Ecole polytechnique' in Paris, the most important European building academy for the development of contemporary architecture around 1800.

Several projects were considered, especially in Italy, such as the Grand César Garden in Rome or the Public Garden of Specola in Naples. However, Aachen's prominent position in Germany, especially because of its connection with Charlemagne, led to a global urban planning concept with great emphasis on new representative buildings. Bathing palaces, cultural facilities and new wide promenades were to make the spa town of Aachen attractive once again for bathers, after bathing had almost stopped in the second half of the 18th century. The city streets were to be straightened by aligning them in a regular and uniform manner, destroying the medieval urban axes.

The French government wanted a new prefecture building that would house both the prefect's flat and the office and archives of the department's administration. To do so, the former Capuchin monastery of Egulier was demolished, and the foundation stone was laid on 15 August 1813, Napoleon's birthday. When the Prussian troops entered Aachen, the foundations of the Prefecture building were still being laid. In 1824 the site was sold and shortly afterwards residential buildings were constructed there.

Another important aspect was the thermal baths of Aachen. Bathing activities declined in the city following the French occupation in 1792. Baths were being used mainly for medical rehabilitation of soldiers. In 1811, Napoleon ordered the reconstruction, modernisation and enlargement of the bathing districts. 'La Maison Thermale d’Aix-La-Chapelle' was one of the most expensive construction projects and included a building with flats, restaurants, a café, a literary cabinet, 20 baths, bathing cabins and showers. This thermal palace was to be built in the area of today's municipal theatre.