Napoleon and urbanism in the 19th century

Staying healthy

New facilities for body and soul

The concept of public utility had already appeared implicitly in the cultural elaboration of the Revolution. Attention to practicability of the city streets, especially the extension of the periphery to accelerate traffic and reduce the times of crossing the cities, characterised all the Napoleonic plans and demonstrates the changed sensitivity of the time for functional aspects. This implied in some cases the need for destruction and remodelling. For example, Joseph Bonaparte, called by the people of Madrid 'Pepe Plazuelas', had many churches and convents in the Spanish capital demolished to make way for the construction of public squares such as the Plaza real and Plaza de Oriente.

The control of Nature and expansion of public green spaces

The new conception of the city also implied an unprecedented agreement with nature and, at the same time, the guarantee of physical and social hygiene for the community.

'Promenades' became an element of primary importance. They required a lot of labour to realise them, but created a healthy environment, contrasting with the malarial swamps surrounding cities. In Rome, the Villa Napoleone, the Garden of the Great Caesar and the walk of the Capitol are highlights of the Napoleonic urban planning program (1809-14). In some cities, especially in France, the 'promenades' remained until the time of the late 19th century. They were the most important public green spaces, where it was possible to sit and enjoy shady areas.

In Croatia, Auguste de Marmont, the military governor of Dalmatia, strived to embellish the cities by creating free spaces where the torn down city walls used to be. In 1807, the French administration in Dalmatia destroyed the ancient fortifications of Split. General Marmont ordered the planting of trees, creating a large green area and the first public park in the city. It covered the stream that flowed nearby, and sewers and drainage were built for wastewater. An obelisk in honour of Marmont had been erected in the middle of the park.

Thermal baths: healthy and pleasant

In Italy, Elisa Baciocchi, Napoleon’s sister, considered thermal and sea waters as a symbol of well-being and health. This led to the creation of the Bagni di Lucca, a spa town with a park full of tree-lined avenues and gardens. The town was embellished with well-maintained urban furniture. Thanks to a public-private partnership, facilities such as thermal baths and casinos were built to provide health and entertainment. Thanks to her, Bagni di Lucca became a reference point for social life. Another spa town was also developed, Viareggio, where her sister Paolina later settled, which became the first seaside town in Tuscany.

Cemeteries: eternal rest outside city walls

During the period of Enlightenment, cremation was reintroduced in Europe and new health rules concerning the management of corpses and cemeteries did improve, although slowly, the ancient customs of the population.

Colored engraving of the Pere-Lachaise Cemetery, seen from the Gothic Chapel. The cemetery is in the foreground, the city in the background, separated by a stripe of vegetation.

In 1804, the so-called Edict of Saint Cloud issued by Napoleon standardised the cemetery's rules in France and in the countries of the Napoleonic orbit, such as Italy. This edict had hygienic and ideological motivations. The management of existing cemeteries was assigned to the public authorities and no longer to the Church. It was also forbidden, barring exceptions, to be buried in city places and within churches.

The edict established that tombs should be placed outside the city walls, in sunny and airy places, and that all tombs should be treated equally to avoid any form of discrimination. For the illustrious deceased, a commission of magistrates decided whether to sculpt an epitaph on the tomb. Among the notorious cemeteries founded under Napoleon, one can think about Le Père Lachaise in Paris or the monumental cemetery of Brescia known as Vantiniano.