Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Paris in the Spring, Part 4: The Exposition Universelle of 1889

Happy Bastille Day, Everyone!

On July 14th, 1789, Paris citizens rose up and seized the Bastille. It was a prison that held few prisoners at the time, mostly just a handful of political offenders. Even so, it was a significant act for the protesters, as the Bastille was a symbol of oppression of the masses by the Aristocracy.

Think of Bastille Day as an Independence Day celebration for the French. 

The French Revolution began with the fall of the Bastille, but it was years to come before true freedom was won for French citizens of every social class.

It's fitting to look at the centennial (100 year) celebration of this event, the Paris World's Fair of 1889. It was a gathering from among nations, a huge exposition of such scale and scope that it boggles the mind, even today. The celebration was in commemoration of the Revolution's beginning, and thus it was scheduled to last from May 6th, 1889 to November 2nd, 1889.  It was a six month long party. With much planning beforehand, the French opened up this event to the rest of the world, allowing other governments to set up exhibits alongside theirs in a celebration of human progress.

Postcard of the Paris Exposition of 1889

Surprisingly, a few governments still using the monarchy system declined to participate; England, Sweden and Germany, to name a few.

The rest of the world, however, was thrilled to participate. There were exhibits set up numerous and diverse nations. Some showed houses of typical nations, like Africa, India, Mexico, South America, Serbia, Egypt, and Indonesian countries. Model life sized homes were built on the grounds showing the unique architecture from distant lands. The buildings created for this massive celebration to house the exhibits were truly amazing. Not only were there displays homes from many nations in contemporary times on display, but also from different eras of history--it featured homes of the Vikings, Renaissance Italy, and Romanesque and Medieval architecture. Scroll to bottom of page to find a slideshow link depicting these wonders! 

postcard of Galerie de Machines. 

For example of the extraordinary architecture on display, look at the photo of the Galerie de Machines above. It was a huge building constructed to house the new mechanical inventions of the age and was made of Iron and Glass. It was reported to be at least a couple of football fields in length. This massive building housed exhibits by Thomas Edison, (over 400 of his alone) and Gottlieb Daimler, and countless inventors of the time. Daimler presented a smaller model of an automobile that featured a gas engine. Many people thought his model was a toy, not realizing it would soon replace the horse and carriage.

By the way, for those of you who are avid historical romance readers, and would like to read an awesome story about a hero trying to compete with Daimler in creating the first gas engine, (a Victorian Romance), I highly recommend Juliana Gray's book,  A Lady Never Lies.  This book is part of a trilogy, and it rocks. I've read this book two times, and would read it again, that's how good it is. The trilogy is awesome, but I mention this first book as it features a unique, ginger haired inventor hero who is trying to compete against Daimler and others in the invention of the automobile discussed above. It takes place in Italy, not France. Finn, the hero, is English, and is holed up in a remote Italian castle to work secretly on his horseless carriage. Of course there are others wanting to stop his progress, adding to the suspense. The lady in the book helps him and they have a lively romance, meeting in his garage and trying to avoid detection by the other guests at the castle. Those of you who regularly visit this blog know I often recommend books I've fallen in love with to my readers.
A Lady Never Lies on Amazon

And back to the World's Fair of 1889:

The 80 buildings constructed on the grounds for this extraordinary event were lovely beyond compare. They were elaborate, with no detail spared. This was NOT your typical county fair experience with aluminum buildings housing exhibits and livestock. This was cultured elegance, a jewel of the Belle Epoque', an experience unlike any other for those attending. The buildings were called Palaces or Pavilions--as in the Palace of Diverse Industries, which featured jewelry and fashion exhibits from around the world, among other items.

The fair featured a live street in Cairo, sort of like a living museum experience we see today. It was an Egyptian bazaar taking up one whole street of the fairgrounds, where Egyptian merchants dressed in native costumes waited upon fair goers who strolled the market booths to purchase exotic items from that nation. It was said that people felt as if they were actually visiting Cairo, as the exhibit was flawless in depicting the market street. You could ride a donkey for a fee, and buy lamb kabobs or other Egyptian treats.

All of this Victorian grandeur was centered around the newly completed Eiffel Tower. The tower was built for this Paris Exhibition, and was not intended to remain standing beyond 1900. The government agreed to keep the tower up for this fair in 1889 and then for the next one in 1900. After that, it was supposed to be torn down. Lucky for all of us, they didn't destroy the Eiffel Tower as they originally intended.

The tower was painted red, yes, a bright red. It had different shades of red for each of the five platforms. It was also festooned with the newly modern electric lights, thousands of them to light the tower up in the night. The fair was open until 11pm, mind you. At dusk the tower was lit up and also a spectacular display of fountains were illuminated to impress the gathered visitors. The tower boasted a restaurant on the first platform, complete with an orchestra playing to the patrons. It cost .40 cents to go up to the first platform, where the restaurant was, and .60 cents to go up to the second platform. The tower featured newly invented Otis elevators to go up to the top of the tower, but they were not working properly until  May 26th. (The Fair opened May 6th, 1889). A small cannon was set up on the top platform, and it was fired every day at specific times during the exhibition to let all of Paris know the party was still going on.

Now then, I've tried to describe this incredible event, quite inadequately, I'm afraid. The sumptuousness and visual beauty of it is impossible to convey in words. I did try in my latest novel, Some Enchanted Dream, to depict the fair as the time traveling hero and heroine visit it and share a few kisses amid the stuffy Victorian crowd.

Thanks for joining me to celebrate Bastille Day. If you are intrigued by the stunning visual beauty of this historic fair, you can find a youtube video slideshow showing the expo grounds. I've included it here, and it is also in the back of my novel for readers to enjoy.

Paris 1889 exp slide show

1 comment:

Francine Howarth said...

Lovely article, and amply describes the event!

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