Essential Architecture-  Architecture in the Da Vinci Code

The Champs-Élysées

The Champs-Elysées (literally the "Elysian fields") is a broad avenue in the French capital, Paris. Its full name is actually "avenue des Champs-Elysées". With its cinemas, cafés, and luxury specialty shops, the Champs-Elysées is one of the most famous streets in the world. The name refers to the Elysian Fields, the place of the blessed in Greek mythology (i.e. heaven). The Champs-Elysées is also called "la plus belle avenue du monde" or "the most beautiful avenue in the world" in French.

The avenue runs for three km through the 8th arrondissement in northwestern Paris, from the Place de la Concorde in the east, with its obelisk (illustration, right), to the Place Charles de Gaulle (formerly the Place de l'Étoile) in the west, location of the Arc de Triomphe. The Champs-Elysées forms part of the Axe historique.

The historical axis, looking westOne of the principal tourist destinations in Paris, the lower part of the Champs-Elysées is bordered by greenery (Marigny Square) and by buildings such as the Théâtre Marigny and the Grand Palais (containing the Palais de la Découverte). The Élysée Palace is a little bit to the north, not on the avenue itself. Farther up to the west, the avenue is lined by cinemas, theaters, cafés and restaurants (most notably Fouquet's), and luxury specialty shops.


The Champs-Elysées in 1890The Champs-Elysées were originally fields and market gardens, until 1616, when Marie de Medici decided to extend the garden axis of the Palais des Tuileries with an avenue of trees. As late as 1716, Guillaume de L'Isle's map of Paris shows that a short stretch of roads and fields and market garden plots still separated the grand axe of the Tuileries gardens from the planted "Avenue des Thuilleries", which was punctuated by a circular basin where the Rond Point stands today; already it was planted with some avenues of trees radiating from it that led to the river through woods and fields. In 1724, the Tuileries garden axis and the avenue were connected and extended, leading beyond the Place de l'Étoile; the "Elysian Fields" were open parkland flanking it, soon filled in with bosquets of trees formally planted in straight rank and file. To the east the unloved and neglected "Vieux Louvre" (as it is called on the maps), still hemmed in by buildings, was not part of the axis. In a map of 1724, the Grande Avenue des Champs-Elisée stretches west from a newly-cleared Place du Pont Tournant soon to be renamed for Louis XV and now the Place de la Concorde.

By the late 1700s, the Champs-Elysées had become a fashionable avenue; the bosquet plantings on either side had thickened enough to be given formal rectangular glades (cabinets de verdure). The gardens of houses built along the Faubourg St-Honoré backed onto the formal bosquets. The grandest of them was the Élysée Palace. A semi-circle of housefronts now defined the north side of the Rond Point. Queen Marie Antoinette drove with her friends and took music lessons at the grand Hôtel de Crillon on the Place Louis XV. The avenue from the Rond Point to the Etoile was built up during the Empire. The Champs-Elysées itself became city property in 1828, and footpaths, fountains, and gas lighting were added. Over the years, the avenue has undergone numerous transitions, most recently in 1993, when the sidewalks were widened.

Champs-Elysées has impressed people far and wide. Kings of Thailand had the main street of Bangkok constructed to resemble Champs-Elysées.


The Champs-Elysées (seen from the Place de l'Etoile) are busy even in the late evening; cinemas, night clubs and restaurants attract a clientele. On the right, the Drugstore Publicis, open late, sells many wares, including upscale take-away food.In 1860, the merchants along the avenue joined together to form the Syndicat d'Initiative et de Défense des Champs-Elysées, changed to an association in 1916 headed by Louis Vuitton to promote the avenue. In 1980, the group changed its name to the Comité des Champs-Elysées. It is the oldest standing committee in Paris. The committee has always dedicated itself to seek public projects to enhance the avenue's luxe atmosphere, and to lobby the authorities for extended business hours. Even today, the committee has approval over the addition of new business to the avenue.

Because of the high rents, few people live on the Champs-Elysées; the upper storeys tend to be occupied by offices. Rents are particularly high on the north side of the avenue, because of better exposure to sunlight. The splendid architecture of the grandiose "Champs-Elysées" is admired by many people. It is located right next to the Presidential palace with its rounded gate and the "Grand Palais" that was erected in the late 19th century. While walking among the gardens and tree-lined promenades one could even encounter an open-air marionette theatre for children, a French tradition popular through the ages.

Every year on Bastille Day, the largest military parade in Europe passes down the Champs-Elysées, reviewed by the President of the Republic (see our multimedia content on the parade).

The Champs-Elysées is also the traditional end of the last stage of the Tour de France.

Huge and spontaneous gatherings occasionally take place on the Champs-Elysées in celebration of popular events, such as the new year's eve, or in 1998 when France won the FIFA World Cup.

NEIGHBORHOOD: Champs-Élysées.
MÉTRO: Champs-Élysées-Clemenceau, Franklin-D.-Roosevelt, George V, Étoile.