SOPHIS – Why Didn’t Paris Burn (In the 17th and 18th Centuries)?

Date/Time: Fri 17 Mar / 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

Location: Monash University, Menzies Building, Room E561


Most large European cities experienced at least one devastating fire in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Paris did not. Although individual buildings burned, there was nothing like the Great Fire of London or the conflagrations that destroyed large swathes of Amsterdam, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Vienna, Lisbon, and many smaller towns. Yet in Paris too, the central quarters were crowded, with many wooden houses. People relied on naked flames for heating, cooking, and lighting, and for most industrial processes.

Why didn’t Paris burn? I suggest that the answer lies in a combination of very different factors. Paris enjoyed certain advantages in climate and geology, which combined with changes in building materials and in urban regulation, with surprisingly effective forms of fire-fighting, and with a particular form of economic development, to avoid fire disasters. This analysis sheds like on the changing nature of urban fire both in Paris and in other cities.

David Garrioch is Professor of History at Monash University, Australia, and author of The Huguenots of Paris and the Coming of Religious Freedom, Cambridge University Press, 2014, and The Making of Revolutionary Paris, University of California Press, 2002.

For further information, please contact
Associate Professor Julie Kalman
990 52161

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