Three centuries of maps in the Ile-de-France - Volume 2

Cahiers, no. 120

31 janvier 1998Contact

In its constant concern to gain a better understanding of realities in the Ile-de-France, the IAU îdF has carried out an extensive study of maps of the region, covering a period of three centuries. The results are presented in two special issues of the Cahiers.

A photograph at a particular moment in time

In this issue no. 120 of the Cahiers de l’IAURIF, we move on to a more thematic approach. We either take a look at the history of a particular area (forest, park) or an important achievement (e.g. the development of the railway network) and see how it has evolved, or else we single out a particular aspect of that history. As for the planning of towns or of important natural spaces such as Saint-Germain Forest, this Cahier helps us to understand how the planner’s intentions are shown on maps. To a person who is able and willing to read these maps, they have a great deal to tell us, for the lands, the vagaries of history, the changes that have taken place, and so on, often appear more clearly on these maps than in a photograph. The cartographer chooses what is to be shown on his map.

The maps enable us to reconcile the archaeologist and the town planner, the historian and the visionary of tomorrow’s city

It is up to those in charge in full awareness of the facts to respect the balance that has been maintained over the centuries; it is up to them, at a time when new facilities are becoming increasingly necessary to preserve the layers of memory that lie buried in the ground and or in earlier developments. The maps thus enable us to reconcile the archaeologist and the town planner, the historian and the visionary of tomorrow’s city. Development, may, as a rule, be understood though its important achievements, some of which, two or three centuries after work was begun, are still in their gestation period or in the process of accomplishment. We thus look at the questions of new towns, the hearts of old cities, the building of important infrastructure (roads, railways, and waterways). This Cahier provides a different approach, through time and the marks man has left on town and country, and above all-because the material is easier to analyse-on paper, i.e. though the various background papers.

The old maps, plans and land registers have a great deal to teach us

Thus, in all these pages, we are busily searching for what we should call the ‘auxiliary sciences’ of development, i.e. any science that throws new light on or gives a new slant to social history. The old maps, plans and land registers (cadastres) have a great deal to teach us, not only through what they show, but also through the things they do not show and those they merely hint at. Studying three centuries of such documents enriches our understanding of our region: we see, of course, how it was apprehended by our ancestors, but even more, we gain a better understanding of the logic that lay behind their development projects. Indeed, the very fact of giving priority to hunting grounds, roads or even arable land is interesting. Such preoccupations are reflected in different ways in the development of planning and help to give us a better understanding of its true value and perhaps even help us to avoid making certain mistakes ourselves.
The articles in this issue no. 120 of the Cahiers de l’IAURIF are not only very diverse, they are also complementary. The main thread lies in the great wisdom of the centuries, reminding us that, whatever the grandeur and scale of the project, the specialist in national and regional development does not begin with a blank page: he has at this disposal a whole notebook with closely written pages-a true set of specifications- the first lines of which were set down by nature, before the rest was written by the generations that have preceded us.


Versailles is an inevitable subjects in any approach to old maps of the Ile de France. After Paris, it is no doubt the French city that is most familiar to us through plans and pictures.
© Blum (Emmanuel), IAU îdF
Breteuil castle. Under the authority of the ministry of culture, with the aid of the Agence des espaces verts (AEV), works were undertaken in the garden and the park, which had been listed as an ancient monument in 1973.
© Arthus-Bertrand (Yann) IAU îdF
Between 1860 and the end of the century, there was a spectacular increase in population.
© IAU îdF
In dissociating distance in terms of time from distance in terms of the number of kilometres the railways played a very important part in the birth of the modern phenomenon of suburbs.
© IAU îdF
The great floods of 1910 caused a veritable shock. River development was completely rethought with the principal aim of reducing floods.
© IAU îdF
The development plan for the Paris Region, studied under the direction of Henri Prost and published in 1934, was the first real town planning project on a metropolitan scale in the Ile de France.
Source : Académie d’architecture, © Académie d’architecture

Études apparentées