Petit Palais

Paris, France | C.1900

Photo Credit: Tom Fake

With 83,000 exhibitors unveiling inventions that aimed to change the world, all eyes were on Paris as it hosted the grandest exposition yet: the 1900 World’s Fair. From diesel engines to talking films and escalators to the ferris wheel, the Paris Exposition was a window into the future. And in the midst of this undertaking, Charles Girault saw an opportunity to make a name for himself by leaving an imprint on the Paris cityscape forever.

In the late 1890s, the City of Paris designed a competition for its architects, offering the opportunity to either renovate the existing Palais de l’Industrie from the 1855 World’s Fair or tear down and build from scratch. Girault threw his hat in the ring, opting for a teardown and a fresh start, showcasing what French architects had to offer the 20th century.

His vision came out on top, and two and a half years later, the Petit Palais was born. The “little” palace took up an entire city block, tipping its cap to traditional architecture with an embrace of everything modern.

Much to the dismay of organizers, most of the newly unveiled architecture of the Fair was received… shall we say… poorly. But the Petit Palais? A diamond in the rough, hailed as a jewel with the “power to educate the mind while it pleases the senses.”

Today, the palace still stands, its façades facing the River Seine and Avenue des Champs-Élysées. It’s now home to the city’s Museum of Fine Arts. So don’t expect much privacy while you’re there — but as you stroll through the grounds, take a minute to imagine what it would have been like to be among the first to see the structure. One of fifty million visitors who came to Paris in 1900, eager for their chance to look through the window that would show them a whole new world…

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