The Early Modern City, 1450-1750

By Christopher R. Friedrichs | Go to book overview
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Boundaries and Buildings

For much of the seventeenth century, Paris was the largest city in Europe. Almost half a million people lived and worked in Paris, said their prayers in the city's churches and chapels, elbowed their way through its old crowded streets, or promenaded down its new esplanades. Some Parisians slept out of doors or died miserably in one of the city's great charity hospitals. Others spent their days in the salons of aristocratic hôtels, talking of the latest news from Fontainebleau or Versailles. Most Parisians lived and laboured in the high houses that lined the city's countless streets. All of them knew that they dwelt in one of the great urban centres of Europe.1

Zell am Harmersbach was also a city. Prettily situated on a stream in the German Black Forest, Zell never had more than a thousand inhabitants. The community was poorer in early modern times than some of the surrounding agricultural villages; prosperous peasants ignored with impunity their obligation to pay taxes which the city was supposed to collect. Yet there was no doubt of the community's urban credentials, for Zell enjoyed the confirmed and recognized status of a Free and Imperial City of the Holy Roman Empire.2

Zell was an extreme case, of course - but so was Paris. Few cities in early modern Europe were quite as small as the urban hamlet on the Harmersbach, and few were as large as Paris. These two cities, however, suggest the full range of sizes within which European cities fell.

The estimated population of Paris rose from 220,000 in 1600 to 430,000 in 1650 and 510,000 in 1700: De Vries, European Urbanization, 275. For descriptions of seventeenth-century Paris, see Bernard, Emerging City, and Ranum, Paris.
Kähni, "'Reichsstädte der Ortenau'", 59.


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