The notion of heritage - Common good of the Nation
Revolution and "vandalism"
The emergence of the notion of heritage in France began at the end of the 18th century in the wake of the Revolution. The rampage of emblematic monuments and the systematic destruction of the works of art they contain are the subject of virulent criticism . The term "vandalism" appeared in 1793 to denounce these destructions. At the same time, the property confiscated from the Church, then from the nobility and the Crown, acquires the status of "national property": they are the patrimony of the Nation which now has the responsibility to choose what deserves to be transmitted to future generations. However, many monuments are sold, transformed into warehouses or slaughtered for the sale of their materials.
Creation of a protection policy
After the upheavals of the Revolution and the Empire, the Restoration, from 1815 onwards, was concerned to rebuild a collective identity. The reconstruction of national memory is based on two emerging disciplines: archaeology, first of all, but also the study of ancient monuments promoted by the "antique dealers" (we do not yet speak of art historians). The creation, in 1830, of a post of inspector general of historic monuments reflects this desire and affirms the emergence of a national heritage policy. From 1837, the Commission des Monuments Historiques assisted the inspector general; it gave an opinion on the choice of monuments to be protected and on the nature of the work to be undertaken. A doctrine on restoration is gradually being developed.
Selection of "historical monuments"
French monumental heritage has suffered as much from revolutionary vandalism as from the lack of maintenance that followed. In the early 19th century, many remarkable buildings were in alarming condition. The first task of the inspector general is to define the priorities of intervention: in each department is drawn up the list of architectural monuments requiring the assistance of the State for the realization of urgent repairs. This selection work led in 1840 to a first list of 1090 "historical monuments"; this list will be revised and enriched in 1842, 1848, 1862 and 1875. The Second Republic, the Second Empire and then the Third Republic confirmed the service of historical monuments in its missions: from the middle of the 19th century the conservation of monuments of art and history was the subject of a broad consensus.
"A law would suffice, let it be done" (V. Hugo, 1825)
Until 1887, the protection of historical monuments is limited to the "classification" of buildings on a list published by decree, but does not rely on any legislative text: even "classified", remarkable buildings belonging to private owners or municipalities can be demolished. The protests of the historical monuments department did not prevent the demolition of monuments such as the Hôtel de la Trémoïlle in Paris (1841), the Hôtel-Dieu d'Orléans (1846), the Gallo-Roman ramparts of Dax (between 1858 and 1876) or those, medieval, of Dinan (1881). The first Historical Monuments Act was drafted in 1877 and finally promulgated on 30 March 1887. It is consolidated by the law of 31 December 1913, which is still in force and incorporated into the French Heritage Code in 2004.
Although impoverished by revolutionary devastations, by mercantile speculators and especially by classical restaurateurs, France is still rich in French monuments. We must stop the hammer that mutilates the face of the country. A law would suffice if it were to be made … There are two things in a monument: its use and its beauty. Its use belongs to the owner, its beauty to everyone. It is therefore beyond his right to destroy it
Victor Hugo, War on Demolition, 1825