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Belle Epoque villas


Belle époque

Belle Epoque Villas

The world fairs hosted by Paris in 1855, 1878, 1889 and 1900 were a source of inspiration for architects. At these international events, each nation displayed its excellence and expertise in the areas of trade, industry and the fine arts.

The industrialisation of their means of production led to the introduction of new materials, such as the architectural ceramics that decorate the walls of bourgeois houses.

Ceramic tiles were in vogue between 1880 and 1930. They allowed architects to move away from plain, single-coloured walls and decorate mansions in a more personal style that made a statement about the owner’s social standing.

Brault & Gilardoni and Hippolyte Boulenger & Compagnie are two leading manufacturers of architectural ceramics. Their factories are located in Choisy-le-Roi (Val-de-Marne) and their decorative ceramics can be seen on the facades of the seaside district of Mers-les-Bains.



The building plots stretched back from a narrow frontage, which led to tall villas of various styles being built next to one another by the same architect to form double and even triple dwellings.

The abundance of styles ranges from classical and neo-classical in the first housing estates built near the cliffs, to Anglo-Norman, neo-Renaissance, Art Nouveau and chalet-style, not forgetting the Moorish, Art Déco, Flemish, Medieval, Gothic, Oriental and Baroque features.

Roofing, loggias, inbuilt porches, bow windows, oriels, turrets, finely-crafted balcony railings, colourful facades, ceramics, etc.

Brick was the choice building material. Initially left exposed, the bricks were later painted with whitewash or another coating. Recent renovations have uncovered red and ochre bricks featuring decorative check patterns or geometrical shapes. The roofs are mostly covered in slate tiles.


The bow window, a very common architectural feature in England, is a kind of balcony with windows that juts out from the main building or sits under an arch in the wall, allowing the occupants to enjoy panoramic views whatever the weather.

Decorative ironwork can be seen on the railings of the bay windows and balconies, in nature-inspired patterns with flowers and scrolls that represent foliage.

Few windows, small dimensions, mosaics (Hélène & Paulette) and ogee-type sculptures (La Mouette), pilasters (former Grand-Hôtel des Bains), pediment (Chalet des Cycles), and a lion-head corbel (Les Huit Cylindres).

Heritage worth protecting

Carpenters, joiners, roofers, skilled metalworkers, housepainters and ceramicists work throughout the year to maintain and renovate the villas under the supervision of a state-approved architect who is in charge of safeguarding listed buildings such as those of the spa-town district. A building permit application must be submitted to the Urbanism & Heritage department of the town council ahead of any construction work.

Historical Monument protected areas:
Within 500 metres of the “RIP” villa on the esplanade, by prefectoral decree dated 14 09 2007.
Within 500 metres of the 19th-century boutiques on Rue Jules Barni, by prefectoral decree dated 19 03 2013.


The majority of the structures built for the world fairs were doomed to destruction, but a few were saved, such as a restaurant (1889) in Mers-les-Bains which was converted into a casino (the town’s fourth). Others include the Eiffel Tower (1889), the Grand Palais, the Petit Palais, the Alexandre III bridge (1900), and the Palais de Chaillot (1937), all in Paris.

La Fête des Baigneurs

Every year on the 4th weekend of July, the “sea-bathing festival” brings the Belle Epoque spirit back to Mers-les-Bains.

Out come the bunting and flags, the people of Mers wear dresses, suits and accessories, bathe in the sea in their costumes, ride in horse-drawn carriages and enjoy a show, an old-fashioned dance, exhibitions, games, costume competitions, etc.