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Two Fake Parisian Cities

I've spent half a century writing for radio and print (mostly print). I hope to still be tapping the keys as I take my last breath.

The so-called City of Light on the River Seine is one of the world's greatest communities; it attracts 30 million tourists a year. Two attempts have been made to duplicate it, one as a means of protecting it, the other as a form of flattery.

A bomb crater in Paris. The French had an ambitious plan to build a fake Paris to misdirect German bombs.

A bomb crater in Paris. The French had an ambitious plan to build a fake Paris to misdirect German bombs.

Paris Built to Deceive

On August 30, 1914, Ferdinand von Hiddessen flew his flimsy Rumpler-Taube monoplane over Paris. After circling for a while, he dropped three or four six-pound bombs by hand. Each was attached to a banner that read “The German Army stands before the gates of Paris. You have no choice but to surrender.” This was the first time such an attack on a city had been made and it caused some consternation.

Later, bombs were dropped on the city from airships and they were becoming increasingly deadly; an attack in January 1916 killed 24 people.

The Germans changed tactics in 1917 and started bombing London; in one raid, 162 people died. Parisians feared the newly built Gotha plane, which could carry 14, 60 pound bombs, would soon be unleashed on Paris. This got people in the French War Office to thinking.

The Gotha warplane brought terror from the skies.

The Gotha warplane brought terror from the skies.

Building a Fake Paris

The outrageous idea that bubbled to the surface among military planners was to deceive German pilots into dropping their bombs where they could do no harm. They contacted the Italian electrical engineer Fernand Jacopozzi, a man who had worked on Paris International Exposition in 1900, and commissioned him to build a sham Paris.

The plan rested on the primitive methods of navigation used by pilots in World War I. They had no electronic aids, and had to find their way to targets using only compasses and by following features on the ground such as railway lines and rivers.

The River Seine that meanders through Paris follows several twists and turns after it leaves the centre of the city. Jacopozzi was instructed to build a duplicate city in an area of woodland around one of these bends in the Seine in the suburb of Maisons-Laffitte.

In addition, a phony industrial area was to go up Vaires-sur-Marne, about 10 miles east of the capital. In the northeast, 11 miles from the city centre, the neighbourhood of Saint-Denis would be recreated in Villepinte.

Historian Gavin Mortimer (BBC History Extra) writes that “Jacopozzi began his work at Villepinte in 1918, constructing a replica of the Gare de l’Est railway station—one of Paris’ busiest—and even fabricating a moving train. Drawing on his years of study of electrical lighting, the Italian used wooden boards for the train’s carriages, and for the interior lights he rigged up an ingenious system of lights on a conveyor belt. From the air it appeared that the train was moving.”

Through the clever use of lighting, Jacopozzi made it look as though the sham factories he built were belching out smoke and furnace flames.

Did the Deception Work?

The idea that the dummy construction could fool pilots into dropping their bombs on decoys seems far-fetched. However, by 1918, French anti-aircraft defences had improved so the German aviators were forced into night raids. With the ingenuity of Jacopozzi and the absence of night vision technology, the flyers could become confused and drop their munitions on meaningless targets. But, we'll never know.

The war started to go badly for Germany in the late summer of 1918 and they ceased dropping bombs on Paris. By November, the war was over.

Paris in Tianducheng

China has a long history of copying products and intellectual property from the West, so why not some of its architecture?

Outside the city of Hangzhou (population, 12 million) in northeastern China, developers have built a replica of Paris. It has a scaled-down Eiffel Tower, Versailles Gardens, Parisian-style boulevards, a fountain from the Luxembourg Gardens, and neoclassical apartment buildings that would not look out of place on the Rue de Rivoli. It opened for business in 2010.

Author Bianca Bosker created the word “duplitecture” to describe the business of copying architecture from a different location.

Tianducheng is supposed to house 10,000 people. It also attracts a large number of Chinese tourists who want to see this Disney-like knockoff; it saves the expense of a 6,000-mile trip to see the real thing. Visitors can stroll along the Champs Elysées toward the Arc de Triomphe, while enjoying the ambience of vendors selling steamed dumplings and residents practicing tai chi.

Alesha Bradford and Jarryd Salem are seasoned travel writers who visited the so-called “Paris of the East” in 2021. They were underwhelmed by a city that only had 10 percent of its expected population in residence. They added “The streets are unoccupied, shop fronts have been boarded up, iron railings are rusted over, and that famous fountain is bone dry.”

More Duplicate Cities

Building mock copies of communities from around the world has become trendy in China.

  • Thames Town outside Shanghai is supposed to resemble a British market town. There's an English-style pub (warm beer anyone?), church (in officially atheist China), cobbled streets, and red telephone boxes, both of which have largely disappeared from the British landscape.
  • There's a representation of Jackson Hole, Wyoming that a Route 66 runs through. It's in mountains two hours north of Beijing and is a resort for well-heeled visitors. It is a project completed in 2006 by the The Beijing Resplendency Great Exploit Real Estate Company.
  • Gaoqiao, or Holland Town, has windmills and tulips and copycat versions of famous Dutch buildings. It's part of a project called One City, Nine Towns that was launched in 2001 and has seen imitations of communities in Germany, Scandinavia, Italy, and Spain appear.
  • Chinese developers have also recreated London's Tower Bridge (below), but they gave it four turrets instead of the original's two. As with many of these copycat structures in China, Suzhou's Tower Bridge has found a major purpose as the backdrop for wedding photos.

Bonus Factoids

  • There are many scaled-down “Eiffel” Towers around the world trying to emulate the original, which is 1,083 feet tall. The Texas Eiffel Tower (65 feet) was erected in 1993 in the city of (where else?) Paris, Texas. It has a giant, shiny, red Stetson on its top. The Blackpool Tower (518 feet) in England went up in 1894. The Window of the World theme park in Shenzhen has China's second Eiffel Tower (354 feet). The third Chinese Eiffel Tower (525 feet) is in Macao, a city built on gambling. So, surely, Las Vegas should have an Eiffel Tower, and it does, the Paris Las Vegas Eiffel Tower (540 feet) right there on the famous Strip. Bragging rights for bigness go to Tokyo. Serving as a communications tower and observation platform the Japanese capital's Eiffel Tower stands at 1,094 feet, beating the original by 11 feet.
  • Journalist Rosecrans Baldwin caught the Francophile bug in 2012 and decided to visit every community in the United States called Paris—all 25 of them. In Paris, Kentucky he found, “a classic American small town skidding downhill . . .” Paris, Texas we've already had a brush with; it's here that Baldwin found a sign that reads “Bonjour Y’All.” In Paris, Idaho he discovered the town's name has nothing to do with the French capital. It is a mangled spelling of “A land surveyor, Fred T. Perris, [who] named the settlement after himself in 1863.”
  • There's a small village in central England called Whitwell (population 41) with a pub called the Noel Arms. It was to this hostelry that the writer's father went for a convivial pot of ale with his best friend. In 1980, the habitués of the pub wrote to the Mayor of Paris, Jacques Chirac, who became the French president, to propose twinning the tiny village with mighty Paris. Eventually, the reply of “Non. Pas Possible” arrived. “Too late,” said the pub's regulars, “We've unilaterally declared our twinning.”


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Rupert Taylor