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Paris history covers 2000 fabulous years: Roman Lutetia, Middle Ages Paris, Sun King, French revolution, Napoléon, Eiffel Tower, 1889 world exhibition. Many churches, monasteries and old districts have been destroyed during the French Revolution and the Haussmann redesign time. But, unlike many European cities, the city has been preserved from massive destructions during the 20th century World Wars. The history of Paris greatly helps understand the city today. Paris facts.

Paris history in Roman times

Lutetia, as the city was then called, became Roman in 52 BC (before Christ). Lutetia was a prosperous town of about 8 000 inhabitants until 280 when Lutetia was first destroyed by barbarians invading the Roman Empire.

During the roman times, Lyon was the capital of France, then named the Gaul. The only remains of these times are the Roman Baths in Musée de Cluny, the Museum of Middle Ages (web site, Paris map) and the Lutetia Arenas (Paris map). The greatest Roman monuments in France are in Provence: the Pont du Gard, the Nimes Arenas and the Orange Theater.

Paris history: Cluny roman baths
Cluny roman baths date back to around 100 A.C

Paris detailed history in Roman times

The Paris site shows traces of human occupation dating back to the Neolithic period. It has developed itself thanks to its favorable position in the meanders of the Seine River, protected by hills (Montagne Sainte-Geneviève, Montmartre, Belleville) and swamps. It also benefited from forests and game plains (the Grenelle plain).

The Gallic tribe of the Parisii was first sheltered in an oppidum built on one of the many islands in the river linked to the shore by several bridges. The amphorae of wine prized by the Gallic aristocracy already attest to Gaul's flourishing trade with Italy. The gold coinage testifies to the wealth of this tribe. In campaign against the Gauls, Caesar summons in 53 BC. AD an assembly of chiefs in Lutetia (Caesar, De bello gallico, VI, 3) but the Parisii chose to ally themselves with Vercingetorix and confront the Roman legions of Titus Labienus. Camulogen commanded the Gauls and lost his life. The Parisii were defeated; town and bridges were set on fire.

After the Roman conquest, the city was limited to a military camp then took its real rise under Augustus, favored by the Pax Romana and the river exchanges. It adopted the configuration of the Roman city and had all the spaces and monuments necessary for a political, economic and cultural capital : the orthonormal plan according to a grid whose zero point would be located on the highest point of the Montagne Sainte-Geneviève (where Le Panthéon stands today), the north / south axis connecting the left bank of the Seine to the right bank via Ile de la Cité, a forum (at the top of Boulevard Saint-Michel), thermal baths (Thermes de Cluny), a theater (under the current Lycée Saint-Louis), an amphitheater (the arenas of Lutèce) away from the ancient city, an aqueduct to ensure the water needs. Lutèce was then a flourishing town welcoming between 8,000 and 10,000 inhabitants. It ensured exchanges with Lyon and the north of Europe.

Its urbanization decreased when the troubles got more numerous under the pressure of the Alamans, Franks and Saxons from the second half of the 3rd century. Ramparts were erected on Ile de la CIté, warlike fortifications in response to danger. The command of the war fleet moved to Lutèce. The inhabitants entrenched themselves on the right bank and abandonned the left bank.

It was still in Lutetia that the Emperor Julian, very popular in Gaul, was proclaimed Augustus in 360. Its officer, the historian Ammien Marcellin (Histoires, XV, 11, 3) named it Lutèce, place des Parisii. At the beginning of the 4th century, a military terminal mentions the civitas Par (isiorum) (the city of the Parisii): Lutèce became Paris.

Paris history in high Middle Ages

With 200 000 inhabitants in 1328, Paris, then the capital of France, was by far the most populous city of Europe. By comparison, London in 1300 had 80 000 inhabitants.

From the 10th century until 1358, the French Kings had their Palace on Ile de la Cité. La Conciergerie is what remains from the Palais de la Cité. They then moved to the Louvre, a defensive fortress at the time. Faithful Parisians had already built Saint-Denis, Notre-Dame Cathedral and Sainte-Chapelle. Monks had established the prestigious Saint-Germain-des-Prés Abbey and Saint Geneviève Abbey.

The Sorbonne was established since 1253 in the left bank as a prominent European university. Sorbonne history.

The house of Nicolas Flamel, at 52, rue de Montmorency, is the oldest in the city. It was built in 1407 by Nicolas Flamel a scrivener and alchemist who claimed that he had discovered the Philosopher's Stone which turns lead into gold, and that he and his wife Pernelle had achieved immortality.

Check the city in 1380, the city in 1500 or download the fabulous 1550 city plan with many monuments visible today.

The Clock Tower of La Conciergerie
The Clock Tower of La Conciergerie completed in 1353

Paris detailed history in high Middle Ages

During the late Middle Ages, the city expanded on both banks of the river. King Phillipe Augustus asked to pave the streets towards the end of the 12th century. He also asked for the construction of the Halles market and the creation of fountains in 1182. These initiatives fostered commercial activity in the city. The population of Paris experienced a significant increase during the late Middle Ages. It reached 200,000 inhabitants around 1347, while the city had only 25,000 in 1180. The city indeed experienced a significant intellectual, political and economic development.

The city's development was greatly helped by the Seine river. It divided medieval Paris into three parts. The Ile de la Cité (center) formed the political center, the Sorbonne University was in the left bank, and the popular city and merchants were in the right bank. The three zones complemented each other and developed around scholars, merchants, as well as political and religious powers.

The development of the city was highly depended on the will of the monarchy. The Palais de la Cité was inhabited until the time of King Charles V. In the east, King Charles V built the Hôtel Saint-Pol. The Hôtel des Tournelles served as the residence of Kings Charles VIII and Henry II.

Paris had its own saints such as Saint Denis, Sainte Geneviève and Saint Marcel. The cathedral of Notre-Dame was the heart of religious life in Paris. Its first parishes were Saint-Germain l´Auxerrois, Saint-Julien and Saint-Gervais. Great abbeys such as Sainte-Geneviève and Saint-Marcel were born during this period.

Paris history in XVIIth century

With 400 000 inhabitants, the city was the most populous in the world. Under Louis XIV, also named Sun King, Paris extended itself to Le Marais and Les Invalides. Louis XIV built the Versailles Palace near Paris as the testimony of his glory and power. Paris became the prominent European city for luxury, fashion, fine food and wine. It still is.

Download and admire 1615 Paris city view and you will identify many monuments still there today.

History of Versailles.
Hall of Mirrors history.

Les Invalides were built in 1670
Les Invalides were built in 1670

Paris XVIIth century history: from wooden houses to masonry constructions

The huge fire in London in September 1666, destroying nearly 13,000 houses in the space of a few days, made Parisian authorities aware of the danger their city could run. As in London, the houses in the working-class districts were built in a timber frame with a gable end. In the event of a fire, entire districts of the capital could go up in smoke, with the fire spreading from house to house without much action being able to be done. It was then decided to ban the construction of new wooden houses by imposing the use of masonry. The old huts were covered with plaster to better resist fire. Thus, the end of the 17th century profoundly changed the face of the city.

Paris history - 1789 and Napoléon

The city counted 650 000 inhabitants. The French revolution started with the July 14th taking of La Bastille prison which was then demolished. It lead to the fall of the monarchy in 1792, new liberties for the French people, but also wars, mass executions and the beheading of King Louis XVI on Place de la Concorde in 1793.

In 1806, Napoléon commissioned the Arc de Triomphe at the top end of the Champs-Elysées. Arc de Triomphe facts

Taking of the Bastille prison on July 14th 1789
Taking of the Bastille prison on July 14th 1789

At the time of the Eiffel Tower

In 1866, the city counted 1 600 000 inhabitants. The rapid rise of population led Baron Haussmann to undertake massive town planning between 1852 and 1870, cutting across old districts to create large boulevards such as Boulevard Haussmann, Boulevard Saint-Michel and Avenue de l'Opéra. Construction of 5 story apartment buildings was feverish until WW1. The train stations, Bois de Boulogne, Bois de Vincennes, Opéra Garnier are legacies of that time.

The Eiffel Tower was designed for the 1889 world exhibition to celebrate the progress of technology. It was built in just two years by 132 workers and 50 engineers. The Tower was much criticized by Parisians when it was built. The Eiffel Tower was planned to be demolished in 1909. It was saved at the very last moment as it could be turned into a telecommunication tower. With 7 million visitors yearly, this iconic monument fully pays for itself. It was the world's tallest building until 1930.

Eiffel tower facts and history.

Paris history: construction of Eiffel Tower
Paris history: construction of Eiffel Tower in 1888

Detailed history of the Haussman renovation of Paris. 1853 - 1870

Since Etienne Marcel in the Middle Ages, through the wars of religion and the Revolutions of 1789-93, 1830 and 1848, Paris had to allow the seat of national power to coexist with social unrest. After the coup d'état of December 2, 1851 by Napoléon III, the new regime took over the management of Paris. In 1850, it was an industrial city of over a million inhabitants, many of whom were provincials who fled the countryside to get closer to one of the main French employment pools.

Since the last works of the architect Ledoux (1736-1806), urban development had been chaotic. The field was left open to entrepreneurs, whose urban development projects for the construction of their factories were evaluated only for their economic interest, and not for their social value.

Napoléon III often stayed in Compiègne, close to hunting forests, but the actual seat of imperial and legislative power was in Paris. While the capital resembled a working-class and insurgent city, the Emperor had the serious desire to renovate it. Appointed Prefect of the Seine in 1853, Baron Haussmann first annexed a dozen cities contained within the fortifications of 1840. The city gained another 300,000 inhabitants, and its size was increased by 40%. In a second step, Haussmann reorganized the administration of the city which municipal power was distributed among 20 arrondissements, to break the old solidarities of the former districts.

Napoléon III was very attentive to Haussmann's proposals: he wanted to pierce wide avenues in the heart of the old town, according to an orthogonal plan, in order to allow better circulation of the army and the police in the event of riot, with a view to show the authority of the regime. In ten years, Haussmann ordered the destruction of 25,000 houses, while he promoted the reconstruction of 75,000 buildings. This new Paris was organized around the five train stations which radiated out over the province so that the city offered travelers the image of the splendor of the regime. Designed like the new temples of the Empire, the train stations overlooked airy avenues bordered by five-story buildings which architectural unity imposed a new and typically Haussmann style.

Haussmann was also committed to embellish the representation of power: the courthouse was completely renovated, the Louvre was completed, Les Tuileries were rehabilitated, new police headquarters were built, while the construction of a new opera house was entrusted at Garnier.

Parisians had to endure the harms of restructuring, but once the project was completed, the entire population benefited from a modernized and embellished city. The main concern was health as the city had been decimated by a cholera epidemic in 1838. Thanks to Haussmann, a sewer network of several hundred kilometers ran through the basement of the capital. It completed the effort started by engineer Belgrand under King Louis-Philippe. A drinking water supply network was developed, hence the proliferation of monumental public fountains. Les Halles were located in the heart of the capital to provide supplies to an ever-growing population. Finally, the city was ventilated by the creation of parks (Parc Monceau, Parc Montsouris, Parc des Buttes-Chaumont) and woods (Bois de Boulogne and Bois de Vincennes), according to the London model.

Haussman urban design history

When appointing Haussmann prefect, Napoléon III showed him a plan drawn by his hand of the breakthroughs to be made. Three priorities stood out: the great north-south crossing (rue de Rivoli, boulevards de Strasbourg, de Sébastopol, du Palais and Saint-Michel), service to stations (boulevard Magenta for the Gare du Nord, rue de Rennes for the station Montparnasse, extension of rue du Havre for the Saint-Lazare station) and the construction of a circular boulevard starting from place de l'Etoile (boulevard Haussman) and place de la Nation (boulevard Voltaire).

The boulevard Saint-Germain was the counterpart, on the left bank, of the rue de Rivoli. Left bank also, the extension of the boulevard Montparnasse by the boulevards of Port-Royal and Saint-Marcel and the connection to the place de la Nation by Boulevard Diderot formed the southern circular boulevard.

Boulevard de Sébastopol was pierced by Haussman
Boulevard de Sébastopol was pierced in 1858

Statue of Liberty Paris history

The history of the Statue of Liberty is closely linked to Paris 19th century history. The original Statue of Liberty in New-York City was a gift from France to America in 1886, designed by Auguste Bartholdi and moulded in Paris.

The history of the Statue of Liberty began during a dinner with Edouard René de Laboulaye in Versailles in June 1865. Aged 54, Laboulaye was then a renowned professor, expert in American politics. He was also president of the association for the abolition of slavery in the world. That evening, he invited his colleagues and friends to celebrate the end of the American Civil War and the abolition of enslavement.

The guests decided to make a gesture towards the United States to celebrate the event but also to express their pain after the murder of Abraham Lincoln: the American president was assassinated in April, less than a week after the end of the fighting, by stage actor John Wilkes Booth, disappointed by the defeat of the southerners. Among the guests, a sculptor was present: Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi. Follow-up of Statue of Liberty history.

The Statue of Liberty was designed in Paris
The Statue of Liberty was completed in Paris in 1888

Paris history - 1900 to 1914

The Grand Palais, Musée d'Orsay and Pont Alexandre III are legacies of the 1900 world exhibition. It was the last to be organized in Paris after that of 1855, 1867, 1878 and 1889. The 1900 exhibition was intended to mark the new century of electricity. In 212 days of opening, it welcomed 50 million visitors and almost 83,000 exhibitors. In 1900, metro line 1 was opened. Most Paris metro lines of today were completed before WW1. Their Guimard Art Nouveau entrances are famous and still visible. The Sacré-Coeur Basilica was built between 1876 and 1914 at the top of Montmartre hill, then the heart of modern art in the world with Picasso, Monet, Modigliani, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, until Montparnasse district took over as the world's artistic and intellectual center.

Musée d'Orsay history
Sacré-Coeur history
Montmartre artistic history
Montparnasse artistic history
Paris metro history
Art Nouveau history in Paris

Construction of Sacré-Coeur in 1888
Construction of Sacré-Coeur in 1888

Paris was saved from destruction in 1944

During World War II, Paris was occupied by the Germans from June 14th 1940 until August 25th 1944, date of its liberation by French and American troops. Much of the city could could have been distroyed then. Hitler had indeed no intention of preserving the city, nor of declaring it open. General von Choltitz, the last military governor of occupied Paris, received orders without nuance, including that of August 22: "Paris is to be transformed into a heap of ruins. The general must defend the city to the last man and will perish if necessary under the rubble." Why then was the city spared? Von Choltitz did not follow his Führer's orders. The general did not see the logic of such destruction. The Battle of Normandy was lost, the German troops fell back, the meager stationed contingents evacuated the city. Ravaging the capital would have been costly in human lives, including German ones, unnecessary from a military point of view and hindering the movement of the Reich soldiers withdrawing from Normandy.

In addition, the Swedish consul Raoul Nordling would have convinced on the night of August 24 to August 25 the German general to give up destroying the monuments and the bridges. The Allies, worried about the destruction of the city, also warned von Choltitz. On August 24, they handed von Choltitz a letter threatening him to be brought before a war tribunal. The German governor no doubt finally had concern for his own posterity: he who had participated in the destruction of Rotterdam and Sevastopol, in the extermination of the Jews on the Eastern Front, could pose as the savior of Paris.

Paris villes nouvelles history

The economic boom of 1945-1974 led to an explosion of the population of the Paris region, from 6.6 million inhabitants in 1946 to 9.2 million inhabitants in 1968. The imbalance between the city and its suburbs generated a shortage of housing, building land and anarchic traffic. In 1963, French president, Général de Gaulle, entrusted Paul Delouvrier with the mission to remedy this imbalance and absorb the influx of new populations. No less than 40,000 hectares were acquired to found five "Villes nouvelles" (new towns) in the region. With this area equivalent to four times intramural Paris, Paul Delouvrier was able to create five new urban centers in the existing suburbs: Évry and Sénart in the south, Cergy-Pontoise in the north-west, Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines in the west and Marne-la-Vallée to the east. These new towns were intended to improve the quality of life of their inhabitants. At the same time, the region was reorganized and renamed Ile-de-France in 1976. It went from 3 departments to six departments of small and large crown that we currently know. Quick access to Paris or to the neighboring large city was essential. It was at this time that the Paris périphérique (ring road) was completed and the metro regional express network (RER) was set up.

Cergy Pontoise is one of five villes nouvelles
Cergy Pontoise is one of five villes nouvelles

Paris today

Paris has 2.187 million inhabitants (last census in 2017). It is the core of Grand Paris Metropolitan Area (7.026 million inhabitants) and Ile de France region (12.21 million people).

The Centre Pompidou (1977), La Défense business district (from 1958 onwards), Charles de Gaulle Paris Airport (1974), the Stade de France (1998), Quai Branly Museum (2006) and Fondation Louis Vuitton (2014) are major contemporary additions to the beauty of the city.

Paris facts.

Fondation Louis Vuitton in Bois de Boulogne
Fondation Louis Vuitton in Bois de Boulogne

Grand Paris project history - 2007-2030

Initiated in 2007 under the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy, the Grand Paris project aims to transform the Parisian agglomeration into a great metropolis of the 21st century, able to ensure its rank in the competition of international megalopolises. The project involves improving the living environment of residents, correcting territorial inequalities and building a sustainable city. It is based on the creation of a public transport network ( Grand Paris Express) whose aim is to be both a framework connecting the major economic centers of the region, but also a support for local development, including the future stations of the new network. More than 35 billion euros will be committed to complete this project.

To allow the new transport network and its stations to fully produce the expected development effects, they must be accompanied by a regional planning policy, designed at the regional level. The Territorial Development Contracts (CDT), drawn up jointly by the local authorities and the State, thus constitute the second pillar of Greater Paris. They are planning and programming tools that allow the objectives of Greater Paris to be applied at the local level, particularly around future stations. If transport appears as the main lever of Greater Paris, this ambitious project, imagined and implemented by the government, includes other components related to economic development, housing, higher education, culture, to sport and the environment. The Greater Paris project also promotes research, innovation and industrial development. Seven territories (or "clusters") have thus been identified as strategic development poles: Saclay (Innovation and Research pole), Villejuif - Evry (Health pole), La Défense (Finance pole), Saint -Denis - Pleyel (pole of Creation), Roissy CDG (pole of international exchanges and events), Le Bourget (pole of Aeronautics), and Descartes - Marne-la-Vallée (pole of the Sustainable City).

Grand Paris facts

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