Paris Tourist Guide Guide du tourisme à Paris





Excavations carried out in the region would suggest that human occupation in Ile-de-France goes back nearly 6,000 years. It is widely believed that Paris takes its name from the Parisii, a Gallic tribe that inhabited the area in the 3rd century BC, a site which was later referred to as Civitas Parisiorum, city of the Parisii, by the Romans.
During the 5th century AD, Gaul was threatened by barbarian invasions, but the inhabitants of Paris succeeded in repelling the Huns of Attila in 451, apparently thanks to the intervention of Ste Genevieve, who became the patron saint of the city. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Clovis, first King of the Franks, made Paris the capital city of his kingdom, a privileged position that was lost with the advent of Charlemagne, who transferred it to Aachen. Paris then entered a period of decline and suffered several attacks at the hands of the Normans and Vikings during the 9th century. It did not regain its status as capital of France until the late 10th century with the accession of Hugues Capet to the throne, which brought prosperity to the city. He had defensive walls built to protect the city and Paris remained a walled city until 1919. The intellectual tradition of the left bank started in the Middle Ages when the first colleges opened, the most famous of which is the ancestor of the prestigious Sorbonne University, whilst the right bank focused on commercial activities and housed the centres of political and religious power. Paris became the largest city in Christian Europe in the 13th century. Outbreaks of plague and the Hundred Years' War put an end to this period of prosperity and the English occupied the city from 1420 to 1436. The end of the hostilities allowed Paris to resume its place as first city in France. It enjoyed a cultural revival in the 16th century under François 1er who established his residence in Paris in 1530. But this period of intellectual influence was marred by the rise of religious intolerance, which culminated in 1572 with the massacre of St Bartholomew and bloody rivalries. The conversion of Henry IV to Catholicism in Chartres allowed the Bourbon monarch to restore political stability, redress the country's finances and undertake a program of embellishment of the city: the Louvre and City Hall were restored and new squares, like the Place des Vosges, were laid out. Louis XIII continued this work and had new fortifications erected on the right bank, allowing the city to grow. The royal residence was transferred to Versailles in 1680 during the reign of Louis XIV, but major projects continued, with the construction of the Invalides, the Tuileries Gardens and Place Vendôme among others. These expenses, and the transfer of the royal residence to Versailles, further exacerbated the gap between the monarchy and his people. In the 18th century, the Age of Enlightenment and great philosophical debates, the concepts of freedom and equality began to spread and the people of Paris led the great revolutionary events of 14 July 1789, which ended the monarchy of Louis XVI. Napoleon 1st restored social and political stability, but the Napoleonic wars saw Paris occupied in 1814 and 1815 and the Parisians greeted with relief the return of the Bourbons. A massive exodus from the countryside brought the population of Paris from 600,000 in 1800 to one million in 1846, making it an overcrowded and unsafe city, particularly in the eastern suburbs.

The Second Empire transformed Paris and gave it its present day appearance, with wide avenues and elegant stone buildings. Napoleon III entrusted Baron Haussmann with the task of cleaning up the city and turning it into a modern capital: the sewers of Paris date from this period and large parks were built. Haussmann was also responsible for the administrative division of the city into 20 districts.

The Franco-Prussian war of 1870 put an end to the Second Empire and Paris was besieged for several months. Following the armistice signed in January 1871, the Parisians led the insurrection against the government of Thiers - the socialist and working class uprising of the Commune in 1871 remains one of the bloodiest episodes in the history of the French capital. Although political tensions remained, order and republican institutions were restored with a moderate Third Republic and Paris enjoyed a new period of prosperity in the late 19th century: the Eiffel Tower was erected for the World Exhibition of 1889; the Grand and Petit Palais date from the World Exhibition of 1900, as does the first subway line decorated by Guimard. Paris was the centre of the industrial revolution, and a large concentration of industries and housing for factory workers mushroomed in the suburbs. Meanwhile, the arts flourished in the city, particularly in the district of Montmartre and with the Impressionists.

During the First World War, Paris suffered episodic bombings but was saved from German invasion by the victory of the Marne. Between the wars, the cultural influence of the capital continued to attract many artists and writers and its artistic life continued to flourish despite the German occupation between June 1940 and August 1944. Paris bridges and monuments were largely spared at the Liberation, thanks to General Von Choltitz’s refusal to carry out Hitler's orders to reduce the capital to a pile of rubble. Thus Paris continues to enjoy one of the richest artistic and cultural heritages in the world.

The city experienced major changes during the post-war period with the construction of large working class housing estates in the suburbs and the renovation of old neighbourhoods, like the Marais. Paris regained its status as an autonomous municipality in 1976, which saw the election of Jacques Chirac as mayor of the city, a post filled since 2001 by the Socialist Bertrand Delanoe, who has worked tirelessly to promote public transport in the city.

All the presidents of the Fifth Republic have left their mark on the urban landscape, adding to its rich architectural heritage - Roissy airport under General de Gaulle, Beaubourg under George Pompidou, the science museum at La Villette and the Orsay Museum under Giscard d'Estaing. But it is the legacy of Francois Mitterrand that remains the most influential, with the imposing avant-garde buildings of the Louvre Pyramid, Bastille Opera, Arche de la Defense and the National Library. And the charm of Paris lies in this unique, yet harmonious, mix of architectural styles where modern designs stand alongside Second Empire and Renaissance buildings.


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