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.
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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