Paris travel guide



Paris Travel Guide

Paris History

Paris was founded towards the end of the 3rd century BC on what is now the Île de la Cité by a tribe of Celtic Gauls known as the Parisii. Centuries of conflict between the Gauls and Romans ended in 52 BC, when Julius Caesar's legions took control of the territory. Christianity was introduced in the 2nd century AD, and the Roman party was finally crashed in the 5th century by the arrival of the Franks. In 508 AD, Frankish king Clovis I united Gaul as a kingdom and made Paris his capital, naming it after the original Parisii tribe.

Paris prospered during the Middle Ages. In the 12th century, construction began on the cathedral of Notre Dame continuing for nearly 200 years, while the Marais area north of the Seine was drained and settled to become what's known today as the Right Bank. The Sorbonne opened its doors in 1253, the beautiful Sainte Chapelle was consecrated in 1248 and the Louvre got its start as a riverside fortress around 1200.

Scandinavian Vikings began raiding France's western coast in the 9th century AD and, after three centuries of conflict, they started to push toward Paris. These conflicts gave birth to the Hundred Years War between Norman England and Paris' Capetian dynasty, eventually resulting in the French defeat at Agincourt in 1415 and English control of Paris in 1420. In 1429, a 17-year-old stripling called Jeanne d'Arc re-rallied the French troops to defeat the English at Orléans, and, with the exception of Calais, the English were expelled from France in 1453.

The Renaissance helped Paris get back on its feet at the end of the 1400s, and many of the city's signature buildings and monuments sprang up during the period. By the late 16th century Paris was again up in arms, this time in the name of religion. Clashes between the Huguenot Protestants and Catholic groups sank to their darkest levels in 1572 with the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre of 3000 Huguenots to celebrate the wedding of Henri of Navarre (later, King Henri IV).

Louis XIV, known as le Roi Soleil (the Sun King), ascended to the throne in 1643 at the tender age of five and held the crown until 1715. During his reign, he nearly bankrupted the national treasury with battling and building. His most tangible legacy is the palace at Versailles, 23km south-west of Paris. The excesses of Louis XVI and his capricious queen, Marie-Antoinette, led to an uprising of Parisians on 14 July 1789 and the storming of the Bastille prison – kick starting the French Revolution.

The populist ideals of the revolution's early stages quickly gave way to a Reign of Terror, wherein even a few of the original 'patriots' met their fate under the guillotine. The unstable post-revolution government was consolidated in 1799 under a young Corsican general, Napoleon Bonaparte, who adopted the title First Consul. In 1804, the Pope crowned him Emperor of the French, and Napoleon proceeded to sweep most of Europe under his wing. Napoleon's hunger for conquest led to his defeat, first in Russia in 1812 and later at Belgium's Waterloo in 1815. His legacy in modern France includes the national legal code, which bears his name, and monuments such as the massive neoclassical Arc de Triomphe.

Following Napoleon's exile, France faltered under a string of mostly inept rulers until a coup d'état in 1851 brought a new emperor, Napoleon III, to power. In 17 years, he oversaw the construction of a flashy new Paris, with wide boulevards, sculptured parks and - not insignificantly - a modern sewer system. Like his namesake uncle, however, this Napoleon and his penchant for pugnacity led to a costly and eventually unsuccessful war, this time with the Prussians in 1870. When news of their emperor's capture by the enemy reached Paris the masses took to the streets, demanding that a republic be created.

Despite its bloody beginnings, the Third Republic ushered in the glittering halcyon years of the Belle Époque. The Belle Époque was famed for its Art Nouveau architecture and a barrage of advances in the arts and sciences. By the 1930s, Paris had become a worldwide centre for the artistic avant-garde and upheld this reputation among free-thinking intellectuals. The 1900s also marked the introduction of modern conveniences such as electricity, bathrooms, lifts and central heating.

Paris at that time embraced la Vie en Rose, a lifestyle characterized by lightness and gaiety. Optimism was rife since the success of the International Exhibition of 1889, for which the Eiffel Tower was constructed. National pride also took expression in the constitution of a new colonial empire.

Paris became the world’s creative capital, of the fashionable plastic arts, theatre and cinema. Artists from the whole world, often naturalised later, settled in the city.

The flowering of that era was cut short by the Nazi occupation of 1940, and Paris remained under Germany's thumb until 25 August 1944. At the end of the war, the city was in a state of stagnation. The population had fallen to the level of 1936, and the reconstruction of the whole country of necessity took precedence over that of Paris until 1949. There was a latent housing crisis up to 1954, because the stock of buildings had aged during the war and the population grew by 600,000 between 1946 and 1954.

In 1954 a great reconstruction of low-cost housing was launched called HLM (Habitations a Loyer Modéré) in the inner suburbs.

Meanwhile, it was in the 1960s that Paris took on the appearance of an international metropolis. During this time, Paris was endowed with facilities worthy of a great modern city: motorway links, international airports at Orly and later at Roissy (Charles de Gaulle), and hotel infrastructure to respond to the growing demands of mass tourism.

Paris regained its position as a creative hotbed and nurtured a revitalised liberalism that reached a crescendo in the student-led 'Spring Uprising' of 1968. The Sorbonne was occupied, barricades were erected in the Latin Quarter, and some 9 million people nationwide were inspired to join in a paralysing general strike, drawing attention to their increasing dissatisfaction with the rigidity of French institutions.

During the 1980s, President François Mitterand initiated the futuristic grands projets, a series of costly building projects that garnered widespread approval even when the results were popular failures. Responses to the flashier examples, like the Centre Pompidou and the glass pyramids in the Louvre, have ranged from appalled mon Dieux to absolute doting rapture; if nothing else, the projets invigorated dialogue about the Parisian aesthetic.

The Paris of today attracts millions of visitors each year to the Paris of the past. The most popular sights visited are the Eiffel Tower, Louvre Museum, Château de Versailles, Museum at the Pompidou Centre, Musée d`Orsay, Cité des Sciences, and Notre-Dame Cathedral.

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