History of Paris

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Left image: Traces (on the pavement) of the Roman wall in Île de la Cité, Rue de la Colombe.
Right image: Notice about the archaeological discovery in 1898.
Hôtel de Sens, a remnant of the medieval city of Paris

The history of Paris, France, spans over 10,000 years, during which time the city grew from a small mesolithic settlement to the capital and primate city of France. It further developed into a center of art, medicine, science, fashion, tourism, high culture and high finance, becoming one of the world's major global cities.

Ancient place[edit]

Coins of the Parisii (Metropolitan Museum of Art).

Two prehistorical settlements were found on the site of Paris : a Chasséen village (4000 BC - 3800 BC) on the left bank of the Seine, and a mesolithic settlement (8000 BC - 6500 BC). It is believed that a settlement on the site of modern-day Paris was founded in about 250 BC by a Celtic tribe called the Parisii, who established a fishing village near the river Seine and gave their name to the city (known as Lutetia and as Civitas Parisiorum, the town of the Parisis). The Île de la Cité was traditionally assumed to be the location of the settlement, but this theory has been recently brought into question. Recent archeological finds indicate that the Paris region's largest pre-Roman settlement may have been in the present-day suburb of Nanterre.[1]

Paris' lands were prosperous, and occupied a strategic position for controlling river shipping and commerce. The area came under Roman control after the revolt of 52 BC when Vercingetorix led a Celtic uprising against the Romans under Caesar. The town sided with the rebels and was said to have contributed 8,000 men to Vercingetorix's army. It was garrisoned by Vercingetorix's lieutenant Camulogenus, whose army camped on the Mons Lutetius (where the Panthéon is now situated). The Romans crushed the rebels at nearby Melun and took control of the entire region. By the end of the same century, the Île de la Cité and Left Bank Sainte Geneviève Hill became the centre of a new Roman settlement called Lutetia.

Julian the Apostate crowned Roman Emperor in the Thermes de Cluny, in February 360.

Under Roman rule, the town was thoroughly Romanised and grew considerably. It was, however, not the capital of its province, Lugdunensis Senona—that role was played by Agedincum (modern Sens, Yonne). It was Christianised in the 3rd century when St Denis became the city's first bishop. The process was not entirely peaceful—in about 250 St Denis and two companions were arrested and decapitated on the hill of Mons Mercurius, thereafter known as Mons Martis (Martyrs' Hill, now Montmartre).

Lutetia, a Celtic name that may mean "dwelling surrounded by waters" ,[citation needed] was renamed Paris in 212[citation needed] after the local tribe, a sub tribe of the Senons, but the rest of the 3rd and 4th century was wracked by war and civil unrest. The city came under attack from barbarian invaders, prompting the construction of a defensive city wall. In 357, the Emperor Constantine's nephew Julian arrived in Paris to become the city's new governor. Although his uncle had declared Christianity the official religion of the Empire, Julian "the Apostate" strove to roll back its advance. He became emperor in 361 but died in battle only two years later.

Roman rule in northern Gaul effectively collapsed in the 5th century. In 451, the region was invaded by Attila the Hun, prompting fears that Paris would be attacked. According to legend, the city was saved by the piety of Sainte Geneviève and her followers, whose prayers for relief were answered when Attila's march turned away from Paris to the south. St. Geneviève remains Paris's patron saint to this day.

Medieval manuscript showing the faculty meeting at the University of Paris

Middle Ages[edit]

Map of Paris in 508 AD, at the time of the first Frankish kings, as drawn in 1705.

The city's escape from Attila proved a short-lived reprieve, as it was attacked and overrun in 464 by Childeric I (Childeric the Frank). His son Clovis I made the city his capital in 508 and was buried there on his death in 511, alongside St. Geneviève.

By this time, Paris was a typically crowded early medieval city with timber buildings alongside surviving Roman remains. According to the chronicler Gregory of Tours, it suffered a disastrous fire in 585. The city grew beyond the boundaries of the Île de la Cité, with suburbs being established on both banks of the river.

The Merovingian kings died out in 751, to be replaced by the Carolingians. Pépin was proclaimed king of the Franks in 751, to be succeeded by Charlemagne, who moved the capital of his Holy Roman Empire from Paris to Aachen. Paris was twice attacked by Vikings who had sailed down the Seine, in 845 and 885. During the second attack, its inhabitants sought the assistance of Robert I of France, and his brother Odo, Count of Paris. Odo led the defense of the city in opposition to the ten-month Viking siege and became co-ruler of the Empire with Charles the Simple. His grandnephew Hugh Capet was elected King of France (or Francia—literally "the land of the Franks") in 987. He made Paris his capital and founded the Capetian dynasty.[2]

The Capetians[edit]

Paris circa 1180.
Remains of the wall of Philip II Augustus built around Paris, today in rue des Jardins-Saint-Paul.
Paris circa 1223.
Evolution of the city from 1422 to 1589.
A perspective drawing of Paris in 1618 by Claes Jansz. Visscher.

The French kings initially controlled little more than Paris and the surrounding region, the Île-de-France, but over the next two centuries they steadily expanded their territory and power. Paris itself developed an increasing degree of importance as a royal capital, an ecclesiastical and cultural centre. The cathedral school developed into the University of Paris, around 1150; it later became the Sorbonne. It was one of the first universities in Europe, and across northern Europe later universities were typically modeled after its system of faculty governance. As early as the 12th century, the distinctive character of the city's districts was emerging. The Île de la Cité, on which the Cathedral of Notre Dame building began in 1163, was the centre of government and religious life; the Left Bank (south of the Seine) was the centre of learning, focusing on the various Church-run schools established there; and the Right Bank (north of the Seine) was the centre of commerce and finance. A league of merchants, the Hanse parisienne, was established and quickly became a powerful force in the city's affairs.

Under the rule of Philip II Augustus, who took the throne in 1180, a number of major building works were carried out in Paris. He built the wall of Philippe Auguste and began the construction of the Palais du Louvre, as well as paving streets and establishing a covered market at Les Halles (where it would remain until 1969).

His grandson Louis IX, renowned for his extreme piety (and later canonised as St Louis) established the city as a major centre of pilgrimage in the 13th century with the construction of the Sainte-Chapelle on the Île de la Cité, and the completion of the cathedral of Notre Dame and the Basilica of St Denis. The latter was one of the finest medieval Gothic religious buildings ever constructed and was built to house Louis's most precious possession—the (alleged) Crown of Thorns, purchased from the bankrupt Byzantine Empire at an extortionate price.

The Valois[edit]

The Direct Capetian line died out in 1328, leaving no male heir. Edward III of England claimed the French throne by virtue of his descent (via his mother) from Philip IV of France. This was rejected by the French barons, who supported the rival claim of Philippe of Valois (Philip VI of France). The Hundred Years' War thus began, followed swiftly by the arrival of the Black Death.

Paris's history in the 14th century was thus punctuated by outbreaks of plague, political violence and popular uprisings. In January 1357, Étienne Marcel, the Provost of Paris, led a merchants' revolt in a bid to curb the power of the monarchy and obtain privileges for the city and the Estates General, which had met for the first time in Paris in 1347. After initial concessions by the Crown, the city was retaken by royalist forces in 1358 and Marcel and his followers were killed.

In the aftermath of the revolt, Charles V of France took steps to guard against a recurrence; a new wall was constructed around the city to guard against exterior enemies while the grim fortress of the Bastille was built to control the city's restless population. Another revolt, this time over excessive taxation, broke out in 1382 under Charles VI of France but was quickly and violently suppressed. The city was subsequently punished by having its earlier privileges withdrawn.

Civil war broke out in France after the assassination of Louis of Valois, Duke of Orléans by the Burgundian John the Fearless in 1407 (a plaque marks the spot on the rue des Francs Bourgeois in the Marais quarter). John the Fearless' agents fled the scene of the crime to the Tower of John the Fearless (now on rue Etienne Marcel) Struggles ensued between the Burgundian and Armagnac parties for control of the capital and the person of the king. John the Fearless, whose power was initially in the ascendant, arranged for theologians of the University of Paris to present a defence of the murder of Louis of Orléans, which was presented as a tyrannicide due to the duke's undue influence on Charles VI. John the Fearless's power in Paris came to an end in 1409 with the revolt of Simon Caboche, although he was to retake the city in 1417 until his assassination in 1419.

In the ensuing chaos, the Plantagenets captured Paris in 1420. In 1422, Henry V of England died at the Château de Vincennes, just outside the city. Charles VII of France tried but failed to retake the city in 1429, despite the assistance of Joan of Arc (who was wounded in the attempt). Two years later, Henry VI of England was crowned King of France at Notre-Dame. French persistence paid off in 1436 when Charles finally managed to retake the city in April after several failed sieges.

Early modern era[edit]

With the recapture of the city in 1436, the Valois monarchs and French nobility sought to impose their authority on the city through the construction of various grandiose ecclesiastical and secular monuments, including churches and mansions. However, the later Valois dynasty largely abandoned Paris as a place of residence. Over the following century the city's population more than tripled. King Francis I had probably the greatest impact of any Valois monarch, transforming the Louvre and establishing a glittering court including such notables as Leonardo da Vinci and Benvenuto Cellini.

Paris was, however, not spared from the religious violence affecting the rest of the country as Protestantism gained ground in defiance of an increasingly harsh Catholic backlash. Paris was a predominantly Catholic city — so much so that Ignatius Loyola founded the Society of Jesus there in 1534 — but it also had a growing Protestant population. The rival religious factions pursued an increasingly bloodthirsty feud, with religiously-inspired assassinations and burnings at the stake.

Matters came to a head on 23 August 1572 with the St Bartholomew's Day Massacre, when Catholic mobs killed about 3,000 Protestants on the instructions of King Charles IX.[citation needed]

His successor, King Henry III, attempted to find a peaceful solution but the city's population turned against him and forced him to flee on 12 May 1588, the so-called Day of the Barricades (as this was the first time in Paris's history that a revolt had utilised barricades as opposed to simple chains in defence of the city).[3] Paris was from this point ruled by a group known as the Seize (so called because each member represented one of the sixteen quartiers of the city). This group had formed in secret several years earlier, and was motivated to revolt primarily by frustration with the existing system of civic government which prevented the advancement of their careers, and by the desire to defend the traditional privileges of the city, which the Valois kings, and Henry III in particular) had eroded.[4] Nevertheless, the nobility, and particularly the duke of Guise, played a crucial role in the revolt which drove out the king,[5] as did the Parisian crowd manning the barricades.

On 23 December 1588, Henry III had the Duke of Guise and his brother the Cardinal of Guise assassinated at the Estates of Blois, which further enraged his opponents in Paris. At this time, the printing presses of Paris produced huge numbers of libels against the king and his policies.[6] The first of August 1589, Henry III was assassinated by a fanatical Dominican monk, Jacques Clément, bringing the Valois line to an end.

However, Paris, along with the other towns of the Holy Union (or Catholic League) held out against Henry IV until 1594. After his victory over the Holy Union at the battle of Ivry on 14 March 1590, Henry IV proceeded to lay siege to Paris, greatly to the distress of the population. Immense poverty was experienced, prices rose dramatically as wages stagnated, huge numbers of religious processions were led by the clergy and confraternities to pray for Paris's salvation. These devotions might be said to form an early stage of the Catholic Reformation in Paris. The siege was eventually lifted on 30 August 1590, but economic conditions remained difficult in Paris throughout the 1590s. This situation led to popular protests such as that of the 'Pain ou Paix' where protesters demanded either cheap bread or that the civic government made peace with Henry IV.

Gradually, the power of the Seize was diminished as the nobility of the Holy Union, principally the duke of Mayenne and the duke of Nemours, governor of Paris, took power in the city. They called the Estates General in 1593 to attempt to find an alternative solution to the succession and prevent Henry IV from becoming king (he had not yet proceeded to his coronation). However, the attempt stumbled over the lack of a viable heir, despite the attempts by Spanish ambassadors to have the Infanta crowned (arguing that the constitutional law that the monarch must be Catholic was more important than that declaring the monarch must be male). The year 1593 saw the decline of the League across France, and in Paris two important literary works were published - the Satire Ménippée and the Dialogue d'entre le Maheustre et le Manant[1] ("Dialog between the courtier and the labourer") - which satirised and analysed the events of the time.

On 14 March 1594 Henry IV entered Paris with the complicity of the civic government, and he was soon crowned King of France.

The Bourbons[edit]

Evolution of the city from 1589 to 1643.
Paris circa 1705.
Perspective View of Paris in 1607. Facsimile of a copper-plate by Léonard Gaultier. (Collection of M. Guénebault, Paris.)
The city in 1740.
Paris and suburbs in 1750.

Unlike the later Valois kings, Henry IV made Paris his primary residence and he undertook a number of major public works in the city, including extensions to the Louvre (whose projected expansion under Henry II into a square courtyard, the "cour carrée", was far from completed) and construction of the Pont Neuf, Place des Vosges, Place Dauphine, and Saint-Louis Hospital. Henry IV faced constant danger from religious fanatics on both sides, particularly after granting religious tolerance to Protestants under the Edict of Nantes. After surviving at least 18 assassination attempts,[7] he fell victim to a Catholic fanatic on 14 May 1610.

Louis XIII became king at the age of only eight, with political power exercised by his mother Marie de Médicis in the role of regent. Although Louis took over when he reached the age of majority, at 15, the real power was exercised by the brilliant Cardinal Richelieu, who greatly expanded royal power. Louis's reign saw major changes to the face of Paris; his mother commissioned the Palais du Luxembourg, while Cardinal Richelieu built the Palais Royal and rebuilt the Sorbonne. He also commissioned a number of major Baroque churches as a statement of the Catholic Counter-Reformation.

Louis XIII died in 1643, leaving the throne to his five-year-old son Louis XIV. The new king and his family were forced to flee the city in 1648 by a rebellion, known as the Fronde. The Fronde arose from two sources of discontent: bourgeois protested against royal authoritarianism and excessive taxes; and the high nobility revolted in order to regain the political power that they had lost under Richelieu. Rebel rule proved considerably worse, however, and the king returned to a hero's welcome in 1653.[8]

Royalist France achieved its greatest heights under Louis XIV, the "Sun King." His minister of finance Jean-Baptiste Colbert undertook lavish building projects in Paris in an effort to make it a "new Rome" fit for the Sun King. The king himself, however, detested Paris, preferring instead to rule France from his vast château at Versailles. The city had by this time grown far beyond its medieval boundaries, with some 500,000 inhabitants and 25,000 houses by the mid-17th century. From the great influx of rural migrants, however, grew poor areas known by the term Cour des miracles.[9]

His great-grandson Louis XV became king at the age of only five, with Philip d'Orléans serving as regent. The Court returned to Paris, with the new king installed in the Palais-Royal. Philip quickly gained a reputation for corruption and debauchery. His involvement in the financial scandal of the South Sea Bubble in 1720 greatly discredited him; Louis XV moved the court back to Versailles.

The riots that took place protesting the shortage of bread in July 1725 were localized, but government officials took action to see it was not repeated. For the next 50 years the police anticipated shortages and met emergencies aggressively. The system was made possible by a system of granaries. Each religious, hospital, public assistance and educational community in the city was required to maintain a three-year store of grain. The system was cheap and decentralized, and gave officials a reserve that solved the problem of occasional food shortages while keeping the system of 1400 privately owned independent local bakers. The middle classes meanwhile turned from bread to meat, which was supplied by a network of butchers.[10] The granary system collapsed in the 1780s, and the era of the Revolution was marked by angry food riots whenever shortages appeared.

The Enlightenment[edit]

Denis Diderot (1713-84), the editor of the Encyclopédie is the best known "philosophe" along with Voltaire (1694-1778); Voltaire however spent much of his career in exile from Paris.

During the latter half of the 18th century, Paris became the intellectual and cultural capital of the Western world. Its many "philosophes" made it the main centre of the Enlightenment with its salons becoming the center of the new thinking of the "Age of Reason." This was positively encouraged by the state, with Louis's mistress Madame de Pompadour supporting the city's intellectuals and prompting the king to construct striking new monuments. In 1686, François Procope established the first café in Paris, the Café Procope. By the 1720s there were around 400 cafés in the city. The Café Procope in particular became a centre of Enlightenment, welcoming such celebrities as Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot and D’Alembert.[11] Robert Darnton in particular has studied Parisian café conversation in great detail, showing how the cafés became "nerve centers" for bruits publics, public noise or rumour. These bruits were trusted more than the newspapers available at the time.[12]

King Louis XIV visiting the French Academy of Sciences in 1671

Under Louis XVI, Paris reached new heights of prestige as a center of the arts, sciences and philosophy. The French Academy of Sciences was founded in 1666 in Paris. It was closely tied to the French state, acting as an extension of a government seriously lacking in scientists. It helped promote and organize new disciplines, and it trained new scientists. It also contributed to the enhancement of scientists’ social status, considered them to be the "most useful of all citizens". Academies demonstrate the rising interest in science along with its increasing secularization, as evidenced by the small number of clerics who were members (13 percent).[13]

By 1770 the French state was virtually bankrupt, its finances drained by the Seven Years' War (1755–63) and the French intervention in the American Revolution (1778–83). A new wall was built around Paris between 1784 and 1791, this time to create a customs barrier for taxation purposes. It proved highly unpopular. The disastrous harvest of 1788 brought matters to a head, with widespread famine and hunger across France and food riots in Paris.

Modern Paris[edit]

The French Revolution[edit]

On 14 July 1789, a mob seized the arsenal at the Invalides, acquiring thousands of guns, and stormed the Bastille. A brief battle ensued in which 87 revolutionaries were killed before the fortress surrendered. This event marked the first real manifestation of the Revolution, and is still marked in France as Bastille Day.

Paris became the scene of revolutionary ferment, with political clubs taking over buildings for their headquarters. The uprising had, however, badly disrupted food supplies and in October an angry crowd marched to Versailles to protest—whereupon legend holds that Marie Antoinette, told the people had no bread, haughtily dismissed them with her famous remark, "Let them eat cake." (In fact, it is a near-certainty that she never said this—the remark had been part of urban legends for over a hundred years, and seems to have been tacked onto Marie Antoinette by a populace that had decided to blame her for the country's malaise.) The furious crowd began attacking the palace and were only placated when Louis himself appeared and agreed to return to Paris with his family. The royal family were reduced to virtual prisoners in the Tuileries. They tried to escape on 20 June 1791 but were caught and returned to Paris as captives.

With other European powers mobilising to crush the Revolution, which they saw as threatening their own monarchies, the political climate in Paris worsened as rumours of foreign plots and invasions took hold. Louis and those who supported an agreement with the monarchy were accused by the radical Jacobins of being the stooges of foreign powers, and on 10 August 1792 a mob demanded that the National Assembly depose the king. When the demand was refused, the mob attacked the Tuileries and the royal family took refuge within the Assembly. Power now passed to the radical Commune de Paris, led by Georges Danton, Marat and Robespierre. Paris remained the capital after the proclamation of the first Republic in September 1792, and Louis XVI was among many executed at the Place de la Concorde during the Reign of Terror that followed from 1793 until 1794.

Paris in the 19th century[edit]

Under the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte, Paris became the capital of an empire and a great military power. He crowned himself Emperor in a ceremony held in Notre-Dame on 18 May 1804. Like his royal predecessors, he saw Paris as a "new Rome" and set about building public monuments befitting the capital of an empire. Some of these were conscious copies of great Roman buildings, such as the Église de la Madeleine.

Napoleon's wars against Britain and its allies initially met with great success but hubris, overconfidence and poor planning caused the annihilation of his army in 1812 in the depths of a Russian winter. Russian and Austrian armies invaded France in 1814 and on 31 March 1814, Paris fell to the invaders and Napoleon was exiled.


The city grew rapidly, from under 600,000 in 1801 to 800,000 in 1831 and over a million by 1850. Most of the growth came from the arrival of young male workers, especially from the districts to the north and east of the city. They were attracted by the plenitude of jobs and the high wages, and typically worked in small crafts shops.[14] Textiles was a major industry, and employed many women as unskilled workers. With only 3% of France's population, Paris accounted for a fourth of non-farm production. The coming of the railway in the 1850s made Paris the center of the nation's hub and spoke system, and opened many new jobs as numerous industries expanded and tourism became important. The city became Europe's main center for art and music, as well as upscale fashion and luxury crafts of all sorts. The city had no mayor; the Prefect of the Seine appointed by the national government had charge of public affairs.[15]

In 1850, with a bit more than 1 M inhabitants, Paris was the second largest city in Europe after London (2.3 M for Greater London), the third largest city in the world, and was the primary city in France. The next largest, Lyon and Marseille, had only about 115,000 each. The city's status was reflected in the construction of grandiose new monuments, such as the Arc de Triomphe and the Eglise du Dome in which Napoleon's body was interred. Much of the population, however, lived in crowded unsanitary conditions; a cholera outbreak in 1831 killed over 19,000 people.

In 1770s-1850s Paris became a world center of medical research and teaching. The "Paris School" emphasized that teaching and research should be based in large hospitals and promoted the professionalization of the medical profession and the emphasis on sanitation and public health. A major reformer was Jean Antoine Chaptal (1756-1832), a physician who was Minister of Internal Affairs. He created the Paris Hospital, health councils, and other bodies.[16]


In 1843

After Napoleon's fall in 1814 (and his 100-day reappearance in 1815) the Bourbons returned with kings Louis XVIII (1814–1824) and Charles X (1824–1830). They proved incompetent and provoked yet another revolution in Paris, confirming the adage that the Bourbons could "learn nothing and forget everything."

The powers of the monarchy were in theory confined by a Charter of Liberties but in practice both Louis and Charles ran an authoritarian regime reliant on support from partially restored Catholic Church. On July 25, 1830 Charles issued the repressive Ordinances of St-Cloud, abolishing the freedom of the press, dissolving the Chamber of Deputies and restricting voting rights to the landed gentry only. A general uprising in Paris followed with three days of fighting between loyalists and rebels, including whole regiments of the Paris garrison. The king was forced to abdicate, and was replaced by the more acceptable Louis-Philippe.

The Paris of Napoleon III[edit]

The avenue de l'Opéra, built by Napoleon III. His prefect of the Seine, Baron Haussmann, required that the buildings on the new boulevards be the same height, same style, and be faced with cream-colored stone.
The Paris Opera was the centerpiece of Napoleon III's new Paris. The architect, Charles Garnier, described the style simply as "Napoleon the Third."
The Bois de Boulogne, built by Napoleon III between 1852 and 1858, was designed to give a place for relaxation and recreation to all the classes of Paris.

When Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, the first elected President of France, staged a coup in December 1852 and declared himself Emperor Napoleon III, Paris had a population of about one million people, most living in extremely crowded and unhealthy conditions. A cholera epidemic in the overcrowded center in 1848 had killed twenty thousand people. In 1853 Napoleon III launched a gigantic public works program, under the direction of his prefect of the Seine, Baron Haussmann, to bring clean water, light and open space to the center of the city.[17]

Napoleon III began by enlarging the city limits beyond the twelve arrondissements established in 1795. The towns around Paris had resisted becoming part of the city, fearing higher taxes; Napoleon used his new Imperial power to annex them, adding eight new arrondissments to the city and bringing it to its present size. Over the next seventeen years Napoleon III and Haussmann transformed entirely the appearance of Paris. They demolished most of the old neighborhoods on the Ile de a Cité, replacing them with government buildings and a new hospital. They completed the extension of the Rue de Rivoli, begun by Napoleon I, and built wide new boulevards to improve traffic circulation (and also to make military movements easier in case of an uprising, though this was not the principal motivation)[18] Where the boulevards met, he created new squares and parks. Haussmann imposed strict standards on the new buildings along the new boulevards; they had to be the same height, to follow the same basic design, and to be faced in a creamy white stone. These standards gave central Paris the distinctive look it still has today.[17][19][20]

Napoleon III wanted to give the Parisians, particularly those in the outer neighborhoods, access to green space for recreation and relaxation. He was inspired by Hyde Park in London, which he had often visited when he was in exile there. He ordered the construction of four large new parks at the four cardinal points of the compass around the city; the Bois de Boulogne to the west; the Bois de Vincennes to the east; the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont to the north; and Parc Montsouris to the south, plus many smaller parks around the city, so that no neighborhood was more than a ten minute walk from a park.

Napoleon III connected the city to the rest of France by building two new train stations; the Gare de Lyon and the Gare de Nord. He improved the sanitation of the city by building new sewers and water mains under the streets, and built a new reservoir and aqueduct to increase the supply of fresh water.

He also commissioned new architecture for the points where the Avenues came together. He began construction of the Palais Garnier for the Paris Opera, and the two theaters at Place de Chatelet, and built several major fountains, including the Fontaine Saint-Michel. to decorate the city center.

The Siege of Paris and the Commune[edit]

Napoleon's rule came to an abrupt end when he declared war on Prussia in 1870, only to be defeated in the Franco-Prussian War and captured at Sedan. He abdicated on 4 September, with a Third Republic proclaimed that same day in Paris. On 19 September the Prussian army arrived at Paris and besieged the city. Major city landmarks were pressed into military service, with the Louvre being turned into an arms factory, the Gare d'Orléans (now the Gare d'Austerlitz) into a balloon workshop and the Gare de Lyon into a cannon foundry.

The city finally surrendered on 28 January 1871 with punitive terms being inflicted on the defeated French. They were, in fact, unacceptably punitive in the eyes of many Parisians, who saw the peace treaty signed by the government of Adolphe Thiers as a betrayal. A revolt broke out on 18 March when government forces were driven out of Montmartre. The government regrouped at Versailles, while on 26 March the Commune of Paris—effectively a miniature socialist republic—was proclaimed in the city. Fierce fighting broke out a few days later as government troops retook the city district by district. It only ended on 28 May.

Army casualties from the beginning April through Bloody Week amounted to 837 dead and 6,424 wounded. The number killed on the Commune side, both during combat and executed afterwards, is still a subject of controversy; estimates range from six to seven thousand (the number buried in Paris cemeteries, including those buried in mass graves and reburied later in the cemeteries),[21] to more than twenty thousand, estimated in 1876 by Commune participant Prosper-Olivier Lissagaray.[22][23] About ten thousand Communards escaped and went into exile in Belgium, England, Switzerland and the United States. Of the 45,000 prisoners taken after the fall of the Commune, twenty-three were sentenced to death, and about ten thousand were sentenced to prison or deportation to New Caledonia or other prison colonies. The others were released. All the prisoners and exiles were amnestied in 1879 and 1880, and most returned to France, where some were elected to the National Assembly.[24]

The Belle Époque[edit]

A view of Paris and the Eiffel Tower from a balloon during the 1889 Exhibition

The population continued to grow steadily, reaching 1.9 million in 1872, 2.4 million in 1891, and nearly 3 million by 1914.[25] The Third Republic delivered a golden age—a belle époque—for Paris. The city acquired many distinctive new monuments and public buildings, foremost among them the Eiffel Tower, constructed for the World Exhibition of 1889. It was renowned as a center for the arts, with the Impressionists taking their inspiration from its new vistas. At the same time, Paris acquired a less savoury reputation as the "sin capital of Europe", with hundreds of brothels, revues and risqué cabarets such as the famous Moulin Rouge. The city also acquired its metro system, opened in 1900.[26]

In January 1910, the Seine flooded 20 feet above normal, flooding streets throughout the city of Paris and sending thousands of Parisians fleeing to emergency shelters. The 1910 Great Flood of Paris was the worst the city had seen since 1658 when the water reached only a few centimeters higher.[27]

20th century[edit]

First World War[edit]

Paris' taxis were requisitioned by the French Army to transport troops from Paris to the First Battle of the Marne, early September 1914.

Paris's party continued virtually until the eve of the outbreak of the First World War on 2 August 1914. Like other French cities, Paris initially welcomed the war as an opportunity to gain revenge for the defeat of 1870. Within a month, however, the city was full of refugees and the Germans were just 15 miles from the city. The government was evacuated to Bordeaux in the expectation that Paris would again fall to German forces.

The city was saved, however, by a desperate French effort to reinforce their lines and by a German failure to press home the attack. In the most famous incident of the "miracle on the Marne", as it became known, thousands of Parisian taxis were commandeered to carry soldiers to the front lines. The Germans were pushed back to the Oise some 75 miles away from the city.

The lines stayed mostly static for the next four years, with Paris experiencing the occasional bombardment from enemy aircraft and the very long-ranged "Paris Gun". The city's hedonistic life survived for a while before being subdued by the bloodshed on the front and the impact of rationing and a devastating flu epidemic in 1916. The war was finally ended by the Armistice of 11 November 1918, signed at Compiègne to the northeast of Paris.

The city emerged into an energetic but restless interwar period, enlivened by the arrival of glamorous émigrés such as Josephine Baker. It was a troubled political period, however, especially when the Great Depression hit Paris. Extreme right- and left-wing parties flourished, and on 5 February 1934 a mob of Fascist and other far-rightists attempted to storm the National Assembly in a botched coup attempt. In the ensuing violence, fifteen people were killed and another 1,500 wounded. In response, the Socialists and Communists united to form a Popular Front, which took power in 1936 but fell only a year later.

Second World War[edit]

German soldiers at the Moulin Rouge.
25 August 1944: crowds of Parisians on the Champs Elysées cheering the Free French tanks and half tracks of General Leclerc's 2nd Armored Division, with the Arc du Triomphe in the background, the day after Paris was liberated.
British troops enjoy a drink among cheering crowds in Paris.

France's political divisions were a major factor in its ill-preparedness for the outbreak of the Second World War on 3 September 1939. Some of the Catholic Right were openly hostile to parliamentary democracy, Socialism and Communism, and welcomed the possibility of a fascist regime, even imposed by foreign forces. When Adolf Hitler invaded France on 10 May 1940 it took Nazi Germany's army only a month to reach Paris, invading through neutral Belgium around the Maginot Line, where the French defenses were massed.

Paris fell with virtually no resistance on 14 June. Much of the city's population fled, with 1.6 million of its 3.5 million people leaving between May and June 1940. The government agreed an armistice with the invaders and moved south to Vichy, while Paris remained—along with two thirds of France—under German occupation.

The next four years saw an increasingly brutal occupation regime imposed on the city. An occupation force of 30,000 administrative and security troops moved into the city and took over 500 hotels and hung swastikas on public buildings and monuments. German officers reserved the best restaurants and set aside brothels and cinemas for their soldiers. The German administrators would outrage Parisians by marching a parade of troops and bands throughout the city everyday sending a grim reminder of German control.

The Gestapo and SS enacted a 'divide and conquer' strategy to create an atmosphere of fear and suspicion among Parisians, and hired waiters, servants and concierges into a network of informers and offered cash for reports of hostile actions or attitudes. Some Parisians took advantage of this offer to settle scores with rival businesses or ex-lovers. A daily stream of anonymous denunciations flowed into Gestapo headquarters, leading to thousands of Parisians being dragged out of their homes. Some of those were tortured and let go with a warning, though many were deported to prison camps and never heard from again.

The majority of Parisians though repressed their feelings and hid their true opinions to avoid this reign of terror, instead keeping their heads down and avoiding German soldiers' eyes. Germans came to nickname the city 'la ville sans regard' (French for "the city that never looks at you.") Still there were those that actively resisted, but faced the constant threat of torture and death at the hands of the Gestapo and the pro-Vichy Milice (militia).

The German occupational force kept up a campaign of humiliation and intimidation to reduce the spirits of Parisians and to avoid a strong resistance. Displaying the French tricolour and singing the French national anthem 'Marseillaise' were forbidden. Anyone caught defacing a propaganda poster, insulting German soldiers or listening to the British Broadcasting Corporation were subject to arrest and imprisonment. Public gatherings and demonstrations were controlled from the Hotel Meurice, the German military command in Paris, and a strict curfew was enforced that kept Parisians at home from midnight to 5:30 a.m.

German soldiers were ordered to behave correctly and courteously to the Paris population, and were usually careful enough to pay for everything they bought, though vendors routinely overcharged German soldiers. They even carried German-French phrase books to engage Parisians in friendly conversation. Such efforts proved futile and made no difference to Parisians who had had their friends and family taken by SS officers or lost loved ones on the field of battle. Visiting Germans usually wondered what happened to the once lively city, and a common response was adapted by the residents; "You should have come here when you were not here."

The persecution of Jews in Paris began within 48 hours of the city's fall, when they were required to register with police. On 14 May 1941 the Vichy police began deporting Parisian Jews, rounding them up at the Winter Velodrome. A concentration camp was established in the Parisian suburb of Drancy to serve as a waystation en route to Auschwitz concentration camp. Some 70,000 people passed through the camp. The camp was run by the French authorities on behalf of the Nazis until July 1943, and the roundups were orchestrated by the Vichy French police.

The 160,000 Jewish population of Paris suffered heavily under the antisemitic German policies. Jewish business were confiscated and many forbidden from practicing their professions, their homes were looted of valuables and they were banned from restaurants, parks, markets and phone booths. Jews were required to wear a mandatory yellow star with the word 'Juif' (French for Jew) on it, though many non-Jewish Parisians mocked this regulation by wearing stars that labeled themselves as 'Zulu' or 'Buddhists'.

In June 1944, Allied forces invaded Normandy. Two months later they broke through German lines and advanced rapidly across France. An uprising broke out in Paris on 19 August, led by the Resistance and the city's Police. As running battles were fought in the streets of Paris, Hitler ordered the city's commandant, von Choltitz, to destroy the capital. Von Choltitz, however, stalled, for fear of being remembered as the man who destroyed Paris.

When General Leclerc's 2nd Armoured Division and the U.S. 4th Infantry Division arrived on the outskirts of the city, von Choltitz ordered his forces to retreat (Choltitz himself surrendered), leaving the city open and largely intact with only stragglers from the garrison and dead-end resisters from the Vichy regime left to offer resistance. De Gaulle and Leclerc entered the city to a jubilant reception, and De Gaulle established a temporary government that lasted until 1946.

Post-war Paris[edit]

After the restoration of civilian rule and the proclamation of the Fourth Republic in 1946, Paris made a rapid recovery thanks to the relatively minimal amount of physical damage it had endured during the war. Like the rest of France, however, it was caught up in the bloody wars against nationalist guerrillas in French Indochina and Algeria in the 1950s and 1960s. During the Algerian War, independentists detonated bombs in Paris. Heightened tensions led to the largest abuse in the city's postwar history, when the Paris police, acting upon unsubstantiated reports of policemen having been murdered by independentists, massacred an estimated 300 pro-independence demonstrators on 17 October 1961. Remarkably, this event was largely ignored outside of most circles until the 1990s. (See Paris massacre of 1961)

Algeria was granted independence in 1962 and over 700,000 French colonists and pro-French Algerians migrated to the mother country, many to Paris. In response to the immigrant influx, the government built huge new residential suburbs—the now-notorious banlieues of Paris—which rapidly gained a reputation for soulless architecture, deprivation, racial tension and crime.

The combination of growing social unrest and de Gaulle's somewhat authoritarian style of government ultimately proved explosive. In early May 1968, an uprising broke out, led by Parisian students and factory workers. Although the évènements (events) soon fizzled out amidst violence between police and demonstrators, they did contribute to the eventual retirement of de Gaulle and the implementation of socially liberal policies. Many of the leaders of the May 1968 demonstrations went on to play significant roles in local and national politics.

The Louvre Pyramid, completed in 1989, seen at night

Under de Gaulle's successors, Georges Pompidou and Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, Paris underwent major physical development. The radical Centre Pompidou was built along with the ultra-modern complex at La Villette (originally an abattoir, now a science museum). Less positively and very controversially, the ancient market at Les Halles was demolished and replaced with a notoriously ugly underground shopping mall, and the 209 m Tour Montparnasse skyscraper was built leading to fears that Paris would become overrun with American-style skyscrapers (a move strongly resisted ever since).

The election of François Mitterrand in 1981 saw further major changes to the city's appearance and politics. The socialist Mitterrand frequently clashed with the powerful and abrasive Jacques Chirac, mayor of the city since 1977, and the first mayor since the Paris Commune. Mitterrand undertook a number of grandiose grands projets to stamp his mark on the city. The Louvre was redeveloped and acquired its spectacular glass pyramid, while a futuristic new district was constructed just outside the city limits at La Defense. The Opéra Bastille and Bibliothèque Nationale de France proved less successful, experiencing big cost overruns and a series of technical problems.

Paris' suburban La Défense business district viewed across the Bois de Boulogne.

Chirac also suffered problems, although he was lucky that the worst of these did not emerge until after his election as President in May 1995. He was soon embroiled in a number of corruption scandals, many dating from his period as mayor when—allegedly—corrupt "favours" for relatives and party supporters were granted. Influential members of Chirac's party, such as Alain Juppé, were convicted of such felonies. Chirac successfully asserted presidential immunity from prosecution, but some sort of legal action seems inevitable when his shield of immunity evaporates on leaving office.

21st century[edit]

In March 2001, Paris voted for a left-wing mayor for the first time since 1871. Socialist Bertrand Delanoë is the first openly gay man to hold such a high public position in France. His election was widely seen as a rejection by the electorate of the corruption of the Chirac era. His manifesto promised to tackle the city administration's corruption and inefficiency, as well as reducing crime and improving education—all while keeping taxation stable, but with no real change effected and a halt to progress on poverty and immigration, led to weeks of riots.

Another of Delanoë's undertakings is to continue the trend to reduce motor traffic in Paris and make it easier to use alternative modes of transportation (buses, bicycles, etc.); considerable length of bus lanes have been established, extensive rental bicycle program called Vélib' was introduced in 2007, and tram on the southern "boulevard of the marshals" (inner beltway) was open in 2006 and is due to extend further.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2009 proposed a "Grand Paris" (Greater Paris) project for "a new global plan for the Paris metropolitan region". It was led to unify the communes and to a new transportation plan for the Paris region, while planting a million trees.[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ (French) ""La découverte d'une cité gauloise à Nanterre remet en cause la localisation de Lutèce sur l'île de la Cité" ("The Discovery of a Gaulish City at Nanterre Puts the Location of Lutetia on the Île de la Cité in Question")". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-01-04. 
  2. ^ Simone Roux, Paris in the Middle Ages (2009)
  3. ^ Denis Richet, "Les Barricades de 1588," Annales (1990) 45#2
  4. ^ J.H.M. Salmon, "The Paris Sixteen, 1584-94: The Social Analysis of a Revolutionary Movement," Journal of Modern History (1972) 44#4 540-576 in JSTOR
  5. ^ Stuart Carroll, "The Revolt of Paris, 1588: Aristocratic Insurgency and the Mobilization of Popular Support," French Historical Studies (2000) 23#2 pp 301-37 online
  6. ^ Denis Pallier, Recherches sur l’Imprimerie à Paris pendant la Ligue, Droz, 1976
  7. ^ Buisseret, David (1990). Henry IV, King of France. Routledge. p. 56. ISBN 0-04-445635-2. 
  8. ^ Leon Bernard, The Emerging City: Paris in the Age of Louis XIV (1970)
  9. ^ Walton, William (1899). Paris from the earliest period to the present day. G. Barrie & son. pp. 230–235. 
  10. ^ Steven Laurence Kaplan, "The Paris Bread Riot of 1725," French Historical Studies (1985) 14#1 pp 23-56 in JSTOR; Kaplan, "Lean Years, Fat Years: the 'Community' Granary System and the Search for Abundance in Eighteenth-Century Paris," French Historical Studies (177) 10#2 pp 197-230
  11. ^ Colin Jones, Paris: Biography of a City (2004) pp. 188, 189.
  12. ^ Robert Darnton, "An Early Information Society: News and the Media in Eighteenth-Century Paris," American Historical Review (2000) 105#1 pp 1- 35 in JSTOR
  13. ^ Daniel Roche, France in the Enlightenment, (1998) p. 420.
  14. ^ Leslie Page Moch, "Migration and the Nation," Social Science History (2004) 28#1pp 1-18, looks at Bretons who moved to Paris after 1850.
  15. ^ Colin Jones, Paris (2004 pp 282-85
  16. ^ Dora B. Weiner and Michael J. Sauter, "The City of Paris and the Rise of Clinical Medicine," Osiris (2003) 18#1 pp 23-42
  17. ^ a b Maneglier, Paris Impérial, p. 19
  18. '^ Milza, Pierre, Napoleon III
  19. ^ David H. Pinkney, Napoleon III and the Rebuilding of Paris (Princeton University Press, 1958)
  20. ^ Joanna Richardson, "Emperor of Paris Baron Haussmann 1809-1891," History Today (1975), 25#12 pp 843-49, online
  21. ^ Tombs, Robert, How Bloody was la Semaine Sanglante of 1871? A Revision? The Historical Journal, September 2012, vol. 55, issue 03, pp. 619-704
  22. ^ Lissagaray, Prosper-Olivier, Histoire de la Commune de 1871, (1876), La Decouverte, 2005.
  23. ^ Haine 1998, p. 144.
  24. ^ Rougerie, Jacques La Commune de 1871, p. 118-120
  25. ^ Jones, Paris p 299
  26. ^ Higonnet, Paris (2002) ch 12
  27. ^ See Jeffrey H. Jackson, Paris Under Water: How the City of Light Survived the Great Flood of 1910 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010)
  28. ^ Walter Wells, "Big Plans for Grand Paris," France Today (June 2009), Vol. 24 Issue 6, pp 10-12

Further reading[edit]

To 1600[edit]


Since 1900[edit]


External links[edit]