Destination guide: Paris, France
Paris is the capital of France and one of the most famous cities in Europe.
Each year, thousands of tourists arrive in the so-called "City of Love" to visit the Eiffel Tower, the River Seine, the Moulin Rouge, the Olympic Stadium, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre Museum, the Champs Elysees and Notre Dame Cathedral, as well as many other attractions.
Paris has a bohemian, inspiring and sublime atmosphere, which is why it's normal to see artists looking for their muses, poets reciting their poetry and people reading in public. Plan your trip to Paris and discover all the charm this city has to offer.
Paris - History Overview
In the 3rd century BC a tribe of Celtic Gauls known as the Parisii settled on what is now the Île de la Cité. Centuries of conflict between the Gauls and Romans ended in 52 BC, and in 508 Frankish king Clovis I made Paris seat of his united Gaul kingdom.
In the 9th century France was beset by Scandinavian Vikings; within three centuries these ‘Norsemen’ started pushing towards Paris, which had risen so rapidly in importance that construction had begun on the cathedral of Notre Dame in the 12th century, the Louvre was built as a riverside fortress around 1200, the beautiful Ste-Chapelle was consecrated in 1248 and the Sorbonne opened its doors in 1253.
Many of the city’s most famous buildings and monuments were erected during the Renaissance at the end of the 15th century. But in less than a century Paris was again in turmoil, as clashes between Huguenot (Protestant) and Catholic groups increased. The worst such incident was the so-called St Bartholomew’s Day massacre in 1572, in which 3000 Huguenots who had gathered in Paris to celebrate the wedding of Henri of Navarre (later King Henri IV) were slaughtered.
Louis XIV, also known as the Sun King, ascended the throne in 1643 at the age of five and ruled until 1715, virtually emptying the national coffers with his ambitious building and battling. His greatest legacy is the palace at Versailles. The excesses of Louis XVI and his queen, Marie-Antoinette, in part led to an uprising of Parisians on 14 July 1789 and the storming of the Bastille prison – kick-starting the French Revolution.
France struggled under a string of mostly inept rulers until a coup d’état in 1851 brought Emperor Napoleon III to power. He oversaw the construction of a more modern Paris, with wide boulevards, sculpted parks and modern sewer system. Like his pugnacious uncle, however, Napoleon had a taste for blood, which led to his costly and unsuccessful war with Prussia in 1870. When the masses in Paris heard of their emperor’s capture by the enemy, they took to the streets, demanding that a republic be declared. Despite its bloody beginnings, the Third Republic ushered in the glittering and very creative period known as the belle époque (beautiful age), celebrated for its graceful art nouveau architecture and advances in the arts and sciences.
By the 1930s, Paris was a centre for the artistic avant-garde and had established its reputation among free-thinking intellectuals. This was all cut short by the Nazi occupation of 1940; Paris remained under direct German rule until 25 August 1944.
After the war, Paris regained its position as a creative centre and nurtured a revitalised liberalism that reached a climax in the student-led uprisings of 1968. The Sorbonne was occupied, barricades were set up in the Latin Quarter and some nine million people nationwide were inspired to join in a general strike that paralysed the country.
During the 1980s President François Mitterrand initiated several costly grands projets, a series of building projects that garnered widespread approval even when the results were popular failures. In 2001, Bertrand Delanoë, a socialist with support from the Green Party, became Paris’ – and a European capital’s – first openly gay mayor. He was returned to power in the second round of voting in the 2008 elections.