Paris

Short history

Paris’s storied past begins around the 3rd century BC with its foundation by the Parisii, a Gallic tribe. The city, initially named Lutetia, flourished under Roman rule after its conquest in 52 BC. The Middle Ages marked a transformation as it became the heart of French royalty and intellectual life, epitomized by the founding of the University of Paris in the 12th century. The Renaissance further enriched Paris, bringing art and architecture to the fore, with landmarks such as the Louvre Palace taking shape.

The city was epicenter of the French Revolution in the late 18th century, leading to profound political and social upheaval. Yet, the 19th and 20th centuries introduced an era of growth and modernization, exemplified by Haussmann’s renovations and the construction of the Eiffel Tower. World Wars I and II saw Paris under siege and occupation. Today, Paris stands as a symbol of culture, innovation, and history, continually evolving while cherishing its illustrious past.

Geography

Paris is strategically positioned in the northern part of France, within the Île-de-France region. It spans across the banks of the Seine River. The city’s relief is relatively flat, enabling urban expansion and development. However, it is punctuated by Montmartre, its highest point, which provides a panoramic view of the city below.

The climate of Paris is categorized as an oceanic climate, experiencing mild to warm summers and cold winters. Precipitation is distributed throughout the year, ensuring the city’s gardens and parks remain fresh and green.

Urban layout of Paris is renowned for its logical arrangement, thanks to the visionary work of Baron Haussmann in the 19th century. Wide boulevards, uniform building facades, and the iconic radial arrangement around the Arc de Triomphe create a distinctive and navigable urban fabric. 

Paris is administratively divided into 20 arrondissements, starting with the 1st in the center and spiraling outwards in a clockwise direction.

Population

According to the latest data, the city’s population is over 2.1 million inhabitants, located within its city limits, with a Metropolitan area that zooms out to include nearly 12 million residents. 

The ethnic composition is very heterogeneous, including native French alongside substantial numbers of immigrants and descendants from former French colonies in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. This mixing of backgrounds fosters a special cultural environment seen in the city’s culinary, artistic, and social scenes.

Religiously, Paris is predominantly Christian (Catholic), but with large Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, and Hindu communities, mirroring its multicultural identity.

The official language is French, spoken with the distinct Parisian accent. However, the soundscapes of Parisian streets are polyphonic, with a numerous languages spoken by its international residents and the millions of tourists.

Main sights

  • Eiffel Tower: An iconic symbol of France, this wrought-iron lattice tower provides breathtaking panoramic views of the city and was originally constructed for the 1889 World’s Fair.
  • Louvre Museum: Home to thousands of works of art, including the world-famous Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo, the Louvre is the world’s largest art museum and a historic monument in Paris.
  • Notre-Dame Cathedral: A masterpiece of French Gothic architecture, this historic Catholic cathedral is renowned for its facades, rose windows, and significant role in French cultural and religious life.
  • Sacré-Cœur Basilica: Situated at the summit of Montmartre, the highest point in the city, this basilica is known for its white domes, mosaics, and as a site of pilgrimage.
  • Champs-Élysées and Arc de Triomphe: Recognized as one of the most famous avenues in the world, the Champs-Élysées is lined with cinemas, cafes, and luxury shops, ending at the Arc de Triomphe which honors those who fought and died for France.
  • Palace of Versailles: Just outside Paris, this opulent complex and former royal residence is renowned for its extravagant architecture, beautiful gardens, and as a symbol of the absolute monarchy of the Ancien Régime.
  • Luxembourg Gardens: These gardens are beloved for their lush lawns, statues, and fountains, making it a popular spot for relaxation and leisure activities.

Food

  • Croissant: A quintessential Parisian breakfast pastry, known for its buttery, flaky layers and golden exterior. This delightful pastry pairs perfectly with a cup of coffee or hot chocolate for a classic Parisian start to the day.
  • Coq au Vin: A hearty French dish is a slow-cooked stew that marries chicken with wine, mushrooms, onions, and sometimes garlic. 
  • Ratatouille: This vegetable stew hails from Provence but has become a beloved dish in Parisian kitchens. Made with eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers, tomato, and seasoned with herbs, ratatouille is both a healthy and delicious representation of French culinary simplicity and elegance.
  • Bouillabaisse: Originally from Marseille, Bouillabaisse has found a home in Parisian seafood restaurants. It’s a fragrant fish stew, enriched with a variety of fish, shellfish, and flavored with saffron, fennel, and other herbs.
  • Crème Brûlée: No culinary tour of Paris is complete without indulging in Crème Brûlée. This classic dessert features a custard base topped with a contrasting layer of hard caramel, achieved by torching sugar just before serving.

Fun facts

  • The Eiffel Tower, one of Paris’s most famous attractions, was initially considered an eyesore by many Parisians and was intended to be dismantled after 20 years. It was saved due to its usefulness as a radio telegraph station.
  • Paris is home to the largest museum in the world, the Louvre, which spans over 652,300 square feet and houses more than 35,000 works of art.
  • The city’s oldest bridge, Pont Neuf, is ironically named “New Bridge.” Despite its name suggesting modernity, it was inaugurated in 1607 and stands as the oldest standing bridge across the river Seine in Paris.
  • Paris has a law that buildings cannot exceed 6 stories. This regulation is in place to preserve the city’s skyline and historical architecture, ensuring that no contemporary skyscrapers obstruct the view of its iconic landmarks.
  • There is only one stop sign in the entire city of Paris. This reflects the city’s traffic system, which is largely based on giving the right of way to vehicles in certain designated areas instead of using stop signs.