Having played an integral role in French politics, commerce, and tourism for centuries, Paris is one of the most important capital cities in European – and international – history. This is a city that is timeless in its culture, beauty, and refinement, and the legacy of the past shines through in a number of magnificent monuments. While it may be easy to assume that the grandeur of Paris has always been, the city has experienced its share of turmoil since the earliest civilisations made settlements here.
The region around Paris was founded by an ancient Celtic tribe known as the Parisii, whose settlement in the region would lead to continued dispute with the invading Romans lead by Julius Caesar in 52BC. The might of the Empire saw the demise of the Parisii and the establishment on the banks of the Seine of the town of Lutetia – Latin for ‘midwater dwelling’.
The subsequent growth of the Lutetia, followed by the crumbling of Roman power across Europe during the fifth century, meant that interest in the region was heightened among the Franks and other German invaders. Under the stewardship of Clovis I, Paris converted to Christianity, and the seat of control was set in the city, with grand cathedrals and abbeys soon appearing as a symbol of the region’s significance.
Counts of Paris
In the wake of Clovis’ rule, however, the Carolingian dynasty was to neglect the importance of Paris and, when Charlemagne moved the capital to Aix-la-Chapelle, the city suffered a number of sackings from Viking invaders. It would fall on the counts of Paris to help restore the glory to the city, with the eventual crowning of Hugh Capet as king in 987 returning administrative and monarchical power to the region.
Though the Capetian dynasty would go on to maintain control of France for the next 800 years, the Middle Ages was a period that blighted Paris and decimated the population. From the Hundred Years’ War to the Black Death, political uprisings to feudal disputes, by the end of the 15th century the capital was a shadow of what it once was, and but a pale imitation of what it would go on to be.
Renaissance, Reform and Revolution
In the centuries that followed, the changing face of Paris took influence from some of recent history’s most significant events. The artistic splendour of the Renaissance found its way to the French capital, influencing both the architecture and the artists of the city, while the Protestant Reformation acted as a catalyst for the War of Religions, triggering a change of leadership and the eventual ascension to the throne of Louis XIII and the dawn of Bourbon rule.
Few events would invoke such significant change as the French Revolution, and so it was that on July 14, 1789, the storming of the Bastille set in motion acts that abolished the monarchy and established France as a Republic, ushering in an era under the control of Napoleon Bonaparte.
The last two centuries have continued to see Paris evolve and adapt according to circumstance. The advent of the city as a hub of cultural activity has been quick and enduring, with artists from around the globe flocking to the region to make their mark. Even the horrors of two World Wars could not destroy the splendour of the city and, as the capital has moved towards the modern era, its cosmopolitan feel, rich heritage, and compelling landmarks ensure there is no city quite like Paris anywhere in the world.