Paris is the capital and largest city of France. It is situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region. The city of Paris, within its administrative limits (the 20 arrondissements), has a population of about 2,230,000. Its metropolitan area is one of the largest population centres in Europe, with more than 12 million inhabitants.
An important settlement for more than two millennia, Paris had become, by the 12th century, one of Europe's foremost centres of learning and the arts and the largest city in the Western world until the turn of the 18th century. Paris is today one of the world's leading business and cultural centres and its influences in politics, education, entertainment, media, science, and the arts all contribute to its status as one of the world's major global cities.
Paris and the Paris region, with €572.4 billion in 2010, produce more than a quarter of the gross domestic product of France and has one of the largest city GDPs in the world. Considered as green and highly liveable, the city and its region are the world's leading tourism destination. They house four UNESCO World Heritage Sites and many international organizations.
The earliest archaeological signs of permanent settlements in the Paris area date from around 4200 BC. The Parisii, a sub-tribe of the Celtic Senones, inhabited the area near the river Seine from around 250 BC. The Romans conquered the Paris basin in 52 BC, with a permanent settlement by the end of the same century on the Left Bank Sainte Geneviève Hill and the Île de la Cité. The Gallo-Roman town was originally called Lutetia, or Lutetia Parisorum but later Gallicised to Lutèce. It expanded greatly over the following centuries, becoming a prosperous city with a forum, palaces, baths, temples, theatres, and an amphitheatre.
The collapse of the Roman empire and the 5th-century Germanic invasions sent the city into a period of decline. By AD 400, Lutèce, largely abandoned by its inhabitants, was little more than a garrison town entrenched into a hastily fortified central island. The city reclaimed its original appellation of "Paris" towards the end of the Roman occupation, around 360 AD.
Merovingian and Feudal Eras
The Paris region was under full control of the Germanic Franks by the late 5th century. The Frankish king Clovis the Frank, the first king of the Merovingian dynasty, made the city his capital from 508. The late 8th century Carolingian dynasty displaced the Frankish capital to Aachen; this period coincided with the beginning of Viking invasions that had spread as far as Paris by the early 9th century.
Repeated invasions forced Parisians to build a fortress on the Île de la Cité. One of the most remarkable Viking raids was on 28 March 845, when Paris was sacked and held ransom, probably by Ragnar Lodbrok, who left only after receiving a large bounty paid by the crown. The weakness of the late Carolingian kings of France led to the gradual rise in power of the Counts of Paris; Odo, Count of Paris, was elected king of France by feudal lords, and the end of the Carolingian empire came in 987 when Hugh Capet, count of Paris, was elected king of France. Paris, under the Capetian kings, became a capital once more.
Middle Ages to 18th century
Paris's population was around 200,000 when the Black Death arrived in 1348, killing as many as 800 people a day; and 40,000 died from the plague in 1466. During the 16th and 17th centuries, plague visited the city for almost one year out of three. Paris lost its position as seat of the French realm during the occupation by the English-allied Burgundians during the Hundred Years' War, but regained its title when Charles VII of France reclaimed the city from English rule in 1436. Paris from then on became France's capital once again in title, but France's real centre of power would remain in the Loire Valley until King Francis I returned France's crown residences to Paris in 1528.
During the French Wars of Religion, Paris was a stronghold of the Catholic party. In August 1572, under the reign of Charles IX, while many noble Protestants were in Paris on the occasion of the marriage of Henry of Navarre – the future Henry IV – to Margaret of Valois, sister of Charles IX, the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre occurred; beginning on 24 August, it lasted several days and spread throughout the country.
In 1590 Henry IV unsuccessfully laid siege to the city in the Siege of Paris. During the Fronde, Parisians rose in rebellion and the royal family fled the city (1648). King Louis XIV then moved the royal court permanently to Versailles, a lavish estate on the outskirts of Paris, in 1682. After this, Paris was no longer the largest city in Western Europe.
A century later, Paris was the centre stage for the French Revolution. On 14 July 1789, Parisians appalled by the King’s pressure on the new assembly formed by the Third Estate, took siege of the Bastille fortress, a symbol of absolutism. This event is considered to be the start of the revolution and the decline of the divine right of monarchs in France. Jean-Sylvain Bailly, the first Mayor, was elected on 15 July 1789, and two days later the national tricolour flag with the colors of Paris (blue and red) and of the King (white) was adopted at the Hôtel de Ville by Louis XVI. The Republic was declared for the first time in 1792. In 1793, Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette were executed on the Place de la Révolution, in Paris, the site of many executions. The guillotine was most active during the "Reign of Terror", in the summer of 1794, when in a single month more than 1,300 people were executed. Following the Terror, the French Directory held control until it was overthrown in a coup d'état by Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon put an end to the Revolution and established French Consulate, and then later was elected by plebscite as emperor of the First French Empire.
Paris was occupied by Russian and Allied armies upon Napoleon's defeat on the 31 March 1814; this was the first time in 400 years that the city had been conquered by a foreign power. The ensuing Restoration period, or the return of the monarchy under Louis XVIII (1814–1824) and Charles X, ended with the July Revolution Parisian uprising of 1830. The new 'constitutional monarchy' under Louis-Philippe ended with the 1848 "February Revolution" that led to the creation of the Second Republic.
Throughout these events, cholera epidemics in 1832 and 1850 ravaged the population of Paris; the 1832 epidemic alone claimed 20,000 of the population of 650,000.
The greatest development in Paris's history began with the Industrial Revolution creation of a network of railways that brought an unprecedented flow of migrants to the capital from the 1840s. The city's largest transformation came with the 1852 Second Empire under Napoleon III; his préfet, Baron Haussmann, levelled entire districts of Paris' narrow, winding medieval streets to create the network of wide avenues and neo-classical façades that still make up much of modern Paris; the reason for this transformation was twofold, as not only did the creation of wide boulevards beautify and sanitize the capital, it also facilitated the effectiveness of troops and artillery against any further uprisings and barricades for which Paris was so famous.
The Second Empire ended in the Franco-Prussian War (1870–1871), and a besieged Paris under heavy bombardment surrendered on 28 January 1871. The discontent of Paris' populace with the new armistice-signing government seated in Versailles resulted in the creation of the Paris Commune government, supported by an army created in large part of members of the city's former National Guard who would both continue resistance against the Prussians and oppose the army of the "Versaillais" government. The Paris Commune ended with the Semaine Sanglante ("Bloody Week"), during which roughly 20,000 "Communards" were executed before the fighting ended on 28 May 1871. The ease with which the Versaillais army overtook Paris owed much to Baron Haussmann's renovations.
France's late 19th-century Universal Expositions made Paris an increasingly important centre of technology, trade, and tourism. Its most famous were the 1889 Exposition universelle to which Paris owes its "temporary" display of architectural engineering progress, the Eiffel Tower, which remained the world's tallest structure until 1930; the 1900 Universal Exposition saw the opening of the first Paris Métro line.
During World War I, Paris was at the forefront of the war effort, having been spared a German invasion by the French and British victory at the First Battle of the Marne in 1914. In 1918–1919, it was the scene of Allied victory parades and peace negotiations. In the inter-war period, Paris was famed for its cultural and artistic communities and its nightlife. The city became a gathering place of artists from around the world, from exiled Russian composer Stravinsky and Spanish painters Picasso and Dalí to American writer Hemingway.
In the post-war era, Paris experienced its largest development since the end of the Belle Époque in 1914. The suburbs began to expand considerably, with the construction of large social estates known as cités and the beginning of the business district La Défense. A comprehensive express subway network, the RER, was built to complement the Métro and serve the distant suburbs, while a network of freeways was developed in the suburbs, centred on the Périphérique expressway encircling the city.
Since the 1970s, many inner suburbs of Paris (especially the northern and eastern ones) have experienced deindustrialization, and the once-thriving cités have gradually become ghettos for immigrants and experienced significant unemployment. At the same time, the city of Paris (within its Périphérique expressway) and the western and southern suburbs have successfully shifted their economic base from traditional manufacturing to high-value-added services and high-tech manufacturing, generating great wealth for their residents whose per capita income is among the highest in Europe. The resulting widening social gap between these two areas has led to periodic unrest since the mid-1980s, such as the 2005 riots which were concentrated for the most part in the northeastern suburbs.
A massive urban renewal project, the Grand Paris (Greater Paris), was launched in 2007 by former French President Nicolas Sarkozy. It consists of various economic, cultural, housing, transport and environmental projects to reach a better integration of the territories and revitalise the metropolitan economy. The most emblematic project is the construction by 2025 of a new automatic metro, which will consist of 150 km of rapid-transit lines connecting the Grand Paris regions to one another and to the centre of Paris.
Nevertheless, the Paris metropolitan area is still divided into numerous territorial collectivities and their fusion into a more integrated metropolis government, although sometimes discussed is not on the agenda. An ad-hoc structure, Paris Métropole, has however been established in June 2009 to coordinate the action of 184 "Parisian" territorial collectivities.
In an effort to boost the global economic image of metropolitan Paris, several skyscrapers ( and higher) have been approved since 2006 in the business district of La Défense, to the west of the city proper, and are scheduled to be completed by the early 2010s. Paris authorities also stated publicly that they are planning to authorise the construction of skyscrapers within the city proper by relaxing the cap on building height for the first time since the construction of the Tour Montparnasse in the early 1970s.