Paris

“I happened to be in winter quarters at my beloved Lutetia, for that is how the Celts call the capital of the Parisians. It is a small island lying in the river; a wall entirely surrounds it, and wooden bridges lead to it on both sides. The river seldom rises and falls, but usually is the same depth in the winter as in the summer season, and it provides water which is very clear to the eye and very pleasant for one who wishes to drink. For since the inhabitants live on an island they have to draw their water chiefly from the river.” Emperor Julian in “The Misopogon,” 363

DESCRIPTION

ACCESS

HISTORY
“The first people to establish a permanent base here (in Paris), probably in the 4th century BC, were a Celtic tribe later called (by the Romans) Parisii. They established themselves on what is now the Île de la Cité, the biggest of what were then a dozen islands, in a river probably twice as wide then as now. They were semi-nomadic, trading up and down the river, leaving no trace of grand buildings or paved streets, and with no bridges to connect their settlement to the banks. They worshipped the water: a fact worth recalling when one sees modern Paris’ coat of arms (of a ship afloat) and motto (fluctuat nec mergitur: she is tossed on the waves but not engulfed).” Delia Gray-Durant

When Julius Caesar embarked on his conquest of Gaul in 58 BCE, he encountered primarily a nomadic people without a union between villages. The organization and strategy of the Romans overcame the more numerous yet disorganized Gauls. Vercingetorix, a greatest Gallic general, attempted in vain to coordinate a unified Gaul. Vercingetorix surrendered after the historic battle of Alesia and was eventually executed in Rome.

In 52 BCE, the Romans defeated a combination of Gallic tribes, including the Parisi, near what is today the Champ de Mars. The Roman victory transformed the urban design, agriculture, and trade of Lutetia (Paris). A considerable amount of the structure of contemporary Paris can be traced back to Roman Lutetia.

The fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of Christianity is embodied in the life and death of Saint-Denis.

“By the end of the first century A.D., Christianity had arrived in Paris, followed shortly thereafter by the first martyrs. Dionysius, or Denis, came from Rome and was probably Greek. Aged ninety, he was arrested for denying the divinity of the Emperor, imprisoned on what is now the Quai aux Fleurs, close to the modern Préfecture de Police, and then dragged up the Roman highway that still bears his name northwards from the Seine. On top of a hill overlooking the city where stood a temple to Mercury, he and two supporters were decapitated. According to legend, he picked up his head with its long white beard, washed it in a nearby stream, and continued walking for “six thousand paces.” The spot where he finally dropped and was buried became a holy place. Eventually the cathedral of Saint-Denis was built on its site, subsequently to become the burial place of French kings from Dagobert onwards. His place of execution became the “Mons Martyrum”—or Montmartre; and the city annals chalked up their first revolutionary martyr as well as their first bishop.” Alistair Horne

REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING

UNESCO World Heritage Foundation

Deutsch, Lorant. Métronome : L’histoire de France au rythme du métro parisien. Michel Lafon, 2014.

Gray-Durant, Delia. Blue Guide Paris . Blue Guides, 2015.

Horne, Alistair. Seven Ages of Paris . Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2004.

King, Ross. The Judgment of Paris. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2006.

Norwich, John Julius. A History of France. Grove Atlantic, 2018.

Price, Roger. A Concise History of France (Cambridge Concise Histories). Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Steves, Rick; Smith, Steve; Openshaw, Gene. Rick Steves’ Paris 2014 . Avalon Travel, 2014

EDITOR AND LAST UPDATE
John William Bailly 06 July 2022
COPYRIGHT © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Paris from Towers of Notre Dame (Photo by JW Bailly CC BY 4.0)
Paris from Towers of Notre Dame (Photo by JW Bailly CC BY 4.0)

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

LOCATION: Two airports serve Paris. Both are an easy RER (regional train) ride from the center. If arriving by train, you will arrive at one of several train stations. Not to worry, thank to its comprehensive and efficient metro, Paris is one of the easiest cities to navigate. Get a free map from a metro booth, a public transportation pass, and just go.

DESCRIPTION: Paris is the most visited city in the world and the Louvre is the most visited museum in the world. And for good reason. It is diverse, walkable, safe, and features an incredible cultural richness. Caution – do not try to do everything in one short trip. You will burn out and miss one of the most important Parisian traditions-to sit in a cafe or a park and talk about matters that have no definite answer.

1. The Louvre

Nike of Samothrace (Photo: JW Bailly CC by 4.0)
Nike of Samothrace (Photo: JW Bailly CC by 4.0)

You can’t say you’ve been to Paris if you haven’t been to the Louvre. On November 8th 1793, the French Revolutionary government formally opened the Louvre Museum. To this day, no museum in the world is as comprehensive, vast, and rich.

2. Eiffel Tower

Valerie Villa at Eiffel Tower (Photo by JW Bailly CC BY 4.0)

First, take the obligatory picture. Good. Now, take a moment to appreciate the meaning of the Eiffel Tower’s revolutionary and controversial history—it really is fascinating. Cabeza Tip: Take the stairs, it makes the view from the top so much more rewarding.

3. Notre Dame & Ile de la Cite

Notre.Dame
Notre Dame (Photo by JW Bailly CC BY 4.0)

Visiting Ile de la Cite is talking a walk through history. Paris was born on this island, and to this day, the center of French civic and religious life is here.

4. Orsay

Orsay.JWB
Cabeza’s JW Bailly in Musée d’Orsay (Photo by Corey Ryan CC BY 4.0)

As heavy as the Louvre is, the Orsay is light.  Housed in a beautiful repurposed railway station, this museum is smaller, the works more intimate, and the subjects less daunting.

5. Centre Pompidou/Museum of Modern Art

Klein
Cabeza’s Corey Ryan in front of Klein’s Blue (Photo by JW Bailly CC BY 4.0)

The trifecta of Parisian art museums end here. The Louvre covers prehistory to 1848, the Orsay 1848 to 1914, and the Centre Pompidou from 1900 to the present day. The building is incredible, the art inside, even more so. Cabeza Tip: Don’t miss the amazing views from the rooftop.

6. Invalides/Musée de l’Armée

Napoleon Tomb
Napoleon’s Tomb at Invalides (Photo by JW Bailly CC BY 4.0)

There are several reasons to visit this museum: Napoleon’s tomb, the incredible collection of historical weapons, and the comprehensive and compelling World War II exhibition. This is the best place for children (and maybe adults) to learn their history.

7. Jardin du Luxembourg

Luxembourg
Luxembourg Gardens (Photo: Stephanie Sepulveda CC BY 4.0)

Are you 20-something and in Paris? Then go lunch and hang out on the greens of Luxembourg. It is the best spot to engage in Paris’ respectful, reserved, but absolutely lovely, flirting.

8. Place des Vosges

Place des Vosges (Photo: Stephanie Sepulveda CC BY 4.0)
Place des Vosges (Photo: Stephanie Sepulveda CC BY 4.0)

Some consider this the greatest square in the world for its stunning architecture and intimacy. This is the place to spend an afternoon idly lounging in the way only Parisians know how.  

9. Pere Lachaise Cemetery

Jim Morrison
Jim Morrison grave at Pere Lachaise (Photo by JW Bailly CC BY 4.0)

Can a cemetery be romantic? Weird, but definitely, yes. Buy a map and visit the graves of many of the greatest minds that Paris has given the world—from Delacroix to Oscar Wilde.

10. Arc de Triomphe & Champs Elysses

Arc.Triomphe
La Marseillaise on the Arc de Triomphe (Photo: JW Bailly CC BY 4.0)

Take a walk down the iconic Champs-Elysses to reach the Arc de Triomphe. Remember, Napoleon saw himself as a Roman, and this was designed to be his lasting legacy monument, built for his victorious troops. Cabeza Bonus: Beneath it lies the original tomb of the unknown soldier.

REFLECTION

SOURCES/LINKS

AUTHOR(S) AND LAST UPDATE John William Bailly and Stephanie Sepulveda, 29 January 2016 COPYRIGHT © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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