Paris is a city with a proud and very ancient history. Originally founded in the third century BC, on an island in the middle of the Seine, it was the capital city of a tribe known as the Parisii, who gave it their name.
In Roman times, the city expanded beyond the islands in the Seine, and became known as Lutetia.
During the decline of the Roman Empire, northern France was overrun by a Germanic tribe called the Franks, whose new kingdom – part of the Holy Roman Empire – became known as West Francia, with its capital at Paris.
In the early Middle Ages, West Francia became France, and Paris grew in importance as a European city. By the 12th century, when Notre Dame cathedral was built on the largest of the islands in the Seine, Paris was the capital of one of the most powerful kingdoms in Europe, and its importance as an international city has never waned.
Many of the great buildings of Paris, such as the Louvre and the Panthéon, date from the 17th and 18th centuries when royal power in France was at its peak. Yet the “shape” of modern Paris was largely determined in the mid 19th century, when a radical city-planner, Baron Haussmann, was given the job of opening up the old city with its narrow twisting streets. Haussmann designed a city criss-crossed by broad tree-lined boulevards, flanked by spacious apartment buildings – which is essentially the Paris we know today. The Eiffel Tower was added for the Universal Exhibition of 1889.
Though the city walls are long gone, central Paris is now known as “Paris intra-muros”, or Paris within the walls, which is the area with almost all the main tourist attractions. Where there once stood city walls, there is now the “boulevard périphérique” or inner ring road, clearly visible on the map. Beyond that the modern city of Paris extends in all directions.
On this and other pages, discover the About-France.com visitor guide to Paris, providing you with all you need to know when planning a trip to this magnificent city.