Today, Paris has something for everyone in a multifaceted, magical and mythical capital: sometimes secret, always surprising. Not to mention one of the most romantic cities in the world. Two hundred and fifty years before Julius Caesar pulled up to shore and camped on Île de la Cité in 53 B.C., a Celtic tribe known as Parisii (boat people) occupied the island and the land on both its banks, and cruised the waters of the Seine in lucrative trading. They called the land Lutetia, which meant “boatyard on the water.” Caesar expanded his empire by crushing a Parisii rebellion, and the Romans renamed their settlement Lutetia Parisiorum.
They rebuilt the town, walled it off, and constructed a temple to Jupiter and Caesar on the site of the future Notre-Dame cathedral. They also built bridges to connect the banks, and the city spread outward from Île de la Cité through centuries of struggle and warfare, bombardment and occupation. Christianity intervened, then the Franks invaded, and Charlemagne ruled benevolently from afar but encouraged trade and commerce. Enter the Vikings in the ninth century. Their repeated sackings caused a retreat to the island as the outlying areas were not defensible. In the twelfth century, the Knights Templer assumed control and Bishop Maurice de Sully began construction on Notre-Dame.
The French monarchy developed and took command in reaction to the repeated Viking incursions and the lack of effective action by the foreign rulers: Governor Hugh Capet ascended the throne and made Paris his capital; Île de la Cité became the site of his home, where now stands the Palais de Justice. Philip II occupied the medieval palace complex that today includes Sainte-Chapelle. He developed Paris into being the center of what was considered Europe during the Middle Ages, and expanded the old Roman wall around the island and beyond. Medieval life on Île de la Cité was a tangled web of streets and markets and buildings.
By the mid–nineteenth century, when Napoléon III named George Haussmann his prefect of Paris and placed him in charge of urban renewal, life on the island had deteriorated: Streets were narrow, twisted, and filthy—crowded and squalid. Haussmann engineered new routes, widening streets and razing old buildings. The result of his tinkering left Notre-Dame with breathing room, while opening the door to a twentieth-century maze of tourist buses. Essentially, he created modern Paris. Though its actual administration was divided into the first and fourth arrondissements, Île de la Cité is its heart.
Paris is a majestic city, a city of culture, romance, gastronomy, design and fashion. It is also a city on the move, a city of daring. It’s also huge, and while exploring the city by bike or metro has it’s advantages, consider the options of cheap car hire in Paris so you can actually move comfortably around. With the opening of new museums, world-class sporting events, festive and popular urban happenings like “Nuit Blanche” and “Paris Plage”, Paris is a capital that never sleeps. Whether you are a newcomer or already familiar with the Paris scene, there is a vast choice awaiting you: over 1,800 classified monuments, 170 museums, 145 theatres and 380 cinemas. Some of the cultural sites of the capital are absolute “musts” and among the most visited monuments in the world. Several of them have UNESCO world heritage status.
Paris, however, is not just a historical city. Its riverbanks and neighborhoods, some of which retain a village atmosphere, are an invitation to stroll and sight-see. By day or by night, from Belleville to the Marais, from the Butte aux Cailles to Montmartre, soak up the special ambiance of these quarters to grasp the true “spirit” of the city and let yourself be carried away by its energy and vitality. Discover the history of France, check out the latest trends, enjoy the parks and gardens or go on a shopping spree. And also consider hiring a car when in France to explore the picturesque French countryside. Just like the Parisians. And, take your time. Paris, the eternal, City of Lights, original, modern and creative is all yours.