Paris History

Paris’ history begins with a Celtic tribe called the Parisii, who set up a fort and a settlement here in the 3rd century. Long-running struggles with the Roman Empire culminated in the conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar in 52 BC.

Paris prospered greatly under the Roman Empire, when it was known as Lutetia. From the late 5th century, as the Romans weakened, Paris was threatened by Attila the Hun, Franks and Germans. Covis I ended up taking power as King of the Franks. The Vikings invaded through the 9th century, leading to the construction of mighty fortresses to defend it. The Capetians ruled out of Paris for eight centuries from the 10th century.

When the last Capetian king died without an heir, it led to the Hundred Years War between France and England, followed by the Black Death and then several grisly events surrounding the clash between Catholicism and Protestantism. During the Bourbon dynasty, Cardinal Richelieu influenced the striking Palais du Luxembourg and the rebuilding of the prestigious Sorbonne.

By the end of the 18th century, Paris was world-renowned for culture, wealth and philosophy, but after intervening against England in the American War of Independence, France came close to bankruptcy. Then the harvest failed in 1788 and famine swept throughout the country, tensions rose and crowds stormed the Bastille prison on 14th July 1789, starting the French Revolution.

After the Reign of Terror came Napoleon and the conquest of much of Europe, spreading the tenets of revolutionary France. He was defeated in 1814. By the time the Eiffel Tower went up in 1889, Paris was enjoying its Belle Époque and was once again the envy of the world.

WWI and the Great Depression took their toll, while during WWII the Nazis occupied the city. Spared the widespread bombing that destroyed much of Western Europe’s cities, post-war Paris emerged triumphant and resilient. As the 21st century dawned, it was once again one of the greatest cities in the world.

Did you know?
• Traditionally, Paris’ history begins with Celts, but the area has in fact been inhabited since the distant Mesolithic period some 10,000 years ago.
• With the overthrow of the monarchy during the French Revolution and Robespierre’s Reign of Terror, 2,500 people were executed in Paris.
• Napoleon’s nephew became Emperor between 1852 and 1870, but Napoleon III’s reign ended with the disastrous Franco-Prussian War and the declaration of the Third Republic.

Visa and passport information is updated regularly and is correct at the time of publishing. You should verify critical travel information independently with the relevant embassy before you travel.