The history of Paris goes back more than 2,000 years when some 60 Celtic tribes called the Gauls inhabited the region, most notably in the Paris Basin on the Ile de la Cité. One of their tribes, the Parisii, eventually gave their name to the present-day city. The Gauls were composed of warrior tribes who hunted, fished, and lived in huts with thatched roofs. Their religion, called druidism, celebrated nature. Many present day religious festivals include remnants of druidic worship. The main festival, la fête du gui (mistletoe), welcomed in the new year. They also burned the Yule log to celebrate the return to light after a long dark season of winter. Their chief warrior, Vercingétorix, was defeated by the Roman army under Julius Caesar (c. 100–44 B. C. ) in about 50 B. C. The Romans renamed the Gaulish capital Lutetia, which it remained until it was reconquered by a Germanic tribe called the Franks—hence the name for present day France (land of the Franks). Their king, Clovis (465–511) converted to Christianity and took the old name of Paris for its capital. By brute force, Clovis established the Merovingian dynasty of kings and established a code of laws known as the Salic Law. In 800, Charlemagne (747–814) moved his capital from Aix-la-Chapelle to Paris, thus solidifying Paris as the permanent capital city of what would become modern day France. Between 900 and 1000, another tribe of invaders called Vikings (actually Norsemen) repeatedly invaded and pillaged Paris until they eventually became a civilized part of the community.
By the middle of the twelfth century, King Philippe Auguste (1165–1223)
Gradually the city of Paris became so heavily populated that the walls were erected further and further out to accommodate the growing community. The last of these protective walls was razed in 1919 by the government of the Third Republic. The kings of France slowly enlarged and modernized the Louvre to become the palace of kings. The French Revolution (1789–93) was a turning point for the modernization of Paris. During that turbulent period, there were riots in the streets, and the people barricaded the narrow, winding streets to thwart the power of the government. The reign of Emperor Napoleon I (1769–1821) saw the building of monuments and the creation of a modern sewer system, which beautified and cleansed the city. The brief restoration of the monarchy (1848–1870) saw the rebuilding of Paris from a medieval town to a city of breathtaking beauty and grandeur. Under the leadership of Baron Haussmann (1809–1891), the boulevards were widened so that they could no longer be easily barricaded. Parks and monuments were created; the Louvre was completed; the Opera house was built; and an extensive system of sewers was constructed. The city was at that time organized into its present-day 20 arrondissements. Building codes were enforced to keep the neo-classical look and to maintain a low building height.
In 1889, the World's Fair came to Paris, which unveiled the newest crowning glory, the Eiffel Tower. At the time of its construction, it was thought to be a monstrosity, and the French people wanted it torn down immediately. The tower outlasted the controversy to become the symbol of Paris. In 1900, Paris joined London in the construction of the subway (the Métropolitain). The metro stations at the turn of the century were beautiful examples of Art Deco, with intricately designed ironwork gates. Some of these still exist today.
During World War II, the city of Paris was almost destroyed by German bombs. Miraculously, Paris survived the war intact. All of the treasures in the Louvre art museum were hidden by the French people during the war, so they would not be taken by the invading German army. The government of General Charles de Gaulle brought the French government to the present Fifth Republic.
Modern-day Paris is truly a feast for all of the senses. The classical beauty of the city is breathtaking at night when many of the monuments are lighted. A new opera house has been added at the former location of La Bastille (a political prison during the French Revolution), and some high-rise buildings have been constructed outside the central area. Basically, Paris remains true to the architectural plans of Baron Haussmann. The wide, main boulevards are crowded with people 24 hours a day. One can relax in a sidewalk café or visit any number of the many museums Paris has to offer. The cuisine is delicious, whether from a café or an elegant five-star restaurant. Shoppers can find the very latest in fashion or browse the flea markets for a bargain. New urban renewal during the 1990s saw the renovation of the Beaubourg area with the destruction of Les Halles (a central market place) and the creation of the Centre Pompidou (arts) in its place. New business centers in La Défense have been added to the International Communication Center. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Paris has retained all the allure, mystery, and romance of its fabled past. That is why Paris is the number one destination for travelers around the world.