B ACKG ROU N D
The early history of the Celts is murky, but it is thought that they originated somewhere in the
eastern part of central Europe around the 2nd millennium BC and began to migrate across the
continent, arriving in France some time in the 7th century BC. In the 3rd century a group of
Celtic Gauls called theParisii settled on the site of present-day Paris.
Centuries of conflict between the Gauls and Romans ended in 52 BC, with the latter taking
control of the territory. The settlement on the Seine prospered as the Roman town of Lutetia
(from the Latin for ‘midwater dwelling’; in French, Lutèce), counting some 10,000 inhabitants
by the 3rd century AD.
The so-called Great Migrations, beginning aroundthe middle of the 3rd century AD with
raids by the Franks and then by the Alemanii from the east, left the settlement on the south
bank scorched and pillaged, and its inhabitants fled to the Île de la Cité, which was subsequently
fortified with stone walls. Christianity had been introduced early in the previous century, and
the first church, probably made of wood, was built on the westernpart of the island.
With just under 12 million inhabitants, the greater metropolitan area of Paris is home to almost
19% of France’s total population (central Paris counts just under 2.2 million people). Since
before the Revolution, Paris has been what urban planners like to call a ‘hypertrophic city’ – the
enlarged ‘head’ of a nation-state’s ‘body’. The urban area of thenext biggest city – Marseilles – is
just over a third the size of central Paris.
As the capital city, Paris is the administrative, business and cultural centre; virtually everything
of importance in the republic starts, finishes or is currently taking place here. The French have
always said ‘Quand Paris éternue, la France s’en rhume’ (When Paris sneezes, France catches
cold) but there havebeen conscious efforts – going back at least four decades – by governments
to decentralise Paris’ role, and during that time the population, and thus to a certain extent the
city’s authority, has actually shrunk. It dropped by 2% between 2004 and 2010 alone.
Paris has a timeless quality, a condition that can often be deceiving. While the cobbled
backstreets of Montmartre, the terraced cafés ofMontparnasse, the iconic structure of the
Eiffel Tower and the placid waters of the Seine may all appear to have been in place since time
immemorial, that’s hardly the case.
INVASIONS & DYNASTIES
The Romans occupied what would become known as Paris (after its first settlers) from AD 212
to the late 5th century. It was at this time that a second wave of Franks and other Germanic
tribesunder Merovius from the north and northeast overran the territory. Merovius’ grandson,
Clovis I, converted to Christianity and made Paris his seat in 508. Childeric II, Clovis’ son and
3rd century BC
Celtic Gauls called Parisii – believed to
mean ‘boat men’ – arrive in the Paris area
and set up a few wattle-and-daub huts on
what is now the Île de la Cité, where theyengage in fishing and trading.
Roman legions under Julius Caesar crush
a Celtic revolt led by Vercingétorix on the
Mons Lutetius (now the site of the Panthéon) and establish the town of Lutetia.
Paris is repeatedly raided by Vikings for
more than four decades, including the
siege of 885–86 by Siegfried the Saxon,
which lasts 10 months but ends in victory
for the French.
successor, founded the Abbey of St-Germain des Prés half a century later, and the dynasty’s
most productive ruler, Dagobert, established an abbey at St-Denis. The latter soon became the
richest, most important monastery in France and the final resting place of its kings.
The militaristic rulers of the Carolingian dynasty, beginning with Charles ‘the Hammer’