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If you ever wondered why Parisians are wary of outsiders, you have only to examine the city's turbulent history and its record of invasions by foreigners of every ilk, including the Romans, Huns, Normans, English, and Germans -- to name a few. Though it has suffered greatly during the more sombre periods of revolution and war, Paris has never failed to rear its head against adversity, always regaining its vitality, wit and artistic taste. "Fluctuat nec mergitur", Latin for "she is buffeted by the waves but she does not sink", has been the city's proud motto for over four centuries, and still holds true today.

Though many excellent tomes have been written about the various periods of Paris' history, we present for you the following capsulized version:

250 B.C.

The Parisii settle in an area they called Loukteih (Celtic for "a marsh"), during the second Iron Age.

53 B.C.

Julius Caesar mentions the area (whose name is Latinized as "Lutetia") in De Bello Gallico, his accounts of the Gallic Wars. The settlement prospers through extensive river trading and spreads to the left bank.


Christianity is introduced by St. Denis, who was later executed by the Romans at Montmartre.


The city is raided by barbarians and the Parisii take refuge on the island.


Julian the Apostate proclaimed emperor of Rome; Lutetia is renamed Paris (Civitas Parisiorum, City of the Parisians).


Attila the Hun, having pillaged Metz and Reims, sweeps northward toward Paris. A young girl, called Geneviève, exhorts panicked Parisians to hold their ground and pray. Attila and half a million Huns avoid Paris, ultimately meeting their defeat at Châlons. Geneviève later becomes the patron saint of the city.


Clovis, king of the Franks, converted to Christianity by Geneviève and baptized at Reims, chooses Paris as his capital. Clovis defeated the Roman governor of Gaul and founded the Merovingian Dynasty.


After Charlemagne becomes king of the Franks (768), Carolingians move their capital to Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen, in present-day Germany). Paris slowly declines.


The pope crowns Charlemagne Holy Roman Emperor in Rome. Charlemagne expands the French kingdom far beyond its present borders.


30,000 Norman pirates in 700 ships sail up the Seine; Comte Eudes defends Paris.


Eudes' grand-nephew, Hugues Capet, is proclaimed king; coronation is held at Noyon. He establishes the principle of hereditary rule for his descendants, the Capetians.


William the Conqueror invades England.


St. Denis, the first Gothic cathedral, is built just north of Paris. Gothic architecture becomes more fully developed at cathedrals of Chartres, Reims, Amiens, and Paris' Notre-Dame.


Construction of Notre-Dame begins, conceived and directed by Maurice de Sully, bishop of Paris.


Philippe Auguste ascends the throne; he builds a fortified castle just outside Paris' ramparts (later to become the Louvre).


The University of Paris is founded, boasting scholars like Guillaume de Champeaux and Abélard; the Latin Quarter is born on the Left Bank.


Foundation of the Sorbonne.


Etienne Marcel's revolt.


At the height of the Hundred Years' War, Paris is occupied by English forces led by Henry V. Joan of Arc besieges Paris in 1429 but fails to dislodge the English.


Henry VI of England is crowned king of France. The next year, English burn Joan of Arc at the stake in Rouen.


Charles VII recaptures the city. End of English occupation.


Reign of François I, who rebuilt the Louvre in the brand new Renaissance style imported from Italy.


Leonardo da Vinci arrives in Paris, carrying the Mona Lisa in his baggage.


Foundation of the Collège de France, the kingdom's first secular educational institution. Age of Rabelais, Montaigne, Robert Estienne, Marguerite de Navarre, Diane de Poitiers.


The Wars of Religion, a period dominated by Catherine de Médecis, mother of the last three Valois kings (François II, Charles IX, Henri III).


St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre: 3000 Protestants strangled and knifed, their corpses thrown into the Seine.


"Paris is well worth a mass," uttered by Henri IV, the first Bourbon king, abjuring his Protestant faith and converting to Catholicism at St. Denis. Entering Paris in 1594, Henri sets about reorganizing the city with new squares, bridges and a hospital.


Henry IV signs the Edict of Nantes, defining the rights of French Protestants (Huguenots) to public worship and liberty of conscience. (Edict revoked in 1685 following Louis IV's anti-Protestant measures.)


The Pont Neuf is completed, becoming one of the most popular promenades in Paris. Still admired, it is the oldest bridge in the city.


The place Royale (now the place des Vosges) built.


The Hospital of St. Louis built to treat victims of the plague. Still in use, the oldest hospital in Paris.


Henri IV, en route in his open coach from the Louvre to the Arsenal, assassinated by a deranged Jesuit, Ravaillac.


Cardinal Richelieu, chief minister to Louis XIII, founds the Académie Française, a venerable and protectionist institution overseeing the standards of the French language.


Reign of Louis XIV, the Sun King, who lives to the age of 77. The king's philosophy "L'état, c'est moi" (I am the state) aptly reflects his insistence on overseeing every minute aspect of his monarchy, governing as he did without a prime minister. He does, however, rely on the dour, workaholic Colbert to implement many grandiose architectural projects. By force of arms, Louis turns France into the most powerful nation-state in Europe. He persecutes the Huguenots, who emigrate in great numbers, nearly ruining the French economy.


Louis installs his court at Versailles, constructed over 20 years by 30,000 men. Palace furnishings are supplied by the "Royal Manufactory of Crown Furniture and Tapestries", better known as the Gobelins.


An elegant Faubourg St-Honoré town house is built for the Count of Evreux, later purchased by Madame de Pompadour and bequeathed to the King. Known today as the Elysée Palace, home to French presidents.


Louis XV commissions the building of the Ecole Militaire, the Panthéon and a square which would become the Place de la Concorde.


July 13: exhorted "to arms" by a young lawyer, Camille Desmoulins, a mob of Parisians storms the Bastille, which surrenders to the citizens on the following day, marking the beginning of the French Revolution and commemorated every year to this day.


The Festival of the Federation.


The monarchy falls and the First Republic is proclaimed.


Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette guillotined in what is now the Place de la Concorde. The Louvre becomes a public museum.


Not before 2800 heads are severed in a 13-month reign of terror, Robespierre and all members of the revolutionary tribunal are themselves guillotined. The accusers stand accused, the executioners executed.


Napoléon enters Paris. Wishing to replicate the imperial style of ancient Rome, he orders the triumphal arches of the Carrousel and the Etoile, and the Vendôme Column.


On December 2 in the Cathedral of Notre Dame, having snatched the crown from the pope and put it on his own head, Napoléon declares himself Emperor and his wife Josephine Empress of the French.

(continued at top right)


Napoléon's army is defeated by Wellington at Waterloo on June 18. Napoléon abdicates June 22, and is exiled to St-Helena in the south Atlantic. The Bourbons are briefly restored to the throne of France.


Adolphe Thiers' journal "Le National" helps to bring about the July Revolution. Charles X is overthrown and replaced by Louis-Philippe, the Citizen King.


A cholera epidemic kills 19,000 people.


The 230-ton Obelisk of Luxor arrives, a gift from Mohammed Ali Pasha, Viceroy of Egypt. The 3300-year-old stone needle bears hieroglyphics extolling the great deeds of Ramses II. It is installed at the Place de la Concorde, in the spot where Louis XV's equestrian statue had been removed during the Revolution.


Opening of the first French railway line between Paris and St-Germain-en-Laye.


Thousands witness the funeral cortege as Napoléon's body is returned to Paris, an occasion of deep civic emotion.


The 'Thiers' fortifications are built.


Barricades erected during 3-day civil strife mark another revolution and the proclamation of the Second Republic. France has its first legislative assembly. Prince Louis Napoléon Bonaparte wins the presidency by 5 million votes.


In his own coup d'état, Napoléon seizes power, has himself proclaimed Emperor of the French under the title of Napoléon III. During the ensuing twenty years of this Second Empire, Paris is transformed by the brilliant and ruthless administrator, Baron Haussman, Prefect of the Seine.


The revolutionary impressionist exhibit at the Salon des Refusés, featuring works by Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, and Paul Cézanne.


Franco-Prussian War. The Emperor and 83,000 of his troops are taken prisoner at Sedan. Parisians revolt, invade the National Assembly and proclaim the Third Republic. Prussian army lays siege to Paris.


The Paris Commune, a revolutionary Socialist government, takes over the city. Communards burn the Palace of the Tuileries and pull down Napoleon's column. 20,000 die in a "week of blood" as the Commune is suppressed by the French army under General MacMahon.


Construction of the Opéra Garnier completed.


Death of Victor Hugo.


Exposition Universelle (World's Fair) held in Paris. The Eiffel Tower is erected, amidst vociferous protests from artists and literati.


First Métro line opens. (Line 1, as it is still called, runs from Porte de Vincennes to Porte Maillot.) Paris becomes an international centre of fashion and entertainment. Montmartre witnesses the birth of modern art.


World War I, German invasion. Two million American soldiers in France. French casualties exceed 5 million. Paris is saved from the Germans by the Battle of the Marne. Sarah Bernhardt tours army camps in Camille. In the Treaty of Versailles (1919), France attempts to exact economic reparations from Germany.


Postwar era sees American writers (Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway) and other expatriates fleeing Prohibition at home to settle in Paris. Major artistic and philosophical movements arise: Constructivism, Dadaism, Surrealism, and Existentialism.


The Unknown Soldier is buried under the Arc de Triomphe.


Construction of the Maginot Line, a system of fortifications extending from Swiss to Belgian borders. (Proved useless as Germans flanked it in 1940.)


The Palais de Chaillot and Tokyo are built for the Exposition Universelle.


Germany invades France. Armistice between Hitler and aging French president Marshal Pétain allows Germans to occupy Paris; free France keeps 40% of the country, with its government based in Vichy. General Charles de Gaulle goes to London, broadcasts rallying cry to French, forms the Maquis (French Resistance).


13,000 Jews are rounded up at a sports stadium before being deported to concentration camps.


Allies land at Normandy beach. Hitler orders General von Choltitz to level Paris, but the General stalls, sparing the city. Paris liberated on August 24 as General Leclerc enters the city, followed two days later by General de Gaulle.


France adopts a new constitution. French women gain the right to vote.


In the French-Indochina War, France is unable to regain control of its colonies in Southeast Asia. The 1954 Geneva Agreement establishes two governments in Vietnam: north and south. U.S. involvement leads to French withdrawal.


The Fifth Republic proclaimed; Charles de Gaulle elected president. Work starts on La Défense.


Most of France's African colonies gain independence.


A peaceful demonstration by French Algerians against police-imposed curfews on North Africans results in a "secret massacre". Police kill between 70-200 civil rights protesters, throwing their bodies into the Seine river. French media remains silent, censored for another 30 years.


Algeria gains independence. Some 700,000 embittered colonists return to France. The population of Paris swells to 1.2 million.


Strikes by 9 million workers ("les grèves") protesting big business, and student demonstrations against antiquated university structures, mark "les évènements de Mai 1968". De Gaulle's attempt at reform by referendum fails, and he resigns from the presidency.


The old central food market at Les Halles is moved to Rungis, outside Paris.


Georges Pompidou becomes president.


The Réseau Express Régional (RER, express train through Paris) is inaugurated.


The boulevard périphérique (ring-road) is completed.


The first mayor of Paris since 1871 is elected. The architecturally controversial Centre Pompidou is inaugurated in the old Beaubourg neighborhood.


François Mitterrand is elected president, initiating a series of futuristic grands projets. As France's first Socialist president, Mitterand is re-elected in 1988.


The Orsay Museum and the Cité des Sciences at La Villette are inaugurated.


A series of impressive celebrations commemorate the bi-centennial of the French Revolution, and centennial of the Eiffel Tower. The controversial Louvre pyramids, the Grande Arche at La Défense, and the Opéra Bastille are inaugurated.


Edith Cresson becomes France's first woman prime minister.


Disneyland Paris, one of the most lavish theme parks in the world, opens on 5000 acres in the suburbs, incorporating elements of its Disney predecessors but with a European flair.


Jacques Chirac, former mayor of Paris, becomes president of France. Paris is the focus of extremist terrorist bomb attacks. Transit workers' strike paralyzes the city.


Bibliothèque National de France opens in southeast Paris.


Lionel Jospin takes office as prime minister.


France hosts the Soccer World Cup, with finals on July 12 held at giant new stadium, the Stade de France, in St-Denis near Paris.

For more recent events, refer to News Articles.


Author: Ian C. Mills © 1999 All Rights Reserved
Bibliography: Passport's Illustrated Travel Guide to Paris, 3rd Edition, Elizabeth Morris, 1996, Passport Books, division of NTC Publishing Group, Chicago. Frommer's 98: Paris From $70 A Day, Jeanne Oliver, 1998, Macmillan Travel, A Simon & Schuster Macmillan Company, New York. The Dolphin Guide to Paris, William W. Davenport, 1962, Dolphin Books, a division of Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York (out-of-print). Fodor's Exploring Paris, Fiona Dunlop, 1996, Fodor's Travel Publications, Inc., New York. The Columbia Viking Desk Encyclopedia, Third Edition, copyright Columbia University Press, 1968, Viking Press, Inc., New York (out-of-print). A History of Europe, J.M. Roberts, 1998, The Penguin Press, New York. Fodor's 99 France, Editor: Natasha Lesser, 1998, Fodor's Travel Publications, New York. The TimeOut Paris Guide (2nd Edition), 1992, Penguin Books USA Inc., New York (out-of-print). A History of Modern France, Volume 1 (1715-1799) and Volume 2 (1799-1871), Alfred Cobban, 1966, Penguin Books, Inc., Baltimore, Maryland. La Fin du Moyen Age, le XVIe et le XVIIe Siècle, A. Alba (professeur agrégé au lycée Henri-IV), 1965, Librairie Hachette, Paris. 1715-1870, La Formation du Monde Moderne, Jean Michaud (professeur agrégé au lycée Pasteur), 1966, Librairie Hachette, Paris.
Image sources: Frise (ornamental rule beneath page title) -- Ministère des Affaires Etrangères, 244, boulevard Saint-Germain, 75007 Paris.

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