City Profile of Paris, France: Important Information about Paris, France.
There are a lot of places in the world that literature and travelers insist that you must absolutely see before you die. One of them, unsurprisingly, is Paris, the capital of France. Everyone has practically heard of Paris thanks to movies like The Da Vinci Code, but what is it really about? What else is there about Paris that you should know?
If you’re planning to take a trip to the City of Lights, part of the land of hundreds of cheese, art, culture and romance, it’s better that you understand a bit more about it before heading out. Even if you’re just curious, this profile will give you a brief background of what Paris was and is all about throughout the centuries.
Paris, the capital city of France is not only known for the enrapturing Eiffel Tower, nor its art, but also because of its history of being conquered by different nations that shaped its future. Back in the 3rd century BC, Gallic people from the Celtic Iron Age, known as Parisii, settled on the banks of the Seine, on an island on its left bank called Île de la Cité. The tribe flourished before the arrival of the Romans as the people were craftsmen and minting gold coins was one of their primary income sources.
However, as time passed by, around 52 BC the Roman Empire captured the city and claimed it as part of Rome due to its strategic location and its control over commerce and shipping. Under the Romans the settlement was named Lutetia or Lutèce. The name in full is Lutetia Parisiorium, meaning Lutetia of the Parisii. The Romans immediately instituted reforms and Christianized the island. During the reign of Julian the Apostate, the name of the settlement was changed to Paris.
The Roman rule almost collapsed in the 5th century when Attila the Hun marched into the island. Fortunately the island was spared, and according to legend it was due to the piety of St. Geneviève, who became the patron saint of Paris. Prosperity continued and the island’s population grew, making the island a very crowded place. The German invasion in the 5th century brought down the Roman influence on the island. The Germanic Franks ruled Paris until the 8th century when the Carolingian dynasty rose to power, although it was marred by the Viking invasion that included Paris around the 9th century. Paris was held for ransom by the Viking invaders and exposed the weakness of the Carolingian rulers. This gave rise to the Counts of Paris and Odo was elected as the king of France before being succeeded by Hugh Capet. Under his rule and that of his successors, Paris became a capital and seat of power once again. It also emerged as a cultural and ecclesiastical center during the Capetian dynasty.
The Cathedral of the Notre Dame was built in 1163 and the settlement by the Seine began to take a very distinct shape. The Left Bank became the center of learning as the churches there were running the schools. The Right Bank on the other hand emerged as the center for finance and commerce. Philip II Augustus who came to rule around 1180 started the building of the Palais du Louvre, the creation of a covered market called Les Halles and the paving of the streets of Paris. The king’s pious grandson, Louis IX oversaw the construction of the Sainte-Chapelle, Basilica of St Denis and the completion of the Cathedral of the Notre Dame.
Claims to the throne ensued when the Capetian dynasty left no remaining heir by the first quarter of the 14th century. Edward III of England claimed it as he was a descendant of Philip IV of France on his mother’s side. Another faction supported the claim of his rival, Philippe Valois, who later became Philip VI of France. The rivalry brought about the start of the Hundred Years’ War, almost coinciding with the arrival of the Black Death that claimed the lives of practically half of the population of this city. Around this time the French troops along with Joan of Arc defeated the Normal English, ending their control over France. A lot of other things happened to Paris as it was reborn during the late 15th century, the period of the Renaissance. Technological advances began, along with religious conflicts, the building of Versailles, the French Revolutions, the fall of monarchy and the rise of the French Republic and the rise, conquests and fall of Napoleon Bonaparte.
Paris turned into a fertile ground for the arts and culture, paintings, architecture, literature, and whatever you can name. Salvador Dali, Gertrude Stein, James Baldwin, Pablo Picasso, Ezra Pound and Ernest Hemingway are only some of the famous artists who have made Paris the home of their artistic spirits. Tunnels were made in search of stones needed for buildings, and these in turn became mushroom farms for the innovative farmers of the 19th century.
War also tore Paris apart, including the time of the genocide where French Jews had been surrendered to the Nazis. Paris is known for a lot of its underground tunnels and during the war, the common mushroom farms turned into hiding places for French Resistance fighters and other tunnels became German bunkers. After the war, these tunnels became a common curiosity to the people who wanted to explore more of the city aside from the wonders that you can see above ground. Up to this day, Paris stays as the artistic and cultural hub it has been for decades, and it would seem that there are more and more things that are waiting to be explored, may it be on the street with paintings, performances, architecture, or even just coffee from their quaint cafés.
Paris has a typical oceanic climate due to the proximity of France to the North Atlantic Sea. Since Paris is in the middle of France, it has the lowest amount of rainfall throughout the year, but there can be unexpected rain showers any time of the year. The highest amount of rainfall can be expected during the months of May up to August, and their least rainy months include September and October when autumn is in full swing until winter.
The coldest Paris had ever gotten was in 1953 to 1954 where temperatures dropped to as low as -15 °C (5 °F), but with climate change and the urbanization in full swing, it’s most unlikely for this to happen again. The coldest temperature you can expect here now would be around November to early February where it could dip to as low as 2 °C (35.6 °F).
There had been the deadly heat wave back in August 2003 when temperatures went above 35 °C (95 °F) and soared to over 40 °C or an unbearably hot 104 °F, but these instances in recorded history are rare and there is no need for worry. The warmest it could get in Paris now would be around the months of July and August where average temperatures could reach up to 25 °C (77 °F).
If you plan to visit this city, make sure to be prepared for the right type of weather and pack accordingly. Even before the time you leave, make sure to keep yourself updated of their current weather. And, it never hurts anyone to be just prepared with an umbrella.
The total population of France as of 2011 is over 65 million. Out of that, over 2.2 million inhabitants are living in Paris, the capital city. With only a total land area of 105.4 square kilometers, the city, one of the most expensive places in the world to live in, is bursting at the seams. If you take into consideration the whole of metropolitan Paris, the population figure is a remarkable 12.8 million as of 2011, making Paris one of the world’s most densely populated cities. The city’s population fluctuates due to net migration, caused by the high cost of living, urban gentrification (elite buying or renting properties in the lower income communities) and de-industrialization.
Even if the law forbids census workers to inquire about ethnicity or religion, the city is home to a multicultural mix of Asians, Africans, Italians, Americans, Portuguese, Spaniards and other minor races. All major religions are represented in Paris, so a traveler will not have any difficulty finding a place of worship. Catholic churches, Protestant and Orthodox churches, synagogues, mosques and Buddhist temples are located around the city.
French is the official language in Paris and is spoken and understood by the majority of the population. English is the most popular foreign language but it will be advantageous if a traveler can take the time to learn at least basic French. With its eclectic population, Japanese, German, Italian and Spanish are also spoken in the French capital.
Despite the known grandeur that is Paris, a good chunk of its economy comes from agriculture, usually including livestock, crops like wheat, corn, barley, potatoes and sugar beet. Italy may be the largest wine producer in the world but France comes a very close second. It is also known for its many cheeses, which the French love to have together with a glass of their very own Bordeaux. Bordeaux wine ranges from table wines to some of the most expensive and prestigious wines in the world, produced in the Bordeaux region of France. The main minerals mined here include iron ore and bauxite. Paris is also a known exporter of electronics and electrical equipment as well as parts. It also manufactures mobile phones, wireless communication and broadcasting equipment, food products, steel, chemicals, motor vehicles, aircraft and textiles. It also has a booming services sector.
Tourism comes high on the list of income earners in Paris. The city’s monuments and the various architectural masterpieces are huge crowd-drawers. Add to that the lure of the Louvre and the many arts and artifacts from the great masters that are housed in different museums in the city. These and the mysterious, sensual and bohemian atmosphere that only Paris exudes are what bring in top tourist dollars annually.
• Café Procope, the oldest café in Paris, opened in 1686 and entertained customers such as Benjamin Franklin, John Paul Jones and Thomas Jefferson. It’s rumored that the writer Voltaire had been known to drink 40 cups of coffee a day in this very café.
• Le Museé des Égouts de Paris, or the Paris Sewer Museum is located in the sewers beneath the Quai d’Orsay on the Left Bank. It offers a firsthand look at the city’s ancient and fascinating public works system.
• Moulin Rouge, Le Chat Noir and other entertainment venues can be found in Montmartre, Paris, a center of decadence and entertainment.
• Paris has an underground lake that lies beneath the Palais Garnier, making construction in the 1870s difficult. The hidden lake and the other elements of the opera house (including the deadly crash of one of the 7-ton crystal and bronze chandelier’s counterweights that killed a member of the audience in 1896) inspired Gaston Leroux in writing in 1911 The Phantom of the Opera, a Gothic novel.
• The largest cemetery in Paris is the Père-Lachaise, established by Napoleon in 1804. It covers 44 hectares or about 110 acres. Famous people buried here include Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, Frédéric Chopin, Honoré Balzac, Maria Callas, Edith Piaf and a lot more. While a number of celebrities were buried in the cemetery, the first one to be buried here in 1804 was a five-year old daughter of a door-bellman, Adélaïde Pailliard de Villeneuve. It followed the edict of Napoleon Bonaparte that every person, regardless of religion or race has the right to be buried in the Père-Lachaise.
• The largest art museum in the world is undoubtedly the Museé Louvre. The Louvre houses more than 380,000 works of art including Leonardo da Vinci’s famous Mona Lisa, but The Thinker is not one of those thousands of works. You can find this bronze and marble statue by Auguste Rodin in the Rodin Museum.
• The Miracle at Marne during World War I came to be when some 600 Paris taxicabs carried 6,000 reinforcement troops to the battle along the Marne River, giving the victory of that battle to the French.
• Thirty percent of Paris (7,400 acres or 3,000 hectares) is covered by parks and gardens, making it one of Europe’s greenest cities today.
There are a lot of things to do in Paris that a week can never be enough. At the very least, you can try the main tourist attractions and target them for at least half a day each to have enough time. Monuments and churches are some of the top tourist draws. Museums abound in the city, where you can have a grand time browsing the many art pieces from all over the world, created by masters and most depicting a historic past. There are also art museums that are dedicated to more modern art. Rodin and Picasso have their own separate museums. In total, there are more than 150 museums in Paris alone. You will not be able to visit all of these in the amount of time you have, so plan your itinerary to include at least some of the biggest and well-known ones to give you a taste of what Paris is all about. Of course, you should not forget to take a look at the famous cathedrals and monuments.
Even if you do not plan to visit this world-famous tower, you cannot miss it once you are in Paris since it stands above anything else in the City of Lights. The 19th century tower rises to a height of 324 meters or nearly 1,000 feet. It was actually built in 1889 as the entrance arch for the World Exhibition in commemoration of the 1789 French Revolution. While the tower was expected to last only for the duration of the exhibit, it became long-lasting and still stands mightily today. It was built by Gustave Eiffel, using puddled iron, one of the purest forms of structural iron. Three hundred workers were utilized to join together more than 18,000 pieces of iron for the lattice structure. Eiffel’s permit for the tower was only for 20 years. Its ownership was supposed to be returned to the city government and it was then to be dismantled. However, its worth as a communications tower was too valuable particularly during the Battle of Marne that the permit was allowed to expire. Today, millions have visited the Eiffel Tower, for the city view and a chance to eat at one of the restaurants at the first and second levels. Entrance tickets are available for purchase at the ground level. Visitors can walk up the 300 steps to the first level; go up another 300 steps to the second level and take the elevator to the third level or ascend up to the third level using elevators.
Notre Dame de Paris
It is also known as the Notre Dame Cathedral, a Roman Catholic cathedral that was built in the French Gothic style of architecture. It is said to hold a sacred container for the Crown of Thorns placed on Christ’s head. It is one of the best examples of Gothic architecture. Construction of the cathedral began in 1163 under the direction of Bishop Maurice de Sully to replace the Merovingian Cathedral, which the bishop deemed was not worthy of its role as the seat of the archbishop. It was fully completed between 1250- 1345. It was almost destroyed by the Huguenots in 1548 and was used by the Cult of Reason and the Cult of the Supreme Being at the time of the French Revolution and most of the biblical kings’ statues were beheaded. A number of the heads are now being displayed at the Musée de Cluny. Many treasures can be seen inside the cathedral, including wonderful stained glass windows, historical pipe organs, and huge bells, the biggest of which is called Emmanuel, which weighs a hefty 13 tons. It is rung every hour to mark the time. Major maintenance and restoration is still being done on the cathedral since 1991.
Basilique de Sacré-Cœur
The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris is a minor basilica and a Catholic church that is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is situated at the summit of Montmartre. The basilica was designed by Paul Abadie, a building restorer and architect. Construction of the church began in 1875 and finished in 1914. The church used travertine stone that was locally quarried. The stones’ unique feature of continuously exuding calcite makes sure that the basilica will still remain white despite pollution and weathering. You can hear its wonderful pipe organ play during Mass and see the grandeur of a large mosaic called Christ in Majesty, which is one of the largest mosaics of its kind in the world. You can also take time for some quiet moments to relax near the fountain and reflect at the garden of meditation. The top of the dome of the basilica is open for tourists, if you want to have a 360-degree view of Paris. You can have pictures taken outside the minor basilica but it is strictly forbidden once you are inside.
One of the most recognizable avenues in Paris is Avenue des Champs-Élysées. It is one of the world’s most expensive shopping and entertainment streets. It is also one of the world’s most expensive pieces of real estate. The avenue is 1.91 kilometers long. At its eastern end is the Place de la Concorde where you can find the Obelisk of Luxor. It ends in the west, where the Place Charles de Gaulle and the Arc de Triomphe are located. Even if you do not have the extra cash to shop, it will still be a wonderful experience and you bring home lots of memories in pictures, of you take a trip down a very expensive shopping strip. It does not hurt that you will have your fill of the grand display of merchandise from the specialty shops, ranging from high fashion to jewelry. You will still have a grand time sipping coffee at one of the many cafés lining the street and possibly watch an open-air marionette show. It is also a wonderful place to visit if you happen to be in Paris around Lent or Christmas time when the avenue is lighted for the season.
Arc de Triomphe
The arc was commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1806 to honor those who sacrificed their lives during the Napoleonic Wars and the French Revolution. Their names are etched around the inner and outer parts of the edifice. It spans the width of the Champs-Élysées on its western end where the Place Charles de Gaulle is located. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I is placed beneath its vault. The arc is a monument of almost colossal proportions. Its height is 50 meters. It is 22 meters deep and 45 meters wide. It has two vaults, with the larger one measuring s4.62 meters wide and 29.19 meters high. The smaller vault is 8.44 meters wide and 18.68 meters high. At the end of the First World War and France was preparing for a victory celebration, a French pilot named Charles Godefroy flew a small Nieuport biplane through the Arc de Triomphe three weeks prior to the celebration. The amazing feat was done in secret and even the airfield crew did not find anything amiss. Parisians became aware of it only after it came out in the news. The police and military authorities did not approve of the event and actually tried to prevent the news from spreading, although the pilot only got a warning for his daring feat.
The Galeries Lafayette is a signature department store that has its main headquarters in Paris. It is a fantastic place to be in when you are in Paris, even if you do not plan to shop. It is a stunning building done in the Art Noveau and Belle Epoque styles. It was inaugurated in 1893, a brainchild of cousins Théophile Bader and Alphonse Kahn. However, you may find it hard to resist parting with your dollars as you see the various displays of the latest in men and women’s designer fashion items, cutting edge designs of accessories and jewelry and different kinds of cosmetics. In short, the department store has something for everyone.
Place de la Concorde
As you near the eastern end of Champs- Élysées you will end up at the Place de la Concorde, the largest public square in Paris, with an area of over eight hectares or 21 acres. It was constructed in 1755 and was previously named Place Louis XV in honor of King Louis XV. On the north end of the square are two identical buildings that are the best examples of the architectural style known as Louis XV. The square is decorated with two fountains, several sculptures and has gardens and galleries. The Embassy of the United States of America is also located at the Place. While the infamous guillotine that was used to execute King Philip the XVI and thousands more was previously erected in the middle of the square, it had long been removed. Now the most significant feature of the Place de la Concorde is the giant obelisk from Egypt that used to guard the entrance to the Temple of Luxor. It is erected at the center of the square, in the exact place where the guillotine used to stand. Two obelisks were given by the government of Egypt to France as gifts but only one was transported due to technical and transportation difficulties. President François Mitterrand gave the other one back to the Egyptian government in the 1990s.
The obelisk was about 3,300 years old when it was given as a gift to France in 1829. It arrived in 1833. It is made from red granite and stands to a height of 23 meters or about 75 feet and weighs over 250 metric tons.
These are just some of the many places to see in Paris. If you are short of time, these places are quite near each other that you can easily divide whatever time you have to see each one at length. In between getting lessons in history go ahead and do some window shopping, watch the street performers and don’t forget the cafés, the éclairs, and the myriad things that you can see for free around the city. For the more adventurous, don’t forget to try to get lost to get some of Paris that you can never find in travel brochures.
The whole of France is highly regarded for its culture. And the French place too high a value on their traditions and their customs, Parisians included. Like everyone else around the world, Paris has its own traditions that you won’t be able to find elsewhere. Some of these include beheading the champagne bottle with a sword, puppet shows at Christmas, Flying Bells, Poisson d’Avril and Bastille Day.
It is a normal custom for Parisians to greet anyone they meet with a warm and sincere handshake and this is extended even to colleagues. French men and women hug each other to indicate their close and good friendship. And even officemates shake hands before leaving the office.
Address any male you meet as Monsieur and a woman as Madame as a sign of respect.
When dining, do as the Parisians do and keep your arms on the table.
The beheading of the heads of champagne bottles is commonly seen during weddings using a saber made especially for cutting the glass of champagne bottles. It’s a long-standing tradition started around the time that Napoleon was in charge to celebrate a victory.
If you find yourself in Paris for Christmas, it will be common to see a puppet show on Christmas Eve. Since Paris is dominantly Roman Catholic, going to church together for the traditional Christmas Mass will also be observed. Try to attend the shows and the service to get the feel of the French Christmas Spirit.
The Flying Bells tradition is not about literally making bells fly, but of the notion that no church bells should be rung from the Thursday of Holy Week until Easter Sunday. It is said that the bells take the grief of mourners to Rome to see the Pope and return on Sunday bearing chocolate Easter eggs for the children to find. When the bells toll once more on Easter Sunday, it is part of their tradition to hug and kiss each other in solemn celebration.
Poisson d’Avril is their version of April Fool’s day, but for the kids, it’s their time to stick fish-shaped paper on the backs of as many adults as they can and running away yelling “Poisson d’Avril!”
Bastille Day is one of the grandest celebrations they have all over France, celebrated during the 14th of July. Fireworks light up the Eiffel Tower, military parades with tanks, low-flying jets spouting the colors of their flag and many other celebrations are done all over the country. They do this in celebration of the storming of the Bastille Prison in 1789 to release the political prisoners held there on account of being vocal against the monarchy.
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