City of arts: Paris

Paris is the capital of France, situated on both sides of the river Seine, and located centrally in the northern half of the country. Some 2 million people live in Paris - include the suburbia and the figure rises to a stiff 10 million.

History in a nutshell

Roman troops under Julius Caesar stumble across a settlement scattered over several islands in the Seine, a strategic place for trade routes between north and south. The local Gaulish tribe are known as the Parisii. The Romans name the place Lutetia, meaning 'moorish area'. The name Paris becomes popular around 300 AD.

The city first extends on the left bank (rive gauche) of the river Seine. After the Romans depart in the 6th century AD, Clovis I makes the town the capital of the Merovingian branch of the Frankish empire. In the 9th century the town suffers attacks by the Normans and fortifications are introduced on the central island, île de la Cité. During the rest of the Middle Ages the town grows to an important commercial and intellectual centre. The 11th century sees the beginning of construction on the right bank (rive droite); around 1200 the primal version of the Louvre building is constructed, as is the Notre Dame Cathedral - delivered in 1345.

Around 1365 Paris has some 275,000 inhabitants. The overpopulated town is scourged by the plague in the 14th and 15th centuries. Nonetheless Paris becomes the centre of learning and religion - the difference not being too vast then - drawing such students as Petrus Abelardy and Thomas Aquino.

Paris never produces exceptional excellence in the visual arts, not even after the Middle Ages, and not even during the reign of splendour of the Sun King Louis XIV (1638-1715). This archetypical absolute monarch makes France the utterly centralistic state which it remains to this day, with Paris as its undoubted administrative centre - while the king stayed in his humble abode at Versailles.

Art & Culture

The above is just a very small selection of the art treasures to be discovered in Paris. This city of millions has many other points of interest in addition to the ubiquitous Eiffel Tower, such as the Centre Pompidou and the science museum Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie.