Paris is one of the world’s most famous cities and its top tourist destination. Over 30 million people visit Paris every year. It is world renowned for its food, nightlife, museums, history, fashion, culture, and romantic atmosphere.
Paris is home to dozens of the world’s most famous landmarks. The Louvre, a 400 + year old art museum is home to Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, and hundreds of other famous paintings and sculptures. The Eiffel Tower, a 1,000-foot tower overlooking the River Seine, is one of the world’s most recognizable landmarks. When it was built, it was the tallest structure in the world. Paris has numerous other landmarks including the Arc d’ Triomphe, a huge gateway that honors French fighters in the Napoleonic Wars. Paris is also home to the Sorbonne, one of the oldest institutes of higher education in Europe.
Paris has a fascinating history that extends more than 2,500 years. It was originally founded as a small Celtic village but evolved into a crowded medieval city that was frequently attacked by the Vikings. By the 12th century, Paris had become an international center of learning, culture, and government, and would soon become a major center of Catholicism.
Like many European cities, Paris was plagued by war, religious strife, and horrible diseases through the 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries. One of the diseases, known as Black Plague, a deadly bacteria carried by rats, was believed to have killed up to 85 million Europeans from the 1300’s to the 1700’s. Throughout much of its history, France was at war with England. From 1337 to 1453 the two countries battled in what is known as the Hundreds Years War. The war was fought over English claims to the French throne and was actually a series of conflicts fought between periods of stability. The war finally ended in 1453 after the expulsion of the English from France.
By the 1500’s, 1600’s, and 1700’s, France was one of the most powerful nations in the world despite the fact that three of its next kings would be less than ten years old upon ascension. In 1610, Louis VIII became king at the age of eight after Henry IV was assassinated. In 1643, Louis XIV became king at age five, and Louis XV became king at age five in 1715.
Perhaps the most interesting and bizarre part of the history of Paris was the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. As Paris evolved into the intellectual and cultural capital of the Western World, reason, rather than religion, or birthright became the primary basis for authority. By the late 1780’s, the Catholic Church and the French Monarchy, once the dominant authorities in religion and government, began to lose their hold on the citizens of Paris. This Enlightenment movement, combined with a terrible food shortage, unequal tax system, and a bankrupt government (from financing much of the American Revolution) resulted in the French Revolution, as hundreds of starving Parisians revolted and stormed the Bastille, a medieval prison and symbol of royal tyranny. Today, the event that started the French Revolution is celebrated on July 14 as Bastille Day.
From 1789 to 1795, Paris, and much of France, was in the midst of chaos as the monarchy and church were toppled. Thousands of Parisians were put to death by guillotine including King Louis XVI and his queen Marie Antoinette by an emerging group of radicals, led by Maximilien Robespierre, in what came to be known as the Reign of Terror. Power was thus transferred from the royal family to leaders of this group called the Commune de Paris. Paris remained in a state of virtual chaos under the Commune de Paris until 1799, when a young officer name Napoleon Bonaparte seized power and converted France to an absolute dictatorship and a major military power.