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The History of Paris

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Paris' history begins on the Île de la Cité in central Paris, which was inhabited by the Parisii who called their stronghold Lutetia (Lutèce). The Romans then built up more on the Left Bank, particularly in the area where the Panthéon now stands, which is on a hill known as the Montagne Ste Geneviève.

Sainte Geneviève's illustrious career involved saving the city from Attila by dint of her perfect holiness and then going on to convert Clovis, who became the first king of France.

At this point, " France " only consisted of Paris and the area that makes up the Île de France until successive kings and monarchs drew in more of their rivals' lands, centralizing the kingdom's power in Paris. The university was formally established in 1215, placing Paris at the centre of European intellectual activity.

However, plagues and wars in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries left Paris bereft of inhabitants and in quite a pickle. Sanitation continued to be terrible after these calamities and the locals were discontent, chasing King Louis XIV out of Paris in the mid seventeenth century. In 1670 he moved into the Palace of Versailles, a discreet out of town pad just a few leagues to the south east of Paris.

This royal démenagement meant that anyone with money and power left the city of Paris to itself and settled in Versailles as well. Parisians were left to their own devices and squalor, so it is no wonder that they were so fed up by 1789 that they started a revolution. Once Napoleon I had taken control of the city, some magnificent buildings and displays of power such as La Madeleine, l'Arc de Triomphe, and l'Arc du Carrousel sprang up. Napoleon I also established the Grandes Écoles where the intellectual elite still go to learn how to be teachers, administrators and engineers.

This did not solve the problem of the slums around Notre Dame and the Quartier Latin, however. Improvements in this area took another few years and the intervention of Napoleon III who was worried about how to patrol the streets to keep them safe. He asked Baron Haussmann to come up with a solution, who proceeded to knock down the slums and replace them with wide boulevards that whole armies could (and do) march down. Haussmann changed the face of Paris forever, building acres of mansion blocks on large avenues, above which tower the presidential monuments. Today, if you have enough money, you can still live in the apartments in the shadow of the classical Louvre, Panthéon and Arc de Triomphe; industrial Eiffel Tower and Centre Pompidou; golden Invalides; and the modern glass Pyramide du Louvre.