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Paris, France

July 20th, 2007 / / Links: Google Earth, Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps, Virtual Earth / Nearest places
 
 

Paris is the capital city of France. It is situated on the River Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region ("Région parisienne"). Paris has an estimated population of 2,153,600 within its administrative limits. The city's real size is best represented by its Unité urbaine (urban unit), an area of unbroken urban growth that extends well beyond its limits, with a population of 9.93 million. A commuter belt around the same completes the Paris urban area (similar to a metropolitan area) that, with its population of 12 million, is one of the most populated areas of its kind in Europe.

An important settlement for more than two millennia, Paris is today one of the world's leading business and cultural centres, and its influence in politics, education, entertainment, media, fashion, science and the arts all contribute to its status as one of the world's major global cities.

The Paris region (Île-de-France) is France's foremost centre of economic activity. With €478.7 billion (US$595.3 billion), it produced more than a quarter of the gross domestic product (GDP) of France in 2005. With La Défense, the largest purpose-built business district in Europe, it hosts the head offices of almost half of the major French companies, as well as the headquarters of fifteen of the world's 100 largest companies. Paris also hosts many international organizations such as UNESCO, the OECD, the ICC, or the informal Paris Club.

Paris's location at a crossroads between land and river trade routes in lands of abundant agriculture had made it one of the principal cities of France by the 10th century, rich with royal palaces, wealthy abbeys and a cathedral; by the 12th century Paris had become one of Europe's foremost centres of learning and the arts. Today, Paris has a major worldwide influence. The city serves as an important hub of intercontinental transportation and is home to universities, sport events, opera companies and museums of international renown, making it the most popular tourist destination in the world with over 30 million foreign visitors per year.

Early beginnings

The earliest archeological signs of permanent habitation in the Paris area date from around 4200 BC. Known boatsmen and traders, a sub-tribe of the celtic Senones, the Parisii, settled the area near the river Seine from around 250 BC.

The Roman westward campaigns had conquered the Paris basin in 52 BC. A permanent Roman settlement began towards the end of the same century on Paris' Left Bank Sainte Geneviève Hill and Île de la Cité island, in a town first called Lutetia, but later becoming Gallicised Lutèce. The Gallo-Roman town expanded greatly over the following centuries, becoming a prosperous city with palaces, a forum, baths, temples, theatres and an amphitheatre.

The collapse of the Roman empire and third-century Germanic invasions sent the city into a period of decline: by 400 AD Lutèce, largely abandoned by its inhabitants, was little more than a garrison town entrenched into its hastily fortified central island. The city would reclaim its original "Paris" appellation towards the end of the Roman occupation.

[edit] Middle ages

Around AD 500, Paris was the capital of the Frankish king Clovis I, who commissioned the first cathedral and its first abbey dedicated to his contemporary, later patron saint of the city, Sainte Geneviève. On the death of Clovis, the Frankish kingdom was divided, and Paris became the capital of a much smaller sovereign state. By the time of the Carolingian dynasty (9th century), Paris was little more than a feudal county stronghold. The Counts of Paris gradually rose to prominence and eventually wielded greater power than the Kings of Francia occidentalis. Odo, Count of Paris was elected king in place of the incumbent Charles the Fat, namely for the fame he gained in his defence of Paris during the Viking siege (Siege of Paris (885-886)). Although the Cité island had survived the Viking attacks, most of the unprotected Left Bank city was destroyed; rather than rebuild there, after drying marshlands to the north of the island, Paris began to expand onto the Right Bank. In 987 AD, Hugh Capet, Count of Paris, was elected King of France, founding the Capetian dynasty which would raise Paris to become France's capital.

From 1190, King Philip Augustus enclosed Paris on both banks with a wall that had the Louvre as its western fortress and in 1200 chartered the University of Paris which brought visitors from across Europe. It was during this period that the city developed a spatial distribution of activities that can still be seen: the central island housed government and ecclesiastical institutions, the left bank became a scholastic centre with the University and colleges, while the right bank developed as the centre of commerce and trade around the central Les Halles marketplace.

Paris lost its position as seat of the French realm while occupied by the English-ally Burgundians during the Hundred Years' War, but regained its title when Charles VII reclaimed the city in 1437; although Paris was capital once again, the Crown preferred to remain in its Loire Valley castles. During the French Wars of Religion, Paris was a stronghold of the Catholic party, culminating in the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre (1572). King Henry IV re-established the royal court in Paris in 1594 after he captured the city from the Catholic party. During the Fronde, Parisians rose in rebellion and the royal family fled the city (1648). King Louis XIV then moved the royal court permanently to Versailles in 1682. A century later, Paris was the centre stage for the French Revolution, with the Storming of the Bastille in 1789 and the overthrow of the monarchy in 1792.

[edit] Nineteenth century

The Industrial Revolution, the French Second Empire, and the Belle Époque brought Paris the greatest development in its history. From the 1840s, rail transport allowed an unprecedented flow of migrants into Paris attracted by employment in the new industries in the suburbs. The city underwent a massive renovation under Napoleon III and his préfet Haussmann, who leveled entire districts of narrow-winding medieval streets to create the network of wide avenues and neo-classical façades of modern Paris, with the added aid that in case of future revolts or revolutions, artillery and rifles could now be utilised in crowd control.

Cholera epidemics in 1832 and 1849 affected the population of Paris — the 1832 epidemic alone claimed 20,000 of the then population of 650,000. Paris also suffered greatly from the siege ending the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), and the ensuing civil war Commune of Paris (1871) killed thousands and sent many of Paris's administrative centres (and city archives) up in flames.

Paris recovered rapidly from these events to host the famous Universal Expositions of the late nineteenth century. The Eiffel Tower was built for the French Revolution centennial 1889 Universal Exposition, as a "temporary" display of architectural engineering prowess but remained the world's tallest building until 1930, and is the city's best-known landmark. The first line of the Paris Métro opened for the 1900 Universal Exposition and was an attraction in itself for visitors from the world over. Paris's World's Fair years also consolidated its position in the tourist industry and as an attractive setting for international technology and trade shows.

[edit] Twentieth century

During World War I, Paris was at the forefront of the war effort, having been spared a German invasion by the French and British victory at the First Battle of the Marne in 1914. In 1918-1919, it was the scene of Allied victory parades and peace negotiations. In the inter-war period Paris was famed for its cultural and artistic communities and its nightlife. The city became a gathering place of artists from around the world, from exiled Russian composer Stravinsky and Spanish painters Picasso and Dalí to American writer Hemingway. In June 1940, five weeks after the start of the German attack on France, Paris fell to German occupation forces who remained there until the city was liberated in August of 1944. After the Normandy invasion Paris waited for liberation. Central Paris endured WW II practically unscathed, as there were no strategic targets for bombers (train stations in central Paris are terminal stations; major factories were located in the suburbs), and also because of its cultural signifiance - as an example, German General von Choltitz refused to carry out Adolf Hitler's desperate order that all Parisian monuments be destroyed before any German retreat.

In the post-war era, Paris experienced its largest development since the end of the Belle Époque in 1914. The suburbs began to expand considerably, with the construction of large social estates known as cités and the beginning of the business district La Défense. A comprehensive express subway network, the RER, was built to complement the Métro and serve the distant suburbs, while a network of freeways was developed in the suburbs, centered on the Périphérique expressway circling around the city.

Since the 1970s, many inner suburbs of Paris (especially the eastern ones) have experienced deindustrialization, and the once-thriving cités have gradually become ghettos for immigrants and oases of unemployment. At the same time, the City of Paris (within its Périphérique ring) and the western and southern suburbs have successfully shifted their economic base from traditional manufacturing to high value-added services and high-tech manufacturing, generating great wealth for their residents whose per capita income is among the highest in Europe. The resulting widening social gap between these two areas has led to periodic unrest since the mid-1980s, such as the 2005 riots which largely concentrated in the northeastern suburbs.

[Source: Wikipedia]

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