During the First World War, Paris was protected from the German invasion thanks to victory in the battle of the Marne – a victory in which Parisian taxis played a part. In 1919, amid the buoyant atmosphere that accompanied the return of peace, the old city wall of Thiers was demolished – the wall drew a border for the city that had been outdated even since the war of 1870.

The péripherique, which drew the new outline of the city, would only be built in the 1960’s. The forests of Boulogne and Vincennes would also be annexed by the Mairie, contributing to the city’s current allure.

Between the two wars, the city’s literary and artistic scenes drew attention from far beyond its borders, during this period artists from all over Europe flocked to Montparnasse and Montmartre. In terms of construction, this was a period of transition: the state was building in the austere and imposing style of the time (palais de Chaillot, de Tokyo). The bourgeois element of the city’s population favoured apartments in the style of artists’ workshops (Bruno Elkouken, Henri Sauvage) while the more daring were providing the avant-garde of modernism (Auguste Perret, Le Corbusier, Mallet-Stevens).

During the Second World War, Paris was occupied by the Wehrmacht in June 1940. Despite the difficulties of rationing, the arrest if Jews and the execution of hostages, the capital pursued its literary and theatrical life. On 25th August 1945, Von Choltitz signed the capitulation of German forces at the gare Montparnasse. Since 1945, the architectural evolution of Paris has been the same as that of all French cities: the great towers and massive, monotonous blocks of the 1950’s and 60’s, followed by the more elaborate and modern buildings of the 1970’s (UNESCO, Maison de le Radio…)

The city was profoundly transformed by the “glorious thirty” (1945 – 1974) which saw an unprecedented economic boom in France. Paris experienced major urban renewal projects - often controversial, a major economic and social restructuring (movement of the industrial sector to the outskirts, exodus of the worker population, fall in the number of married couples, aging of the population) and political somersaults (demonstrations against the war in Algeria, the student revolt of 1968) all during the same period.

The 1980’s saw a return to the classic Haussmann traditions: the alignment of buildings along the street meant that the diversity of shapes and forms was shown for the first time to its full advantage; this is particularly visible in the 13th arrondissement. Post-modernists, however, remained faithful to the pure cubic shapes of modern architecture.

At the same time, numerous old districts of the city were “renovated”. Following the destruction and reconstruction of areas long the Seine, Maine-Montparnasse and Les Halles, magistrates began to appreciate the value of the city’s old quarters: Malraux launched the campaign for the conservation of Le Marais – the first “protected zone” established in 1962. Besides these museum-like districts, the city hall has now undertaken the preservation of areas that are less architecturally significant, but of importance in active social life, such as the Montorgeuil area or the faubourg Saint Antoine.

Following the normalisation of the city’s statute in 1977, Paris elected Jacques Chirac as its first mayor since the Revolution. Since 1982, the city’s statute has changed again: the city was divided into 20 arrondissements or districts: the population now elects 350 district councillors, who elect the district mayor, and 613 municipal councillors, who elect the mayor of Paris.

A characteristic inherited from the days of absolute monarchy, the presidents of the Fifth Republic have each left their mark on the landscape of the capital: after De Gaulle’s regional development projects (Charles de Gaulle Airport), came Pompidou’s creation of the cultural centre that bears his name, despite his disapproval of the architectural design that was chosen. The destruction of the Halles de Baltard and the protests that ensued provoked a growing interest in the preservation of 19th century heritage: Valéry Gicaird d’Estaing chose to create the Musée d’Orsay from the former Gare d’Orsay and transformed the old abattoirs of La Villette into the Cité des Sciences. The last fifteen years have been marked by the major projects undertaken by François Mitterand, who was responsible for the construction of large imposing buildings around Paris, often inspired by pure geometric forms: the Arche de la Défense , the Pyramide du Louvre, the OpĂ©ra Bastille, the National Library and the Ministry of the Economy and Finance in Bercy…

After the CNIT centre at La Défense and the UNESCO headquarters (1958), the Maison de la Radio (1963) was erected on the right bank of the Seine. On the opposite bank, equally great works of renovation were undertaken (in the 13th and 15th arrondissements particularly), which left no trace of the architectural history (the Montparnasse Tower and it’s surroundings, or the shopping centre constructed on the site of Les Halles).

Such was not the case, gladly, in the case of the Parc des Princes stadium (1972). The most important construction projects undertaken during this period concerned the development of the city (André-Citroën Park, Charles-de-Gaulle Bridge (1996) in Bercy), public buildings (the Ministry of Finance and the Economy, constructed between 1983 and 1989) and above all cultural centres: the Georges Pompidou Centre, (Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, 1977); Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie and the Parc de la Villette to the east of Paris, which also houses the Cité de la musique (Christian de Portzamparc, 1984-1995); and the opening of the Orsay Museum (1986) facing the Louvre. Renovation works began on the Louvre in 1983 (Philippe August’s added fosses in 1985; the courtyard was restored in 1986; in 1989 the museum annexed a wing of the building that had been occupied by the Ministry for Finance and the glass pyramid of Ieoh Ming Pei was added to the courtyard; 39 new rooms dedicated to French painters were installed opened in 1992) and the jardin des Tuileries was restored between 1997 and 2000. Among the other constructions of the time were the'OpĂ©ra de Paris-Bastille (Carlos Ott, 1989), the Arab World Institute (Jean Nouvel, 1981-1987), Charléty Stadium (1988-1994), the Grande Arche de la DĂ©fense (1983-1989), François-Mitterrand National Library (Dominique Perrault, 1988-1996).

The effect of these various monuments on the city has been to attract more than 20 million tourists each year, while the population of the city has been consistently declining, currently at 2,147,274 inhabitants. In this way, Paris has become a magnificent city-museum, a delectable festive setting for evenings out, catching a show, etc. while at the same time a cosmopolitan and active business centre. Inhabitants are concentrated around the more airy, open areas towards the periphery, where green spaces can the found, such as parks (Citroën, Belleville, Bercy) and around recently added amenities (Charlety Stadium, Robert Debré Hospital). Despite economic decentralisation, the growth of provincial cities and the continued migration of the population towards the suburbs, Paris remains an important financial centre and one of the world’s premier cultural and intellectual cities.

To find out more about the city of Paris and its history, click on one the links below.

For an interactive approach to learning the history of Paris, we recommend Parsitoric:

Paristoric, 11 rue Scribe
(metro Opéra) (tel. 01 42 66 62 06, shows on the hour 09.00-21.00 from April to October, 9.00-18.00 the rest of the year, but until 21.00 Fridays and Saturdays) More information

Paristoric presents the history of the city in a 45 minute show on a big screen. Images, photos and etchings give viewers an understanding of how the city came together over 2000 years. Directed by people whose passion is the city, the film is quite moving – at the same time poetic and educational. Translation into ten languages is available through headphones.