Discover the history of Paris through the centuries…

Paris was founded in the 3rd century B.C. on île de la Cité by a community of Celts. They were a group of tribal fishermen called the Parisii who, pushed by emigration towards the banks of the Seine, made a permanent settlement there and profited from the area’s fertility and temperate climate. Furthermore, the islands on the Seine seemed the perfect place for this little community to establish their capital.

At the time of the Parisii’s settlement in the area, there were seven islands on the river between what is now the pont d'Austerlitz and the pont des Arts. . In giving them their modern names, the first was the Ile Louviers (which existed until 1843, when it was reunited with the mainland to become Quai Henri IV), Ile Saint-Louis was divided into three islets which were successively joined to each other, the same was the case for Ile de la Cité, which was originally three separate islets.

The collective name of Lutetia is given to the group of habitations that were constructed on the islands, particularly on Ile de la Cité, but experts have long been divided about the etymology of this name. Some say that Lutetia (in French Lutèce) comes from the celtic word Loulouchezi; meaning “habitation in the middle of the waters”, from luth (water) thouèze (middle) and y (dwelling). In something of an enigma, others claim that it comes from Leug-tec, a Celtic word meaning beautiful stone, although the Parisians of the time built their homes exclusively from wood!

The settlement was given the name Lutetia by the Romans, and the name Lucotecia by the geographer, Ptolemy. In the year 52 BC, Lutetia fell to one of Julius Caesar’s lieutenants, Proconsul Labienus. The title of Civitas Parisorium was then bestowed upon the city, meaning “the city of the Parisii”, the name of Paris was finally adopted in the 5th century AD, so the first people that could really be called Parisians were Gauls. The city was fortified and began to expand on to the left bank of the Seine, it was there that the first Roman baths were built in what is now called Cluny and Arènes de Lutèce. Lutetia had become a commercial axis for the Roman Empire and over the course of time; its inhabitants were progressively Romanised. In the 3rd century they became Christians and citizens of the Holy Roman Empire, bringing an end to their persecution.

Threatened by barbarian invasions, the Parisians resisted an attack in 451 by Attila’s Huns. They attributed their resistance to inspiration from Saint Genvieve and made her the patron saint of the city.
The middle ages is a period of European history that spans from 500-1500 AD. During this millennium, Paris became the capital of France. This resulted from a long and complicated history of kings, to which each succeeding dynasty contributed.

King Clovis took Paris in 486, and in 508 made it the capital of the Kingdom of the Francs (Clovis was King of the Francs, a people who had migrated to the Roman Empire from the East). The city was soon relinquished and the inhabitants abandoned the left bank, where there remained only religious establishments like the powerful abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Près.
In 861 Paris passed into the patrimony of the Capetians, who acceded to the throne of France with Hugues Capet in 987. Paris was originally the capital of a tiny kingdom, which the Capetians forced into expansion by imposing their will on outlying lords.

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.